This past Thursday, April 19th, the South Orange Development Committee considered a presentation from developers regarding the All Star Motors site on Valley Street between 3rd and 4th. The proposal is for a 61 unit dormitory/boarding house for college students, with 175 beds and limited parking on a lot that is partially zoned for two-family residential. About 20 Academy Heights neighbors attended the meeting and expressed concerns about the project. Yet, despite numerous comments and concerns from residents (cut short by time limitations) and additional suggestions to explore affordable housing options that could include diverse populations, including seniors, we have learned that during closed executive session the Committee expressed majority support for the project and seems to be on its way to recommending the Board of Trustees approve it.
It is concerning that South Orange seems to be in a rush to approve this project, despite being only in the beginning stages of formulating its new Master Plan, with guidance from urban planning firm Topology, which will greatly impact the Valley Street corridor. The Master Plan process is meant to reflect the collective desires of our community - it’s an opportunity for residents and elected officials to collaborate and envision a future for South Orange, one that addresses issues such as traffic and walkability, while reflecting our values of diversity, community and inclusion.
And yet, there is nothing truly inclusive about the current process of green-lighting projects in our neighborhood. We are disappointed that a representative from (and nominated by) Academy Heights has not been given a seat at the table when it comes to the proposed projects on Valley Street. Not a single member of the Development Committee is a resident of Academy Heights, while this area has more development projects than any residential area in the Village of South Orange. Those projects, at various stages of development, include: 22 units at 320 Valley which is currently under construction, the Meridia development at 4th and Valley which will be 5 stories and 110 units, a 4-story building at 14 2nd street, a 3-story building at the Napa site on Valley, and now this luxury dormitory boarding house.
We also find it troubling that our neighbor, Seton Hall University, was not present for the discussion surrounding the proposed luxury dormitory boarding house, which is largely meant to serve their students. We do not believe that this building, which will cater to affluent, privileged students, is the right addition to our neighborhood.
While development in our area is not in and of itself a bad thing, approving large projects that don’t conform to current zoning laws, without a comprehensive plan, is not a strategy we support. Large development projects along the Valley Street corridor might seem economically sound right now, however it could very well wind up being a drain on taxpayer dollars and a misuse of prime real estate. More information is needed, and a comprehensive plan must be formulated, before piecemeal projects of this scale should be approved.
We ask that South Orange Village President Sheena Collum and the Board of Trustees table review of Valley Street projects, particularly the All Star Motors site proposal, until a comprehensive plan that reflects the desires of our neighborhood is approved and underway.
Melissa Wood, AJ Albrecht, Jessica Shaw, and Cat Fisher
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