SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - The South Orange Development Committee met on Thursday to discuss a new residential development at Fourth and Valley streets. The proposed development would be a mix of rental units and retail spaces.

The meeting included members of the South Orange Planning Committee, South Orange Village President Sheena Collum, Village Administrator Barry Lewis, Executive Director of the South Orange Center Village Alliance Bob Zuckerman, and Mark Rosner, Village Trustee and trustee liaison to the Development Committee.

Representatives of the development company, Meridia Capodagli Property (Meridia), and members of the community also attended the meeting. Those present from Meridia included Sean McGowan, the lead developer, the project's architect, and the project's attorney. McGowan stated this is the third time they have met with the Development Committee and that they welcomed feedback and that plans "are evolving and not set in stone."

Sign Up for SOMA Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

Community members who came to the meeting to share their views and concerns about the proposed new development included about ten people from the Academy Heights neighborhood, which is next to the proposed development, as well as Maureen Gammon, representing Montrose Park, and Ed Moore, representing West Montrose, who were both there in support of the Academy Heights neighborhood. Also in attendance were owners of Valley Street businesses, some which are slated to be sold to the developers as part of the new development project.

The Development Committee circulated a memorandum dated Feb. 2, in which they "have first addressed the overall concept of the project, including design issues related to the drawings presented by Meridia on January 14," and also requested "additional information about the fundamentals of the project that will allow the Development Committee to work with Meridia to better define the project prior to moving forward with the Village approval process."

The Development Committee memo states that "the general concept of multifamily/mixed-use development seems reasonable for this site; however, the Committee has concerns about a number of aspects of the project." Some of the concerns outlined include insufficient side yard setbacks, too small interior courts or "light wells," the lack of three bedroom units, and the need to make sure there is adequate emergency access.

Also noted was that the "retail spaces are too small and will be hard to lease" and that "the overall density of the project is much too high for the Committee to accept." As for aesthetics, the memo reads that "in the view of the Committee, the design appears to be a bit generic and dull."

David Kraiker, speaking on behalf of the Academy Heights Neighborhood Association, had several suggestions from the association, including the importance of the new development "retaining part of the view" of the South Mountain reservation, and the neighborhood's desire for housing that  is "inclusive and part of the neighborhood and not built in a 'fortress-style' block."

Kraiker pointed out that gated developments tend to create "exclusionary populations who do not participate in town or neighborhood activities, and are less inclined to go out and circulate pedestrian areas and corridors."

The Academy Heights Neighborhood Association also requested that the developers "consider building a structure that has some rooftop peaks and valleys that will allow glimpses through the height, and will add to the 'roofscape,'" stating that the style of the architecture of the new development should "be more in sync with the neighborhoods' architecture," and citing other developments by Meridia in Garfield and Rahway that seemed similar to what would work for the South Orange development. 

Also noted at the meeting was that some of the property that is planned for the development still needs to be acquired by the developer, and if this doesn't happen, the design will need to be revised to take this into consideration.

McGowan stated that Meridia welcomed the feedback, encouraging committee members and people from the community to "keep on talking so we can soak up the information."

The whole frontage of the building is planned to house retail, though whether it would be stores or restaurants, or a combination of the two, is still to be decided.

The developers will use the feedback from the meeting to create a revised plan, which will be presented to the Development Committee for feedback, although the Planning Committee would make the final decision on development plans at Fourth and Valley.