South Orange Development Committee Considers Student Housing Project on Valley Street; Neighbors Raise Concerns

All Star Motors site of proposed student housing development
Proposed design of student housing building

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ - The South Orange Development Committee heard a proposal from Stolar Capital to create a student housing development on Valley Street, between 3rd Street and 4th Street, the current site of All Star Motors.

In addition to the Development Committee members, the meeting on Thursday, April 19, was attended by about 20 residents of the Academy Heights neighborhood, the new development's location, and the current property owner.

Thursday night's presentation was the third time the developers have appeared before the Development Committee over the past year, and the proposed housing presented was a revision of original plans which the developers stated they felt would keep the project financially feasible while also creating a design that fit in with the neighborhood.

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The newly designed building from KSQ Design was presented as "more of an approach than a final idea." 

The original five-story, 64-unit plan has been re-designed, with the new building presented having four stories, and 51-units. The new building is also set further back from the sidewalk on Valley Street then was the originally proposed building, with the new building design providing room for a plaza or parklet. 

The new building design also includes "pockets" on the facade, so some areas of the building are as much as 30 feet from the curb, according to the architect, who presented the building design to the committee.

In addition to the 51 apartment units, the building will have retail space, a student lobby, and 61 parking spaces concealed under the building, according to the developers.

The building would be rented by "the bed" and not by the unit, with events being held for potential roommates to meet each other and be matched. In addition, the developers envision groups of students renting a unit together. All renters must have a parent as a guarantor, according to the developers.

The architect explained that the building design was a result of studying the historical buildings in South Orange as well as the newer developments, including those at 3rd Street and Valley and 4th Street and Valley, with the guiding design principles incorporated including the use of brick, a clearly defined base, middle and top, and an articulated roof.

In addition to the use of brick, the architect also stated that he was considering using "reclaimed wood siding" for accent, possibly from a building that had been demolished, so that building could be "part of the story of this building."

The developers also stated that all student activity would be within the building, with students being able to access an interior courtyard.

While the developers stated they think that Seton Hall University students are the primary population for the building, they also acknowledged that it is possible other people, including students at other area schools, are potential residents of the building as well.

The developers said they currently do not have an official relationship with Seton Hall, or with a management company, which they would retain to lease the apartments and oversee the management of the building.

After the presentation and questions from the Development Committee, residents of the Academy Heights neighborhood were able to ask questions, which included how noise complaints would be dealt with, and how the building would fit into the landscape of the neighborhood of mostly single-family homes.

One resident commented that "building a four story dorm does not reflect the community," and another pointed out with rent expected to be about $13,000 a year for each renter, this building would be "luxury student housing for the wealthiest students at Seton Hall."

Another resident stated that a bigger concern for him was that the building was not part of the larger plan to become a transit community. "To me, this is not transit oriented development. Now we suddenly have students, most going to Seton Hall. This isn't transit oriented."

Others questioned if Seton Hall administration had stated there is a need for student housing, if there was data on student housing needs, and why the property would be used for student housing as opposed to senior or other kinds of housing.

The property owner who was at the meeting replied to this, explaining that the developers who want to buy the land plan to build student housing, as that was seen as the most viable use of the land.

The property owner also added that it's time "for that type of business [All Star Motors] to move away," adding, "it's time for me to move on," and "change is happening."

The property owner also noted that many of the projects the community members expressed interest in having on the land, are not  "financially feasible," and that the student housing project was one that seemed like it would work.

"I want to see the best for South Orange also," he said.

Related article

South Orange Development Committee Discusses Proposed Seton Hall Housing on Valley Street

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