SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — South Orange residents were given a first look at a potential redevelopment plan for the areas of 270 Irvington Ave. and 299 Irvington Ave. last Weds., Feb. 5.

The proposed plan offers development across three sites: 270 Irvington Ave., where first floor commercial space would be topped with 48 market rate apartments and a separate garden house would be seated behind the main building for community space; 299 Irvington Ave., with commercial space, 12 units of affordable housing, and parking for each unit; and third, small building next to 270 Irvington for commercial use which could house possibly a coffee shop or a start up business. 

Greer Patris of the planning firm Topology opened the talk — held at Congregation Beth El, just a block from the proposed site — by saying that since by state statute “real estate development is driven by the private sector,” the naming of an area In Need of Redevelopment “empowers communities” by making development more attractive to the private sector. 

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She also said of the meeting, “This is not a required step. Kudos” to the Village for listening to the community so early in the process, she added; the gqthering was held even before any potential redevelopment plan has been reviewed by the planning board.

The likely reason South Orange wants early buy-in from the community is that several earlier projects for the site using the current zoning were abandoned because of public outcry against their designs. Patris noted that this version of redevelopment comes with no building condemnations, no 30-year tax abatement, and no properties that would be seized by eminent domain. 

The redevelopment designation, she said, would help overcome the zoning obstacles of the current site, and provide incentives for the developer and the Village. It would also include the 12 affordable housing units, which the redeveloper would provide; payment in lieu of construction would not be allowed.

Earl Jackson, the architect of the proposed plan, said his design would “maximize Irvington Ave,” and minimize impact on the rear of the property, leaving a large lawn area for residents to relax in and enjoy as they would a backyard of a single family home. Parking would be in an underground lot, eliminating having a large swath of the property paved over for a surface parking lot. 

To not have the proposed five-story building seem imposing, a lowered mansard roof line “would help the buildings feel more contextual and smaller” while still having enough housing units above the commercial space to make the project viable for the developer, Jackson said. The look of the building would be in keeping with others in the neighborhood, including the South Orange fire station, which also has a mansard roof.

The entire proposed redevelopment plan can be reviewed on the South Orange Village website. A link to submit feedback is also on the site.

 “This has been a problem area for a long time,” said neighborhood resident Regina Delo during the discussion at the end of the presentation. “I’m sure change is very difficult” for everyone involved, she said, “but I’m so happy that something is being done thoughtfully and everybody’s opinions are being taken into consideration, whereas before it was always a battle” between the neighborhood residents and the town concerning other redevelopment proposals. “I have so many concerns but I’m happy to see a project like this on the table,” Delo added.