SOMERVILLE, NJ -The Planning Board Wednesday night rejected a builder’s request for an amended site plan that would eliminate an underground parking garage beneath a planned five-story apartment building and move 24 of the tenants’ parking spots across the street to a property he recently purchased.
An unanticipated groundwater source discovered during excavation a few months ago has halted work and has undermined developer Robert Weiss’ plans for the underground parking garage at the planned Davenport Apartments.
He was forced to go with a “Plan B,” which hadn’t existed until it was necessitated by the invasive underground spring located on the property of the former Social Security Building between West Main Street and West High Street. Demolition had begun in March in preparation for the excavation and erection of steel.
Plan B was presented to the Planning Board Wednesday night by Weiss and a cadre of planners, architects, lawyers and engineers, but his plan to relocate the parking spots was rejected by the board by a vote of 7-2.
Planning Board Chairman Bernie Novatto, who voted in favor of the amended plan, said the majority of the board was concerned approval would set a bad precedent.
“I think the board was mostly concerned about setting a precedent of moving parking from a business zone into surrounding zones, that was the main issue,” he said.
“Personally, I didn’t have a problem with it,” Novatto added. “The lot is exactly across the street from the entrance to the building; I saw it as not such a bad thing; the parking lot is already there - who cares who is parking in it.”
Located at the corner of Davenport Street and West High Street, the lot has been there for over 50 years, used by patients to park when visiting one of four doctors who used to practice in the converted two-story residence on the property purchased by Weiss.
The office building on the property, formerly owned and occupied by Dr. Alan Hecht and associates, will be remodeled and rented by Weiss, according to Colin Driver, Somerville’s director of Economic Development.
The Immaculate Conception Church was located on the West High Street corner lot before it was destroyed by a fire in 1965.
The original plans for the five-story, 60-unit building were approved by the borough Planning Board in July, 2016. The project engineers included a partial excavation of the ground beneath the building to a depth of 30 feet to accommodate two levels of underground parking, according to Driver.
One alternative would have been to construct a cofferdam – a second foundation with pumps built within within an outer foundation that would counter water seepage, similar to the engineering at New York City’s World Trade Center, according to Driver.
Weiss said at the meeting that costs for such a plan were in excess of $1 million, an added expense that would jeopardize the economic feasibility of the project, which he had earlier estimated to cost $18 million.
Weiss had scaled back his original proposal which had met with opposition from merchants and residents concerned that the new building’s tenants would expropriate what limited parking space there is in the lot behind stores in municipal Lot #2 on West Main Street,adjacent to the former Social Security building property.
The revised plan for “The Davenport” reduced the number of apartments to 60 while increasing the number of parking spaces by adding a second sub-level beneath the building to accommodate cars.
That’s the space which has been filling with water.
The original plan called for 72 residential units – 12 studio apartments, 48 one-bedroom apartments and 12 two-bedroom apartments.
The revised plan eliminated the studio apartments; the approved mix features 40 one-bedroom apartments and 20 two-bedroom apartments.
There were to have been 68 parking spaces – 46 on the upper level, or ground floor, and 22 spaces on the sub-level. To satisfy the borough’s ordinance on occupancy and parking, which requires 1.2 spaces per rental unit, Weiss has leased four parking permits from the borough.
Architect David Minno of Minno & Wasko Architects & Planners, Lambertville, describes The Davenport as an “attractive, in-town building.”
Weiss expects the building will attract the so-called Millenials, younger tenants looking for a pleasant place to live with enclosed parking, in a building designed to not look like a townhouse. He described The Davenport as “softened elegance, loaded with a lot of glass.”
A courtyard will be in the center of the building, with vehicular access to the ground floor and sublevel parking through two entrances.