SPARTA, NJ – The Sparta Planning Board voted to approve a 70 unit apartment complex at 53A Sparta Avenue.  The four-story buildings will be located behind the Burger King, years ago the site of an assisted living facility. 

The site is 2.6 acres on Block 5019 Lot 23 on the Sparta tax map. The schematic of the project shows two residential wings with a common area and gym centrally located in a low building.  Outdoor amenities include two patios, a fire pit, picnic and barbecue areas.

The unanimous vote came after four hours of testimony by the builder, Captiva Living LLC through their attorney, architect, and other professionals.  Board members, township officials and the public asked questions on each portion of the testimony.

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In summarizing his thoughts before the vote, the planning board chairman George Zacsek shared his “cost benefit analysis” of the project:
“I think this project is the right fit.  It provides diversity to our housing stock which is 85% single family homes, increases pedestrian circulation into the town center, increases the number of people going to businesses in the town center…increases the tax base, helps with fair share housing requirements with minimal impact to municipal services, minimal environmental impact and minimal impact to traffic.

Zacsek said there would be marginal increase to school budget, anticipating only nine children to reside in the complex.  He said it would also help with the costs the community must bear regarding water and sewer charges set by Sussex County Municipal Utilities Authority or SCUMA. 

The project, initially rejected in February 2018, was made possible by an ordinance change made in February 2020. The Sparta Township Council approved Ordinance 20-04 amending Chapter 18 “Comprehensive Land Management Code.” Ordinance 20-40 entitled “Incentive Zoning and Mandatory Set Asides” provides expanded impervious coverage and other site requirements in exchange for including low income housing units in the project in specific zones in Sparta.

Sparta Mayor and planning board member Jerry Murphy said, “The impetus behind 20-04 was exactly this project.”

BuildPro Construction Services general contractor, based in Houston, Texas and Saddle Brook, New Jersey has had Captiva Lifestyles listed on their website, under "Multi-Family Residential Projects" since the initial application in 2018.   

The proposed project will be complying with the requirement to have 15% affordable housing in four-story buildings.   Eleven apartments will be low income units including three 3-bedroom, six 2-bedroom and two 1-bedroom units.

The overall project will have:

  • 32 one bedroom units
  • 35 two bedroom units
  • 3 three bedroom units

Of the 70 units, 15 will be for sale leaving 55 rental units, 44 of which will be market value rentals. Some top floor two bedroom units will also have loft spaces bringing them to approximately 1300 square feet.

The two bedroom units will be 1000 to 1200 square feet and the one bedroom units will be 890 square feet according to architect Jose Carballo. 

Each unit will be “individual” with laundry, hot water heaters and individual utility meters, according to Carballo and McGowan.

The units will be “high quality premium level” McGowan said, to “keep turnover at a minimum.” 

Exterior Plans

According to the architect the parking garages will have doors for security.  He said the exterior will feature stone and “Glass Fiber Reinforced Concrete” or GFRC siding boards that “look like wood.”  The air conditioning unit grills will be flush with the exterior walls and will be colored to blend in with the surrounding finishes.

The ordinance revised in February allows 80% impervious coverage for a four-story building.  The site work will include removing remnants of the previous building including foundation, septic and utilities.  Trees and soil will also be removed, according to testimony and the application submitted to the planning board.

The project will 35 have “basement” or underground parking spots and an additional 115 grade level parking spots, mostly located under the apartments, for a total of 150 spots, more than the 134 required by code.

The driveway will include a circular cul-de-sac with at least one loading zone.  Trash enclosure and utilities room are slated to be on the lower parking level, according to the application.

Bertin Engineering’s report in the builder’s application includes underground detention basins and infiltration basins in the below the circular driveway and at the southern portion of the property.  The report said “a small minority of the runoff will be redirected to the neighboring site northeast of the proposed development.”   

Traffic Impact

Questions were raised by planning board member and deputy mayor Christine Quinn about the impact of having so many cars entering and exiting the property.  The only driveway will be the road currently used by patrons of the Burger King.

The attorney said they are constrained in this regard because it is a “flag lot” with no other connection to Sparta Avenue, also known as Woodport Road and State Highway 181 in that area.

The builder’s traffic expert Eric Hough of Bertin Engineering testified there would be 19 cars leaving the property during the morning rush hour and 21 cars returning in the evening rush hour.  Hough said they were relying on a 24-hour traffic study done in 2017.

“The Burger King adds more traffic than our project,” McGowan said.

“Not everyone leaves at the same peak time,” Hough said.  “It’s more spread out than you think.”

Several planning board members weighed in with concerns about the traffic, especially people trying to turn left when leaving the complex.  Planning board chairman George Zacsek suggested “right turn only” during peak hours. 

A cross-hatching of the road was discussed.

“I believe in common courtesy when it comes to exiting and entering,” board member John Kollar said.  “What ever you propose I’ll be fine with.”

Testimony by Captiva Living’s attorney indicated an estimate of nine children are anticipated to be living in the facility.  Quinn asked they coordinate with the school to discuss what can be done for student safety because of the driveway, parking lot and busy road where they would wait for the bus.

Sparta Planning Board attorney Tom Collins reviewed planning board members’ concerns to be followed up including:

  • Review with the fire department that the ladder truck is sufficient to address any issues at the proposed four-story building
  • Amend some lighting and landscaping plans
  • Review a schedule of soil removing trucks and other trucks entering and exiting the property with the township engineer
  • Add a sound enclosure for the generator
  • Coordinate with the Sparta Board of Education regarding student safety
  • Apply to the New Jersey Department of Transportation to add cross-hatching to Sparta Avenue
  • The Sparta Presbyterian Church cemetery’s fence will remain and be repaired in needed

McGowan said the builder has “done due diligence” to determine there is a market for these housing units, including a “nearby business” that is expecting an “employment boom.”  He said they expect the project to “lease up quickly” and there have already been inquiries about when occupancy is anticipated.

“In general, it is a first class building that will attract grown up kids who have grown up here…and empty nesters,” McGowan said.

The project will need approval by Sparta Township Council to proceed.  No timeline was announced.

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