SENTINEL North Brunswick / South Brunswick
June 7, 2012
JENNIFER AMATO Staff Writer
Preliminary site plan approval granted to N.B. transit village
Construction can begin after permits secured, final plans approved
Preliminary site plan and subdivision approvals were granted for the North Brunswick transit village May 30, meaning initial construction could be just months away. The township Planning Board reviewed several items, including site circulation, existing buildings on the property, and affordable housing, before approving the application 8-1 during the third public meeting in the past two months.
"Last night was a big step forward in a plan that was approved two years ago," said Jonathan Frieder, principal of North Brunswick TOD Associates, the developer of the former Johnson & Johnson property along Route 1 north. "Overall, the last three hearings are a continuation of seven years of a long collaborative effort with the residents of North Brunswick, the staff, officials and the Planning Board."
The next step, which is currently pending, is to secure permits from outside agencies, such as the state Department of Transportation and the Department of Environmental Protection; Frieder said he does not anticipate any issues in obtaining those permits. In terms of the project moving forward, construction on Route 1 and its applicable intersections could begin by the end of the summer if all appropriate permits are secured by June, which is a hopeful expectation, according to John Taikina, director of planning and development for North Brunswick TOD Associates. The developer is required, per township ordinance, to contribute to the surrounding roadway improvements before beginning construction on the site. Aaron Road and Route 1 will be widened to five lanes; Commerce Boulevard will add one lane to the east and west approaches, making it five lanes; two additional driveways will be constructed, one north of and one south of Aaron Road, to alleviate traffic on Aaron Road, with the southern driveway intended for, but not limited to, truck traffic making deliveries to the retail stores on the southern end of the property; and at the intersection of Cozzens Lane, Route 1 and Adams Lane, there will be a dedicated left lane westbound, two through lanes, a dedicated right lane westbound and two receiving lanes.
Also, Taikina said he believes there will be an announcement from NJ Transit shortly, "maybe in a couple of months," regarding the train station proposal. He said even if the go-ahead was given shortly, the station is at least five years away.
"We've been working every day for six years to make that happen," he said."We want the train station as fast as humanly possible."
Next, TOD Associates will come back for final site plan approval, possibly sometime this summer, with details of building architecture, landscaping and lighting. Costco, the first building planned for the site, will be part of the discussion.
"We have a huge investment in this because we want to develop it," Frieder said. "It's a 20-year process to change this huge cruise ship that was headed in one direction for the last 50 years to head in another direction for the next 150 years."
However, there were a few concerns discussed prior to the approvals during last week's meeting.
One of the main issues was resolving issues the township engineer, CME Associates, had with some of the site plans.
Taikina said that the roundabouts that connect Route 1 and the 206-acre transit village property were redesigned, traffic-calming measures were included, certain driveways were closed off and parking was added near the bus depot. "There are no longer issues with the CME memo ... CME and us and the township staff are all in agreement on that," he said .
Another point of contention that continued from a meeting in April is an existing warehouse on the site that would be located near the train station area. TOD representatives have maintained that the warehouse would remain there for as long as it is economically viable, but that it could be demolished if and when needed, depending on the train station construction and the residential market, Frieder said.
"Because the site is so large and because the project is so large, there is a lot of room to have everything work and be effective although the building is remaining there," Taikina said.
However, Councilman Ralph Andrews strongly disagreed with the warehouse remaining on the property, voting no on the approvals because of the questions that exist around the current application; he said he has been a supporter of the train station but does not want residential units and bus traffic combined with tractor-trailers from a warehouse.
Yet Taikina said that the first 500,000 square feet of warehouse space will come down as soon as possible, and the remaining 700,000 square feet will come down when it is replaced by something more viable. He said the intent is not to keep the warehouse there if all other plans follow through.
Another issue discussed during the meeting was affordable housing. The developer is planning 1,875 total residential units at the time of final build-out, and any affordable units generated would be on-site and included in the total number.
The township wanted an agreement from the developer that the affordable units would not be in one location; however, Taikina said he would not agree to a certain percentage in each building. Upon approval, the township made a condition that no more than 35 percent of units in each building would be affordable, unless it was a particular residential building for the disabled.
Frieder said that the developer is committed to including any affordable housing in a way that is dispersed, and not in a highly concentrated manner.
Other conditions of approval included exchanging ownership of the pump station; submitting architectural, landscape and lighting plans with the first final site plan; ensuring that 10 percent of the estimated electric energy will be generated on-site by renewable energy at each of the freestanding large retail establishments and 10 percent of the overall site; and applying for Title 39 jurisdiction for the Police Department.
When the project is completed at 2300 Route 1 north, in a maximum of 20 years, there will be 300,000 square feet of freestanding large retail establishments, 450,000 square feet of mixed-use retail and commercial space, 50,000 square feet of freestanding commercial space, 195,000 square feet of office space, a 250,000- square-foot hotel, and 1,875 residential units for a total of 1.245 million square feet of development on the property, all contingent upon securing a train station on the property.
Contact Jennifer Amato at email@example.com.