A two-building complex that’s expected to physically transform the center of downtown received unanimous preliminary and final site plan approval from the Planning Board earlier this year. Main & Monroe plans to extend Monroe Street, cutting Lot B and creating a new public street downtown.
The 208-unit project received approval at the March 31 meeting and is expected to break ground within the next year. (This post is primarily based a review of the 165-page transcript of the March 31 hearing since I wasn’t able to attend.)
The five-story buildings would front Main Street and have a total of 208 rental apartments and 198 ground-floor parking spaces (22 percent of which would be compact). Four separate ground-floor retail spaces would total 5,331 square feet. The residential units would be spread across four floors on top of two levels of parking in one building. A new Parking Authority-operated lot would be built behind the two buildings.
Of the 208 units, 52 studio apartments (25 percent) would average about 525 square feet; 97 one-bedrooms (47 percent) about 654 square feet, and 59 two-bedroom units (28 percent) about 981 square feet.
The South building would be the larger of the two and be located adjacent to where Main Street curves slightly after East Cherry Street. It would include 116 units (24 studios, 57 one-bedrooms and 35 two-bedrooms), 119 parking spaces (19 compact spaces), and two retail spaces of 1,721 feet and 1,553 feet. In addition to a 1,742-square-foot leasing office, the South building would include amenity space totaling almost 3,700 square feet.
The North building, closer to Poplar Street across from Luciano’s Ristorante, would include 92 units (28 studios, 30 one-bedroom and 24 two-bedrooms), 79 parking spaces (including 25 compact spaces) and two retail spaces: one 900 square feet and another 1,070 square feet.
The project encompasses Block 318, Lots 1-10 and Lot 23 (which is owned by the Parking Authority) and also plans to create a new public street, extending Monroe Street past Main Street, through Lot B to East Cherry Street, and ending near the entrance of the Rahway Transportation Center on Lewis Street. The developer, Slokker Real Estate Group, has been approved for a 30-year Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) and will be responsible for environmental remediation and construction of the Monroe Street extension, according to the redevelopment agreement approved in April 2014.
Most of the properties were acquired in 2006 — at the height of the real estate market — for what was envisioned as a different project on the two-acre site. The existing buildings were demolished in 2007. Dornoch II, as the application is named, originally was named The Westbury, a 140-unit complex with a 324-space parking deck and 40,000 square feet of retail. The Redevelopment Agency declared Dornoch in default of its redevelopment agreement in 2011. Slokker had partnered with Hillside-based Dornoch on The Westbury and took over the project in 2012.
The recession actually gave the applicant the chance “to study and rethink the project and come up with a project that better fit than what was approved 10 years ago,” planner and architect Joel Schwartz testified. “The a-ha moment was extending Monroe Street. It was like a great idea hiding in plain sight. We realized Monroe is a great street for people and cars,” he said. The entire site is actually one of the largest blocks in the city, which is not good for cities or pedestrians. What’s best for walkability is having blocks that are the right size, he said.
The project required relief for lot depth on the parking authority lot (Lot 1.03), rear yard setback from Monroe to Main Street, and parking. Of the 1.25 parking spaces required per unit, 1.0 should be on-site and 0.25 can be provided in other ways, such as surface or on-street spaces, according to RSIS standards. The project complied with the 1.25-space requirement and 0.25 space component but not the 1.0 spaces on site (198 spaces, 208 units).
About 5 to 6 percent of residents typically do not not have a car in comparable locations and places like Park Square, Schwartz said. About 22 percent of the 198 parking spaces would be compact. There will be 13 new metered spaces along the new extended Monroe Street and about 14 on Main Street where there are now about seven. There would be two more on Poplar Street.
The existing Lot B and street parking totals about 63 parking spaces. The 55 spaces in a newly-created lot would be owned and operated by the Parking Authority, along with about seven on-street spaces.
Schwartz said the retail space is similar to the what Landmark originally built for Park Square on Irving Street, only 20 feet deep versus a typical 80 feet deep. He said the smaller space was easier to rent at Park Square since it was less expensive.
A subdivision for two buildings (1.01 for the North building and 1.02 for the South), a new Parking Authority lot (Lot 1.03) and a new public street. Relief was sought for minimum lot depth for the new Parking Authority lot, minimum rear yard setbacks and the number of on-site parking spaces.
One of the remaining issues is to relocate about two dozen parking spaces subleased by the Parking Authority for Luciano’s Ristorante, across the street. At the hearing, Michael Merlis of Luciano’s told the Planning Board that he was under the impression the project would not be approved until the developer includes the same number of spaces as originally agreed upon dedicated for the restaurant’s use. Attorney Ronald Shimanowitz of Hutt & Shimanowitz said during the hearing that he had not heard from Merlis until he came to microphone.
According to the redevelopment agreement, Slokker is to work with Luciano’s and the Parking Authority to identify alternate locations to accommodate Lots 1 and 2, at the corner of Poplar Street, which the restaurant has been subleasing.
Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Leonard Bier, who also serves as executive director of the Parking Authority, said during last month’s agency meeting when that he had not been approached about the Luciano’s parking situation, but in an update at last week’s meeting said discussions are now under way.