Planning Board approves 487-unit Brownstones

The Planning Board unanimously approved preliminary and final major site plans for a 487-unit rental development at the former Wheatena site on Elizabeth and West Grand avenues.

Meridia BrownstonesPhase one of The Brownstones — some 300 units — is slated for completion and leasing by the first quarter of 2018, with the remaining units in the second phase by the first quarter of 2019.

Demolition of the buildings at the former Quinn &  Boden book manufacturing plant and Wheatena site is expected to come next year, with groundbreaking on the 487-unit complex possible before the end of 2015. Almost two-thirds of the units, about 316, will be two-bedrooms with about 171 one-bedrooms (a standard size of about 800 square feet, slightly larger for two-bedrooms). There will be “supportive retail,” like a fitness studio or cafe, in three, 1,300-square-foot spaces.

The Planning Board approved the application, with some minor changes, by a 7-0 vote after a little more than two hours of testimony and some public comments at Tuesday night’s meeting. Capodagli Property Company first presented a concept plan to the Redevelopment Agency more than two years ago.

Planning Board members generally seemed most concerned about the size of the parking spaces and traffic flow on the ground floor of the complex. Some 541 spaces would be on the ground floor, topped by four floors of housing, with an additional 59 spaces in a lot across the street as well as 24 on-street spaces along Elizabeth Avenue — a proposed total of 624, more than meeting the required 609 spaces.

20141116_160038Some board members, however, preferred to eliminate several parking spaces in the ground-floor parking to allow for turn-arounds rather than dead-ends in the building’s parking area. In that case, at least six parking spaces would have to be eliminated. City Engineer James Houston expressed concern about the dead-end aisles in the garage after planners said the 17-foot depth for parking worked in Meridia Water’s Edge.

Planning Board member Alexander Shipley seemingly scolded the applicants because they know what the city codes are yet ask for variances. The parking spaces, he feared, will be problematic, not      u20141116_160346_1-1nlike those beneath the library complex. “Whoever designed that should lose their license,” he said of the library’s parking area, with columns scraped up. “Why don’t you just start with doing it correctly rather than claim hardship; maybe the hardship is for the city,” he said.

The main entrance to the facility would be two lanes in and out on Elizabeth Avenue but there also will be one lane in/out along West Scott Avenue. The plan eventually will have to go before the Union County Planning Board since Elizabeth Avenue is a county road.

Two residents spoke on the project. One neighbor on East Grand Avenue raised concerns about vermin in the neighborhood after demolition, which officials rebutted that the developer must get approvals and certifications regarding eradication of vermin before demolition can begin.

Dennis Kirk of Price Street said there’s no question the area needs development after many years of the site layihng fallow but he raised concerns about the footprint on the West Scott Avenue side and whether a section of homes might be isolated from the corner under the current plans, as well as some concerns about signage.

City Council already has approved a 30-year Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) for the project, whcih will require significant cleanup by the developer, West New York-based Capodagli Property Company.

See these previous posts for more background on an estimated $1 million in environmental cleanup on the roughly seven acres, and  efforts to acquire the various parcels as well as previous proposals.

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