Preliminary site plan OK’d for artist housing

The Planning Board last week granted preliminary site plan approval for a 58-unit affordable housing complex geared toward artists. Final site plan approval would include a full landscaping and lighting plan.

Rahway Residence for the Arts renderingThe four-story Rahway Residence for the Arts would be built along Central Avenue behind the former Elizabethtown Gas Co. building, where Central Avenue and Hamilton Street meet. The board at its Tuesday night meeting also unanimously approved variances and a subdivision so the building would be on its own lot, with ownership retained by the Redevelopment Agency, while the rest of the property will be sold to the developer, Ingerman Group. The building is expected to house administrative offices of the Rahway Arts District and possibly others, such as the Union County Performing Arts Center and Union County College. The developer agreed to replace the windows in the existing building.

Variances were approved for parking, minimum lot, lot depth, and rear setback. The rationale was to leave a piece that only encapsulated the Elizabethtown building, Matt Kensil of Pennoni Associates of Haddon Heights said. Previous versions of the project envisioned community or gallery space in the 6,500-square-foot building.

Rahway Residence for the Arts.Central Av elevationThe existing lot of about 45,293 square feet would be split into one for the apartment complex of 42,455 square feet and another for the Elizabethtown building of 2,838 square feet. The original plan envisioned demolishing the building and constructing 70 units, but discussions with the Redevelopment Agency over the last year led to retaining the building and reducing the number of units to 58, according to Jennifer Mazawey of Genova Burns.

There would be 24 one-bedrooms units with an average 675 square feet, 28 two-bedrooms averaging 914 square feet, and six three-bedrooms averaging 1,130 square feet. The building would have two elevators. There will be large community rooms that can be subdivided for residents’ use as well as common area patios and terraces overlooking the Rahway River as well as Central Avenue. Individual units will have “Juliette” balconies, which have sliding doors but not an area to step out onto.

Bruce Morgan, president of BCM Affordable Housing, said the facility won’t be LEED certified but the design will be consistent with LEED certifications. “We think this building will rival anything in Rahway in terms of sustainability,” he said.

The vehicular entrance would be on Central Avenue, with access to 37 parking spaces for residents. About half would be oRahway Residence for the Arts Central Av elevationpen-air and the other half covered by the building, given the site’s topography. Another 36 parking spaces will be available for any overflow through an arrangement with the Parking Authority, at the Hamilton Stage parking lot across the river and the YMCA lot off Irving Street. The whole idea was to make it pedestrian-oriented, with a desire for walkability, according to Morgan. With the train station within walking difference, it’s doubtul that residents will have two cars per unit, relying on foot traffic and mass transit.

During his testimony, architect James Haley of Haley Donovan testified that they believe there is ample parking to not impede the neighboring area.

“We don’t believe we’ll need excess parking,” Morgan said to the extent that the excess parking will be available through the Parking Authority. The Reinvestment Fund manages more than 6,000 units, including facilities in Baltimore and Philadelphia. Planning Board members suggested securing a written agreement with the Parking Authority before moving forward.

Three members of neighboring Ebenezer A.M.E. Church on Central Avenue were the only citizens to speak on the application. The Rev. Erika Crawford said the neighborhood already is challenged by parking, especially when any events are held at local churches, Veterans Field or the UCPAC. Carol Holmes asked why the Elizabethtown Gas building won’t be razed to provide more parking.

City Council approved a Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) for the project in early 2013. Developers will apply for state tax credits by July with announcements expected by October. The expected to break ground during the first quarter of 2016, with a 14-month construction schedule.

To qualify, individuals would have to earn less than 60 percent of the area’s median income.