GARWOOD, NJ — After receiving approval for its 298-unit apartment complex on the north side of South Avenue in Garwood, Russo Development is turning its attention to the other side of the same street.
A Dec. 5 meeting at Lincoln School organized by Garwood Borough Council President Sara Todisco and Councilwoman Jen Blumenstock drew about 50 residents to gather their input regarding two proposals for a 1.74-acre site, mostly asphalt-covered parking lots: 52 townhomes or a 73-unit apartment complex.
“I think the pros of the stacked townhomes is that it is nice to have some variety of product and not to have all the same kind of product,” Russo Development principal Ed Russo said.
Russo had been leaning toward the 52 townhomes until about three weeks ago and was asked by the Garwood Planning Board to reduce density, a concern that emerged from the community.
“One of the reasons for the gathering was to see if there is tremendous amount of sentiment one way or another,” borough attorney Bob Renaud said at the meeting.
It took nearly three years to attain final approval for the redevelopment plan for the north side of South Avenue, a 5.3-acre site occupied by the largely abandoned Casale Sheet Metal and Petro Plastics industrial sites. The site plan for those properties, collectively known as “South Avenue I,” was to go before the board Dec. 14.
The parking lot areas on the opposite side of the street also were bought by Russo in the Casale/Petro purchase, and the redevelopment plan for that tract, known as “South Avenue II,” must be approved by Dec. 26, according to a court order, borough administrator Christina Ariemma said Dec. 11.
Both properties were subject to court approval under Mount Laurel housing requirements established by the state Supreme Court.
The Dec. 5 meeting generated questions ranging from fiscal and school impacts to aesthetics.
In addition to the variety introduced by the prospective townhomes, Russo suggested an economic benefit derived from building homes that may be purchased.
There could be a market demand for house, due to the majority residence being built in Union County are rental units, Russo contended.
The downside of the townhomes is that they include several three-bedroom units — which could bring more children and an added stress on the school system — and a potential difficulty in selling smaller one- and two-bedroom units.
The apartment plan is less dense, has less floor area, less height and mass and provides 23 additional municipal parking spaces, Russo said.
The courtyards, gym and other amenities built as part of South Avenue I would also be available for use by renters from South Avenue II, which Russo said he hoped would add value.
He indicated that the apartment project was the more desirable of the two, mainly because it is smaller, the building heights are lower and it could be more architecturally attractive as there is more flexibility to build a modern project.
Of the 73 units, there would be 39 one-bedroom units, 19 two-bedroom units and eight three-bedroom units, with seven studios. The development would have one E-shaped building with 25 percent of the property being open space.
The development proposal for 52 town homes includes 26 two-bedroom and 26 three-bedroom mix. The townhome plan shows a four-building structure with 17 percent of the property allocated to open space.
While both proposals will satisfy 15 percent of their court-ordered Mount Laurel obligation, another key difference between the two projects was that the town homes will yield 173 bedrooms, while the apartment option has only 108.
Garwood has a small public school system with one school and an enrollment of about 400 students between kindergarten through eighth grade; high school students attend school in Clark. The topic of new residents’ impact on local schools has been central to discussion among residents and recurred throughout the meeting.
“Out of many concerns expressed by residents, school impact has gotten a lot of attention,” Russo stated.
“No one knows with 100 percent certainty how many school aged children will be generated by the product, but there is a tremendous amount of data that projects the amount of children, and all the data suggests that one-bedroom, studio, and two-bedroom units don’t produce that many,” Russo responded.
The apartments are not conducive to families with two or three school-aged children, they are conducive to empty nesters and young couples, Russo attorney Christopher Minks told those at the meeting.
Minks who is also on the Mountainside Board of Education, highlighted that the data on school children was submitted along with the fiscal impact study, showing that even if the project brings new students, there is enough of a fiscal benefit to the community to accommodate them.
The project is to draw significant tax ratables, Minks said.
“It seemed like you are going to get tax ratable if it was only for a for sale product. That is not true,” he said. “Whether if it is a for sale product or rental, the borough is going to get significant tax ratable.”
South Avenue II is projected for a construction start date sometime in 2020, Russo said.