UNION, NJ — Discussions regarding the construction of a five-story apartment building on the site of the Garden Buffet restaurant on Morris Avenue were postponed by the Zoning Board after the developer presented new plans that add a possible ground floor restaurant.
American Landmark Development, which was involved in the development of Union Center and former Rite Aid property, is behind the project at 1181 Morris Ave. tabled at the Dec. 12 board meeting. Three board members were absent from that meeting.
Although the current restaurant is still operating, Landmark understands that it has “been struggling and changing hands recently,” according to attorney Stephen Hehl, who represents the developers and addressed the board at the December meeting.
The application for the project was carried over to the Jan. 16 meeting for further discussion.
The greatest concern among board members was adequate parking for the proposed 37 apartments and commercial or restaurant space.
The building would include one- and two-bedroom apartments along with covered parking. While the property would be required to include at least 84 parking spaces for commercial use, Landmark proposed only 49 spaces.
Board member Donna Alexander pointed out that if every apartment is allocated one spot, it would leave only 12 for the restaurant or retail portion space.
“I just want to see if I’ll have a parking problem if I go to the restaurant,” she said.
Board member Thomas Demovic expressed similar concerns, saying, “One car per unit means 37 cars and then, with two-bedroom apartments, it could be more than one. Lack of parking is my major concern. I believe that it will always be a problem.”
Demovic also pointed out that there is no street parking available on Morris Avenue.
Both Landmark traffic engineer Corey Chase and planner Nicholas Graviano told the board that, due to the building’s close proximity to the Union Train Station, they did not expect all tenants to have vehicles.
“One of the biggest selling points for this location is being close to mass transit and having that accessibility no longer requiring you to have a car,” Chase said. “It’s a twofold benefit because it helps reduce traffic and the need for parking.”
He then referenced statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau that states, on average, each rental unit in New Jersey has a rate of 0.73 vehicles per unit, saying the development, “is expected to generate less than one parked vehicle per apartment.”
The development would be approximately 1,500 feet, or about a quarter mile, from the station, according to Graviano.
“Every community, whether it’s Union Township or other municipalities across the state, are developing areas around their train station with mixed-use projects. There will always be a demand and sound justification to have those types of uses within walking distance to the train,” he said.
Graviano also referenced a Forbes Magazine statistic that states 37 percent of millennials don’t own vehicles opting instead for ride-sharing services such as Lyft or Uber.
“And these are the areas they want to live in,” he added. “Quite frankly, I don’t think Union could build enough residential housing in proximity to the train.”
During testimony at previous meetings regarding its application, Landmark proposed building a residential and retail combination space, but when it considered its proximity to Zimmerman Park, it developed the concept of having a small, boutique type restaurant.
“We saw this as an exciting opportunity to have outdoor seating with views of the park,” Hehl said.
There is already a liquor license associated with the property.
According to Chase, a principal with Dynamic Traffic, one traffic study indicated there would be a reduction in peak-hour traffic on Morris Avenue.
“When you compare the trips generated by the residential development in combination with the commercial portion of it, even with consideration of potentially converting that piece into a restaurant development, it’s actually going to generate less traffic in peak conditions than the former restaurant uses, given the size of it,” he said.
If Landmark breaks ground on the project, it will reduce impervious coverage — surface areas that cannot effectively absorb or infiltrate water — by adding greenery along the edges of the property. Right now, the lot is 100-percent impervious, with paved asphalt, and the new project would reduce that to 49 percent.
“This is definitely a nice project, but please come back with concrete possibilities for parking,” Zoning Board Chairman Richard Galante said at the end of the meeting.
Hehl added that Landmark wants to build a successful development, so it will return with parking alternatives.
“We don’t want tenants that are going to move in there and be upset with the parking and then leave,” he added. “We also don’t want them to not patronize the restaurant because they can’t have easy access to it.”