SPRINGFIELD, NJ — Plans to renovate the former Saks Fifth Avenue site on Millburn Avenue are moving forward as the Township Committee voted unanimously at its April 23 meeting to introduce an ordinance to redevelop the property.
The 9.7-acre site located at 90 Millburn Ave. that has been vacant for more than 20 years since the upscale department store closed in the early 1990s, may be home to apartments and townhomes.
“This is just to say ‘yes, that this area needs to be redeveloped.’ Nothing is final yet,” Committeeman Richard Huber said before voting.
The committee will hold a special meeting for the final hearing of the redevelopment project May 7, when it will take a final vote of the ordinance, but the local Planning Board heard preliminary plans for the site at its April 18 meeting.
Keenan Hughes, the board’s planner, introduced a proposal that includes more than 220 apartment units, almost 50 townhouses and a combination of retail and restaurant space.
“By design, this is an upscale multifamily project,” he said.
The concept plans had been drawn up by the architect of a prospective redeveloper and reviewed by Hughes, who expressed satisfaction with the plan, saying it is consistent with the Springfield Master Plan.
“This property has long been discussed in the township’s Master Plan,” Hughes said, adding that the 1997 plan specifically recommended a mixed-use development on the property.
The plan says a “mixed-use development is proposed for the parcel which would allow a combination of commercial and multifamily residential use developed as a single entity,” as read by Hughes.
He added that 15 percent of the rental apartment units and 20 percent of the for-sale townhomes will be subsidized Mount Laurel housing, consistent with the township’s ordinance.
The site will also include a parking structure that will be attached to the multifamily apartment units as well as other spaces dedicated to the retail spaces.
About 20 square feet in the front of the property is located in neighboring Millburn, but Hughes said that township is on board with the plans thus far.
“I think that where we are tonight is a concept plan and redevelopment plan that, from my understanding, all sides are in agreement on,” he said.
“The redevelopment plan sets the stage for a formal site plan,” Hughes added, saying that the developer cannot begin to introduce site plans until the redevelopment plan is adopted by the Township Committee.
The concept plans call for a 20-foot-wide vegetative buffer along the property line that borders residential areas to the south along with a 6-foot board-on-board fence.
The plan recommends adding a traffic signal at the property’s entrance adjacent to Baltusrol Way. This will need approval by Essex County as Millburn Avenue doubles as County Route 527, and is under its jurisdiction.
“The signal is meant to remove conflicts of movement so the driveway opposite Baltusrol Way is where you have left turn movements at the same time as through movements on the main street,” board engineer Mike Disko said at the meeting.
The plans also include additional streetscape for Millburn Avenue and will reduce impervious coverage on the property from 95 percent to 75 percent, according to Hughes.
“We’re just lucky there hasn’t been a disaster with this building thus far,” board member Andrews Schwartz said of the old Saks property. “It’s going to bring in more taxes for this town, which is always a good thing.”
A developer’s battle to build a 69,000-square-foot supermarket on the site came to an end more than a year ago after 20 years of public meetings and legal battles.
The Springfield Zoning Board of Adjustment rejected a site plan application from ARC Springfield, which represented Stop & Shop, in 2002 due to concerns about truck traffic on Millburn Avenue.
However, a Superior Court judge overturned that decision two years later and the site plan application to build a supermarket on the site was approved in 2006.
In 2014, ARC Springfield’s application for a conditional use variance was rejected by the Millburn Zoning Board of Adjustment.
ARC Springfield sued Millburn, but the Superior Court dismissed the case in March 2018.