Saks redevelopment plan gets OK

COMING TO THIS SITE? — A map shows the possible layout of a redeveloped area occupied by the long-vacant Saks Fifth Avenue store on Millburn Avenue in Springfield. A recently approved redevelopment plan calls for as many as 220 apartments, nearly 50 townhomes plus retail and dining space.

SPRINGFIELD, NJ — The Township Committee unanimously adopted a redevelopment plan for the former Saks Fifth Avenue site at a special meeting on May 7, clearing the way for the decaying site to be transformed into residential, retail and dining units.

The 9.7-acre site located at 90 Millburn Ave. has been vacant for nearly three decades since the upscale department store closed in the early 1990s. The plan makes it possible for the property to be developed as up to 220 apartment units, nearly 50 townhouses and a combination of retail and restaurant space.

“When we’re talking about a vacant building that has been there for 30-plus years, this is a win tonight,” committee member Alex Keiser said before voting in favor of the redevelopment plan. “It’s going to be an exciting few years ahead for the community.”

At the local Planning Board meeting on April 18, the board planner Keenan Hughes expressed satisfaction with the proposed project, saying it aligns with Springfield’s master plan.

“This property has long been discussed in the township’s master plan,” Hughes said, adding that the 1997 guidelines 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 townhouses will be subsidized Mount Laurel housing, consistent with the township’s ordinance.

The site also will include a parking structure that will be attached to the multifamily apartment units as well as other spaces dedicated to the retail outlets.
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.

Final site plans for the property will need to be submitted, reviewed and approved by both the Planning Board and Township Committee prior to construction.
“I believe that this use is an enormous win for our town and our neighbors to have what will be a luxury and really beautiful neighborhood adjacent to the neighborhood that already exists within walking distance of the train station and our downtown,” Planning Board member David Barnett, a former mayor, said at the meeting.

Planning Board member Scott Wishna, who recused himself from voting on the application at the April 18 meeting because he works for a company that borders the site, had concerns with the type of housing to be built on the property.
“I’m concerned about the time and whether or not any study has been done to determine if there’s a demand for the type of townhouse units that are being proposed. I’m not sure that Springfield has that demand right now,” he said.

Prior to the special meeting, a redevelopment gathering was held to update residents on the three major developments in the township — the Saks site, the Gomes project on Morris Avenue which calls for 140 residential units on top of retail space and another site on Morris Avenue that calls for 24 residential apartments above retail space, according to Matthew Jessup, the township’s redevelopment attorney.

Both Morris Avenue sites will contain one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, with 15 percent of them being subsidized Mount Laurel housing, consistent with the township’s ordinance just as the Saks site.
Many residents came with concerns for the school system, saying that the more than 400 potential housing units included in the three projects will overcrowd the schools.

“Our schools are very old and very small, as you all are aware,” Gale Donner, a Richland Drive resident and educator, said regarding the Saks site, adding that the development is not within walking distance of several schools so there will need to be additional busing services.

“I’m concerned about the education of the children moving into this development,” she said. “Have you planned ahead on the children boost that this will give the township?”
Mayor Erica DuBois said the developments won’t be a detriment to the schools. Hughes previously told the public at a meeting that the school district has a demographer who has been studying the impact of projected enrollment.

“He’s been studying each of these approved or respectively approved developments and has concluded that there will be capacity in the school district to accommodate these projects as you look out into the future five or six years,” Hughes said.