Linden building vacant for half-century to be replaced

Photo by Alyssa Lidman
Architect Christiano Pereira, standing at left, and attorney Allyson Kasetta, standing at right, make their case to the Linden Planning Board for developer Meridia, which will construct a six-story, 402-apartment complex on West Elizabeth Avenue.

LINDEN, N.J. — The abandoned United Lacquer warehouse on West Elizabeth Avenue will be replaced by a six-story, 402-apartment commercial and residential complex following the project’s Jan. 15 approval by the planning board.

The property will include a two-level parking garage, a restaurant space, fitness center, courtyard, volleyball court and small pool area.

The parking area, which will accommodate 530 cars, will also feature four to six electric-vehicle charging stations. Temporary signs advertising available units will adorn the fourth, fifth and sixth floors of the complex until it reaches a certain occupancy.

The approval comes nearly three and a half years after the city designated the property “in need of redevelopment.”

Some raised concerns during the Jan. 15 meeting about how the project would affect train commuters, parking and congestion, due to its location adjacent to the Amtrak/NJ Transit Northeast Corridor rail line and approximately a half-mile southwest of the station.

“What’s your plan to combat excess overflow of parking into residential areas in the 2nd Ward?” 6th Ward Councilman John Francis Roman asked representatives of the developer, Meridia, during the public-comment portion. “This has been an issue in your first building in the 6th Ward and will also be an issue at your second building.

“So, once the building is built, cars start going onto the streets and residential areas. What’s your plan and effect that you can offer to help with these issues?”

Attorney Allyson Kasetta, who represented Meridia, said she didn’t believe it to be an issue, since traffic engineers hired by Meridia didn’t foresee it as a problem.

“At this time, to my knowledge, there is no plan, because we had a traffic engineer prepare a report and testify, and we had a traffic engineer review our submissions and give his expert opinions,” Kasetta said. “And neither of them were of the opinion that there would be any overflow parking. So, to my knowledge, there was no plan for that, because it’s not anticipated.” Charles Olivo, a traffic expert with Stonefield Engineering and Design LLC, stated that during peak hours there will be about 180 trips during the weekday morning and 189 during the weekday evening.
Roman also asked about any off-site improvements mandated in the agreement.

“Technically, the streetscape improvements are off-site,” Olivo said. “The pedestrian realm or the pedestrian networks are on the sidewalk, or walkability, but there are no off-site impacts associated with this project.”

Resident Edward Kaminski raised concerns about the project and its cumulative effect with nearby development.

“In terms of traffic, there’s a massive development going on in Rahway right up the street,” Kaminski said, regarding construction southwest of the Meridia building. “Was that considered, in addition to the two developments that are being considered on Elizabeth Avenue as well, between this site and the transit village?”

Olivo said he used state statistics for growth when factoring impact but didn’t specifically address whether the nearby projects were considered.
“Typically, when we project, or attempt to predict, what traffic is going to be in the future, we use the New Jersey Department of Transportation growth rates, which include that type of ambient traffic growth,” he said.

Kaminski emphasized that the two developments in proximity to each other will have an impact. Another resident brought up congested trains during rush hours in Linden, and how more residential developments would affect this train congestion.

Roman also demonstrated his opposition along another line of questioning, suggesting that Meridia’s interior construction was not sufficient.

“In your first building in Linden, a complaint that nearly everyone has is paper-thin walls. Hearing their neighbors,” he said. “What’s inside the walls, and is the wall material any different?”

Kasetta responded by saying that she couldn’t address complaints in a building she wasn’t there to address.

“Mr. Chairman, I try to be very careful with how I respond to these things, and I want to be respectful,” she said. “But, any other building that the developer has constructed is really not relevant to the site plan that’s before the board. … I really can’t speak to the truth of any complaint about a different building.”

Planning board members questioned construction with respect to noise-dampening windows on the side that faces the rail lines.

“Anything that’s facing the railroad, the windows are sound-proof windows, so they end up being triple-pane windows,” said Christiano Pereira, principal with CPA Architecture.

He also stated that the walls are treated with a product that is used to dampen sound.
Storm water will be collected via various inlets on West Elizabeth Avenue and then discharged into a storm sewer.

Regardless of the objections, Mayor Derek Armstead praised the development at the meeting following the vote, saying that, after the building has sat vacant for a half-century, it will bring $30 million into the city over a 30-year period.

“I want to remind everybody here, this particular property sat vacant for 50 years,” he said. “Not only did we receive a million dollars for the property in the city, we have a commitment to the developer to clean it up and put it back on the tax revenue.

“That’s going from zero to $30 million. That’s substantial.”