Union OKs apartments for old University Diner property

Univeristy Diner photo by Brian Trusdell;
The University Diner at 580 North Ave. across from Phil Rizzuto Park, is to be replaced by a four-story, 24-unit apartment building, now that the Union Board of Adjustment has given its OK.

UNION, NJ — Plans for a 24-unit apartment building were approved for the half-acre property at 580 North Ave. on the corner of Lynmar Way that was long home to the University Diner, at the Zoning Board of Adjustment’s Jan. 9 meeting, despite residents’ concerns.

The plan passed 7-1 with member James DiGiovanni being the sole vote against the development.
The property, which is located at the edge of the Kean University campus, has been vacant since the diner closed in December 2015, and the applicant, 580 North Avenue Associates, was seeking a variance to erect a multifamily structure within a business and retail district.

“The proposed multiresidential use is a much less intense use than a commercial use in the BB zone,” 580 North attorney Stephen Hehl said at the meeting.

The proposal includes a four-story building with a first-floor parking garage and 24 rental units on the top three floors.
Engineer Edward Dec, of Guarriello & Dec Associates, presented plans to the board that called for 13 one-bedroom apartments, 10 two-bedroom apartments, and one three-bedroom apartment. One apartment will be subsidized so as to be included as part of the township’s Mount Laurel housing obligation.

The new residential development will be constructed just south and across the street from Phil Rizzuto Park in Elizabeth, and residents expressed concerned with how the 60-foot building would affect their neighborhood.
“Right now, I can look out my window and see a view of the park. What’s going to happen when there’s a big, 50-foot building in the way?” Bishop Street resident Frank Kerner asked.

Bishop Street runs parallel to North Avenue.
The building would measure 60 feet from the street because of a five-foot decorative peak on the roof. The building’s proposed 9-foot ceilings also add to the structure’s height.

Artist’s rendering via Union Board of Adjustment video
A four-story, 24-unit apartment building, now that the Union Board of Adjustment has given its OK.

Another Bishop Street resident, Janey Chung, told the board that she had moved to Union from New York City almost a year ago for a more suburban environment.

“If I wanted a 60-foot apartment complex in my backyard, I would’ve stayed in New York City,” she said.
While board members Donna Alexander and Thomas Demovic said they had concerns regarding the height of the building before voting for the plans, DiGiovanni said the height was the biggest issue with the site.

“I think a residential situation here is a good one. However, I am not happy with the height of the building and the size of the building. I think that if it was one story less, I’d be more inclined to vote for it. Therefore, I am going to vote no on this application,” DiGiovanni said.

Residents were also concerned with parking and a possible increase in traffic in the neighborhood. The proposed development would have 38 parking spaces, 12 fewer less than the 46 required by ordinance for a 24-unit residential building.
Professional planner Nicholas Graviano told the board that, due to the building’s close proximity to the Union Train Station, all tenants are not expected to have vehicles.

The old diner property is situated about a mile away from the station, which has been deemed as a walkable distance, according to Graviano.

He also told the board that the development will be beneficial to the township because it will reduce vehicular traffic, compared to other development that could take place there, such as another restaurant or commercial tennant, and the developers will be reducing impervious or paved coverage — included the building itself — on the property by 26 percent.

“When you have reductions like this, there really aren’t any negative impacts on a project like this. It’s only promoting positive attributes that are of benefit to the community,” Graviano said.

When providing an overview of traffic impacts associated with the site, Joseph Staigar, of Dynamic Traffic, told the board that, compared with the diner, the residential development will generate about “one-tenth of what the diner could have generated” in terms of traffic.

“The 24 units will generate much less traffic than other buildings that could be in a BB zone,” Staigar added.
Residents were still concerned with a possible overflow in parking from the development.
Elizabeth Hearne, who lives on Lynmar Way, told the board she was concerned about individuals avoiding parking signs and making it difficult to back out of her driveway.

Staigar responded that residents of the development will be “self sufficient in parking” and assured Hearne that there will be no overflow.

Residents also expressed concerns regarding increased sewage usage, noise and light pollution and issues regarding privacy.
“I think in the long run, it will certainly benefit the community and the town. It seems to be the way that things are going in this town. At some point, we might be the city of Union rather than the township with all of the development that’s going on,” Demovic said.