Bernardsville apartment project raises questions | Bernardsville News
BERNARDSVILLE – A proposal to build multi-family housing in the downtown business district will return to the Planning Board at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, November 17, after raising widespread concerns during the council’s initial hearing on the application.
Greyfield Management, LLC, of Union City is seeking preliminary and final site plan approval to raze a one-and-a-half-story building housing a law office at 106 Mine Brook Road and construct a three-storey apartment building floors and 22 units.
Located between the Bellzima lounge building and the Bernardsville fire station, the site is within the borough’s downtown zoning sector, which allows for multi-family housing.
Although the proposal is largely in line with zoning, it drew criticism from council members, the fire chief and neighboring residents during opening testimony on Thursday, September 15.
A key issue was the plaintiff’s plan to only have apartments at market price. The borough requires new developments of five or more units to have 15-20% of those units set aside as limited revenue to help meet state affordable housing mandates.
Plaintiff attorney Craig Gianetti told council that Greyfield would get affordable housing credits by instead providing a four-bedroom group home for people with disabilities in an undetermined borough.
Gianetti said the borough council was “receptive” but unwilling to engage until a site was identified.
But board chairman Robert Graham was not won over by the idea.
“It’s going to be a problem,” he said.
Board member Chad McQueen, who sits on borough council, said the council could not make a commitment until it had a “strategic discussion” with his lawyer about how future terms of affordable housing can be filled.
Several other issues surfaced during a nearly four-hour board review. They included stormwater drainage plans, fire safety, architectural details, and how the project would affect homes across the street.
The hearing, which was held virtually via Zoom, has been rescheduled for November 17. This meeting should also be held virtually.
The property totals 21,434 square feet, or 0.49 acres. It is currently owned by Railroad Associates, who bought the property in 1984 from Sidney and Anne Fox who had it listed as their home address.
According to information from the Historic Downtown Bernardsville Walking Tour, Sidney Fox ran the Fox Hardware Store at 12 Mine Brook from 1948 until his retirement in 1980.
The existing old house totals approximately 2,400 square feet on the east side of the property, with a wooded area occupying the west side towards the fire station.
The proposed apartment building would have pier parking on the ground floor plus two residential floors and would total 28,514 square feet.
While the existing structure is approximately 30 feet wide, the proposed building would be 154 feet wide and span almost the full width of the property, leaving 11.5 foot side yards to the east and 10.5 feet west toward the fire station.
The existing structure has a front yard setback of 24.5 feet from the street, while the proposed building would have a five foot setback.
The proposal would remove 43 trees while increasing plot cover – the amount of land covered by buildings and roadway – from the current 26.2% to 79.2%.
Waivers are being sought to allow a ground floor to be 0.32 feet above the sidewalk from a zoning requirement of 1.5 feet; and allow a sidewalk width of four feet as opposed to the minimum of eight feet.
The 22 apartments would include 11 each on the second and third floors. There would be 14 one-bedroom units of approximately 880 square feet each and eight two-bedroom units of approximately 1,200 square feet each.
Vehicle access would be through a 25 foot wide opening in the building which would have a roll down security gate. It would lead to 38 parking spaces.
The ground floor, in addition to the car park, would include a hall, a mail room and a storage room for up to 20 bicycles.
Project architect Nancy Dougherty said the design sought to reflect the historic character of the business district and mimicked the Bernards Inn by having a stone veneer base, stucco walls and a pitched roof with gable detailing .
The roof would be just over 39 feet high, with a parapet bringing the height to just under 45 feet, she said.
Although an initial design was revised at the request of the borough’s Historic Preservation Advisory Committee (HPAC), McQueen said he thought it “still got a little short.”
HPAC member Dan Lincoln then made suggestions aimed at, among other things, “breaking the mass” of the proposed building.
Project engineer Richard Adelsohn discussed drainage plans for the site, which slopes south toward the NJ Transit railroad tracks.
Council member Mary Kellogg questioned a plan to erect the building above an existing drain pipe and asked why drainage could not be directed to the east side of the proposed building.
Council engineer Paul Ferriero, who was replacing Robert Brightly, added that drainage from a planned retention pond would flow into the existing pipe “which is already overloaded”.
Ferriero said he doesn’t think the stormwater treatment plan will meet state standards.
Johanna Wissinger, chair of the borough’s environmental commission, expressed a similar view.
Fire safety concerns were also raised.
Board Vice Chairman Jeffrey Horowitz said while most buildings had a “back street” from which firefighters could target a taillight, the proposed building would not.
Dougherty didn’t see that as a problem, saying fires would often have to be fought from front access.
But Glenn Miller, head of the Bernardsville Fire Company, said there would be no way to provide an aerial ladder for someone who needed to be rescued from behind.
Miller also noted that the parking plan included seven spaces with electric vehicle (EV) charging stations and questioned the potential for “high flammability” inside a building.
The chief also said nearby power lines were missing from the plans. He said if part of the proposed building were to knock down those lines, the lines would also fall on the fire station.
John McDonough, a professional Morris Plains planner hired by the plaintiff, testified that the plans would provide a “showcase building” that would not be overcrowded.
This testimony was disputed by three residents.
“It’s going to change the neighborhood,” said Kiernan Flynn of Mine Brook Road. He said the proposed design does not match any of the surrounding buildings.
“We’re going to look like tiny old houses with the Rolls-Royce dealership across the street,” he said.
Fire company administrator Mark Tamke of Seney Drive said “the size of this building is just huge for this location”.
“There are so many other places where a building like this could be located,” he said. “It’s very hard to see that going up there.”
Martha Kelshaw of Mine Brook Road expressed concern that flooding and traffic could worsen. She also questioned whether the site was suitable for apartments, saying tenants would be subjected to constant train whistles and fire horns.
“Across the street neighbors, we have concerns, having this building when there are so many new apartments and condos that seem empty at this point, and we have so many new ones on offer,” Kelshaw said. “It doesn’t seem possible that we’re filling all of these places when even downtown businesses haven’t perked up.”
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