Coun­cil ta­bles apart­ment pro­posal

Cites con­cerns from Park N Shop neigh­bors

Newark Post - - FRONT PAGE - By JOSH SHANNON jshan­non@ches­

Cit­ing op­po­si­tion from neigh­bors, city coun­cil on Mon­day tabled a pro­posal to build apart­ments in the Park N Shop plaza.

Coun­cil ap­peared poised to re­ject the pro­ject – which by law would pre­vent the de­vel­oper from bring­ing forth a re­vised re­zon­ing pro­posal for two years – but at the last minute agreed to give DSM Com­mer­cial a chance to come back with a re­vised plan that would ad­dress con­cerns.

“The over­whelm­ing num­ber of peo­ple in my district are op­posed to this,” Coun­cil­man Chris Hamil­ton said.

The plan calls for de­mol­ish­ing the shut­tered M&T Bank build­ing at the cor­ner of South Main Street and Ap­ple Road and re­plac­ing it with a three-story build­ing con­tain­ing 10,600 square feet of re­tail space on the first floor and 12 apart­ments on

the sec­ond and third floors. There would be 10 four-bed­room apart­ments and two two-bed­room apart­ments for a to­tal of 44 bed­rooms.

Most of the ex­ist­ing, re­cently ren­o­vated re­tail space at the shop­ping cen­ter would re­main, though plans call for de­mol­ish­ing 6,400 square feet of the western-most por­tion of the build­ing – which Park N Shop Liquors oc­cu­pied be­fore it moved else­where in the shop­ping cen­ter – to pro­vide more park­ing and cre­ate an end-cap unit.

The pro­ject re­quires a re­zon­ing, com­pre­hen­sive plan amend­ment, ma­jor sub­di­vi­sion and spe­cial-use per­mit. Last month, the plan­ning com­mis­sion unan­i­mously rec­om­mended coun­cil ap­prove the pro­ject, but coun­cil is not ob­li­gated to abide by the rec­om­men­da­tion.

DSM pur­chased the 5-acre shop­ping cen­ter in 2014 – af­ter the pre­vi­ous owner aban­doned a highly con­tro­ver­sial pro­posal to re­place the bank build­ing with a Wawa gas sta­tion – and held two com­mu­nity meet­ings to gain feedback from neigh­bors be­fore go­ing to the plan­ning com­mis­sion.

The plan orig­i­nally in­cluded a drive-thru coffee shop as part of the re­tail space un­der the apart­ments, but DSM elim­i­nated that af­ter many res­i­dents voiced con­cerns about in­creased traf­fic and noise from the speaker.

“We have tried to work with the com­mu­nity. We’ve tried to col­lab­o­rate,” said Mike Hoff­man, a lawyer for DSM. “We ap­pre­ci­ate the feedback we have re­ceived from the com­mu­nity, and it has made the plan a bet­ter plan.”

Hoff­man framed the plan as an ex­am­ple of “new ur­ban­ism de­sign” in which adding res­i­den­tial units helps cre­ate a sense of place and noted DSM plans to make the shop­ping cen­ter more walk­a­ble and im­prove the land­scap­ing.

He ac­knowl­edged the apart­ments will likely at­tract stu­dents, but ar­gued that the build­ing will fit in with a num­ber of other mixed-use struc­tures con­tain­ing stu­dent apart­ments that have been built along South Main Street in the past few years.

“To claim that this is a large and out-of-char­ac­ter ad­di­tion is sim­ply not in line with the ob­jec­tive facts,” Hoff­man said, not­ing that many of the other com­plexes, in­clud­ing Rit­ten­house Sta­tion di­rectly across the street, have more units and a higher den­sity.

How­ever, dur­ing a nearly two-hour de­bate, which grew heated at times, sev­eral coun­cil mem­bers dis­agreed with Hoff­man’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tion of the pro­ject’s im­pacts.

Coun­cil­woman Jen Wal­lace said the pro­ject is too close to the nearby neigh­bor­hood.

“We are ring­ing it with high­den­sity stu­dent hous­ing,” Wal­lace said. “That is clearly not what the res­i­dents want.”

She thanked DSM for meet­ing with the neigh­bors but said the com­pany has not ad­dressed all the con­cerns.

“I don’t think this is in the com­mu­nity’s best in­ter­est,” she said.

Hamil­ton, too, ac­knowl­edged that DSM made ef­forts to im­prove the pro­ject, but be­lieves the com­pany did not go far enough.

“You’ve done a lot of good, but it’s not yet reached the tip­ping point where the neigh­bor­hood says yes,” he said.

Coun­cil­man Mark More­head said he wants to see more diver­sity in de­vel­op­ment, rather than just hous­ing geared to­ward stu­dents.

“It makes more sense to you to rent to peo­ple that can af­ford to pay for a bed­room more than I pay for my whole house,” More­head told Hoff­man. “I get all that, but that’s not what we’re ask­ing for.”

Few res­i­dents spoke out against the pro­ject Mon­day, but oth­ers have voiced con­cerns at pre­vi­ous meet­ings.

Gene Lara, who lives across from the shop­ping cen­ter at the cor­ner of Winslow and Ap­ple roads, said last month he is wor­ried about the ad­di­tional traf­fic the pro­ject could bring.

“I’m re­ally con­cerned about the im­pact it will have on the neigh­bor­hood,” Lara said.

On Mon­day, nearby res­i­dent Amy Smith said she is con­cerned about stu­dents cut­ting through her neigh­bor­hood to get to cam­pus.

“Not dis­cussing foot traf­fic is ig­nor­ing a very sig­nif­i­cant el­e­ment of bring­ing in more [stu­dents],” Smith said.

How­ever, more res­i­dents in at­ten­dance Mon­day ac­tu­ally voiced sup­port for the pro­ject.

“The pur­ple di­lap­i­dated bank is noth­ing but an eye­sore, so I think this is re­ally go­ing to make it look nice,” Car­men Marra, whose Winslow Road home faces the Park N Shop, said. “Re­al­is­ti­cally, adding 12 apart­ments I don’t think is go­ing to make a huge deal of traf­fic. There’s a mil­lion apart­ments across the street, ever ywhere you look.”

Rosie Zappo, whose house backs up to the Park N Shop, praised DSM for im­prov­ing the shop­ping cen­ter, which she said was once a “dump” home to “pros­ti­tutes, drug deal­ers and rats.”

“They’ve done what they said they were go­ing to do,” Zappo said. “I can’t ask for bet­ter neigh­bors.”

Carol McKelvey, the Winslow Road res­i­dent who led the fight against the Wawa in 2013, also praised the DSM’s pro­posal as a “beau­ti­ful sug­ges­tion.”

“They were will­ing to lis­ten and will­ing to mod­ify,” McKelvey said. “It’s a valu­able prece­dent that has been set.”

Coun­cil­man Luke Chap­man, at his fi­nal reg­u­lar coun­cil meet­ing, was the only elected of­fi­cial who voiced sup­port for the pro­ject.

“I’ve had the honor of sit­ting in this seat for six years, and this is one of the best re­de­vel­op­ment projects that have been in front of us as a coun­cil, and it’s also the rough­est I’ve ever seen coun­cil be to a pre­sent­ing de­vel­oper’s pro­ject,” Chap­man said. “I don’t know what’s go­ing on be­low the sur­face.”

He said he fears re­ject­ing the pro­ject would lead to a law­suit, as well as de­ter other de­vel­op­ers.

“We just made a very loud an­nounce­ment that we are closed for busi­ness,” Chap­man said.

He noted that DSM spent time and money try­ing to ac­com­mo­date the com­mu­nity’s con­cerns.

“Why would any other de­vel­oper go through those hur­dles ever again?,” he said. “They’re go­ing to ram by-right stuff right down our throats.”

Chap­man also ques­tioned why, if res­i­dents are op­posed to the pro­ject, more did not at­tend the meet­ing to voice those con­cerns.

Wal­lace the­o­rized that some res­i­dents made their opin­ions known at pre­vi­ous meet­ings and didn’t feel the need to do so again. She added that when talk­ing to con­stituents, many have ex­pressed con­cerns about the pro­ject.

“Yes they are not here, but they are not re­quired to be here,” she said. “I am their rep­re­sen­ta­tive. They have shared their con­cerns with me.”

Ul­ti­mately, coun­cil voted 5-1 to ta­ble the pro­ject in­def­i­nitely, giv­ing DSM a chance to re­vise its plans. Coun­cil­man Jerry Clifton cast the lone op­pos­ing vote, and Mayor Polly Sierer was ab­sent.

Un­der the cur­rent zon­ing, the com­pany can re­place the old bank build­ing with new re­tail space or an­other busi­ness. Or, it could make an­other at­tempt at re­quest­ing a re­zon­ing in or­der to al­low apart­ments.

Hamil­ton told Hoff­man he hopes DSM con­tin­ues to work with the com­mu­nity.

“You can get into the courts if you’d like to, and we can leave it up to the courts, or you can be a good neigh­bor,” he said.


An artist’s ren­der­ing shows how the pro­posed mixed-use project at the Park N Shop would look from Ap­ple Road.


An artist’s ren­der­ing shows how the pro­posed mixed-use project at the Park N Shop would look from South Main Street.

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