Celebrations @ West Windsor
The owners of Celebrations @ West Windsor property, a 21.5 acre parcel of land between McGetrick Lane, Southfield Road, and Westbrooke Boulevard, have submitted an application to the West Windsor Zoning Board for use variance, hoping to develop 420 afforable housing units. The proposal was originally intended for hearing at a May 23rd Zoning Board meeting, but is now scheduled for July 25th.
The applicant, Jack Morris and his company WWM Properties West, LLC, is requesting a use variance from the Zoning Board. The property is currently zoned as P-1, for a planned small-scale village center, and the applicant hopes that the West Windsor Zoning Board can look to rezone the property in order to allow for residential uses. The News reached out to the property owner, Edgewood Properties, but they have declined from providing any comment.
The proposed 420 affordable multi-family units would consist of 84 one-bedroom, 168 two-bedroom, and 168 three-bedroom apartments, within 14 residential buildings. These apartments would only be available for rent, and only for those who qualify as very low, low and moderate-income individuals. According to an April 2018 report, very low income for one person in Mercer County is defined as between $20,834 and $34,723 per year, low income as between $34,723 and $55,557 per year, moderate income as between $55,557 and $69,447 per year. These designations are county specific and change regularly, based on census information and median average income.
However, this application and development style goes against general West Windsor housing policy. According to Mayor Hemant Marathe, “we generally don’t do 100% affordable housing. West Windsor has a philosophy of developing inclusive affordable housing.”
The property was originally part of the Heatherfield development of 99 residential homes next to Southfield Road. The developer, Garden State Land, had left this area for their company’s future corporate offices. However, the property was auctioned off after Garden State Land went bankrupt. According to West Windsor Land Use Manager Sam Surtees, the applicant has appeared numerous times before the Zoning Board requesting for different uses, but these have not been permitted.
The applicant requested for a meeting postponement since one of the technical professionals was not available, but the July 25th meeting date is expected to have full attendance. At this meeting, the applicant and their professionals will present the use variance application. The Zoning Board staff professionals will then read their reports into record, and ask relevant questions to the applicant. Next, the Zoning Board members will then have an opportunity as questions. Afterwards, members of the public will be able to ask questions and present testimony, before the board will make a decision. To be approved, the Zoning Board application must have a supermajority, with at least 5 yes votes from the seven board members. If the Zoning Board votes against, the applicant has the ability to sue the township to reconsider the application,
Apart from a yes or no vote, the Zoning Board may also come to the conclusion that they do not have the legal jurisdiction to make a decision on this settlement, since the Zoning Board has historically dealt with smaller use variances instead of large-scale rezoning. If this occurs, the applicant can also similarly move the application to the Planning Board or Township Council, or sue the Zoning Board in order to have them hear the application.
The different staff reports compiled showcase the main concerns with the application. First, as the Affordable Housing Committee noted, “the proposal is inconsistent with the Master Plan.”
As Surtees explained, “In early May, Judge Jacobson approved West Windsor’s compliance plan to meet our affordable housing obligation until 2025. We’ve already rezoning properties and are reviewing site applications from those developers, in order to build the affordable housing units.”
In fact, the applicant was an intervener in the township’s affordable housing lawsuit, requesting that his property be considered for affordable housing development if the lawsuit was successful. Though the lawsuit was successful, the affordable housing plan that West Windsor developed did not include that property.
The township is also scheduled to review it’s Master Plan soon, in which it will be going over all properties and deciding if the current zoning is appropriate.
Along with this, the staff reports indicate other concerns with the plan, including the density of development, the amount of impervious area, and a lack of environmental information. According to the Affordable Housing Committee, the density of development does not meet the requirements for the current zoning, the buildings are much higher than allowed, and the floor to area ratio is similarly high, indicating a property that could become overdeveloped.
The application did not include a traffic study, so the impact of this development on traffic in the nearby area has not been analyzed. The application similarly does not include any plans for stormwater management, which are necessary in a property of this size.
If approved by the Zoning Board, the applicant will then have to engineer a site plan application and present again to the Zoning Board, which may take anywhere from six to nine months according to Surtees.
“Assuming it gets approved, I would assume they would come to the Zoning Board early next year for site plan review. Then they may be able to break ground in spring of 2021, and the the first residents can move in during the summer of 2022,” Surtees said.
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