Hearing To Assess Mixed-use Project In Peapack-gladstone

August 24, 2021

PEAPACK-GLADSTONE – A public hearing has been scheduled on a consultant’s conclusion that a proposed redevelopment of Lackawanna Avenue does not qualify for a state designation that would help it get built.

At issue is a study to determine if land eyed for a mix of affordable housing, market-rate housing and retail uses fits the criteria to be deemed an “area in need of redevelopment,” which would permit specific zoning and offer incentives like tax credits to stimulate development.

The hearing before the Land Use Board is scheduled to be held virtually via GoToMeeting Web Conferencing at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 1.

The proposed development grew out of the borough’s need to provide 78 income-restricted homes to meet its state-mandated “Round III” affordable housing obligation through 2025.

Gladstone-based Mellilo Equities stepped forward last year with a plan to provide 17 income-restricted apartments while subsidizing the cost through the added construction of market-rate apartments and retail space.

Mellilo would provide three of the affordable apartments in the Lackawanna project, as well as six at 201 and 206 Main St. and another eight at 291 Main St.

The Lackawanna project would redevelop two lots owned by Ferris Corp.

One is 219 Main St., which consists of a 2.15-acre lot that wraps around Main Street and extends along the east side of Lackawanna Avenue.

It includes 217 Main St., which house The Stable car dealership; 219 Main St. at the corner, which houses Equitack horse equipment and upstairs rental apartments; 12 Lackawanna Ave., which houses Cafe Sapori; and 10 Lackawanna Ave., a vacant warehouse/office last occupied by Bevel Saddlery.

The Cafe Sapori and former Bevel Saddlery buildings have large parking lots that combined, can accommodate about 100 vehicles.

The other lot is 9-35 Lackawanna Ave., which consists of a long but shallow 0.75-acre lot on the west side of Lackawanna Avenue that abuts the NJ Transit railroad tracks.

It includes a house at 33 Lackawanna Ave.; Dominick’s Pizza at 31 Lackawanna Ave.; an office barn with a multi-bay garage; and a metal roofed, unenclosed parking shelter.

Conceptual plans presented to the Land Use Board in July 2020 showed the two lots being redeveloped with 40 residential units, including three with income restrictions; 18,700 square feet of retail space; and 21,150 square feet of office space.

On Lackawanna Avenue’s east side, The Stable building would be renovated; the corner building housing Equitack would be removed to make the entrance to Lackawanna more visible; Cafe Sapori would be replaced by a three-story building; and the former Bevel would be renovated.

On the west side would be a two-story building and a three-story building, with the existing structures to be removed.

Despite some objections from the public, the Borough Council voted last September to adopt an ordinance that rezoned the corridor to allow the uses sought in the proposal. A site plan application has yet to be filed.

Report Findings

Last October, the council authorized Burgis Associates, a Westwood-based planning firm, to study whether the corridor qualified as an “area in need of redevelopment” under state law.

A 63-page report was released on Wednesday, Aug. 18, and posted on the municipal web site, www.peapackgladstone.org.

“Ultimately,” it said, “this study finds that the parcels in question … do not satisfy the criteria for inclusion as an area in need of redevelopment for the reasons enumerated in this report.”

To qualify, a site needs to meet at least one of the state-state prescribed criteria, which include:

  • Having buildings that are substandard, unsafe, unsanitary or dilapidated;
  • Having one or more commercial buildings experience significant vacancies for at least two consecutive years;
  • Having areas with buildings or improvements that for reason of dilapidation, obsolescence or overcrowding are detrimental to the health, safety, morals or welfare of the community.
  • A lack of utilization of areas due to title issues or diverse ownership.

The corridor does not fully satisfy the criteria, the report said.

“The buildings on both properties … are for the most part, well maintained, structurally sound, mostly occupied and put to productive use,” it said. It said the few building or site items in need of repair could be addressed through routine maintenance.

Borough records indicated no instances of building, zoning or health violations, the report noted. No apparent hazards were seen either within the buildings or on the property.

There were no title issues or issues associated with diverse ownership to preclude redevelopment since the property is owned by a single corporate entity, the report said.

“Although it may be argued that the properties are underutilized and not performing to its “highest and best use” it should be noted that this is not a criteria upon which such a designation can rely,” it said.

Moreover, it added, the corridor “has only just recently been rezoned by the borough to provide opportunities for redevelopment without the necessity of a redevelopment designation.”

– W. Jacob Perry