In Your Opinion: Kmart Property Owner Still Trying to Rezone for High Density Housing

By Arnold Schmidt.

Next Wednesday, October 12, the Kmart property owner, Levin Properties, will be giving an “informal presentation” to our Planning Board (PB) for a 200-unit high density apartment complex to replace Kmart, the adjacent vacant restaurant and move Venus Jewelers to another site in the Rutgers Plaza shopping center. The meeting will be in the Township Council chambers starting at 7:30 p.m. There will be a public session to voice our opinions on this.

Going to Township senior staff, Levin first tried committee shopping for well over a year to get a Township Council sub-committee (Land Use and then Economic Development) to recommend to our Council to change the Kmart property zoning to high density residential. 

Failing that, Levin submitted their plan, which included several variance requests, to our Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZB), the usual avenue when variances are needed.  This billion dollar corporation requested an “undue hardship” variance as part of their “C” variance request.  Levin then pulled their application when they learned the Council was going to send the Township attorney to the meeting to tell them what Levin wanted would abrogate the Council’s ability to control zoning according to our Township Master Plan.  

Levin then finagled a way to meet privately with three or four Township Council members to try to persuade them to vote to approve their proposal. However, during the Sept 28 Council meeting, our Council wisely said no to this unusual, unrecorded, non-public, private meeting with this very wealthy property owner’s representatives.  The Council indicated that they will consider hearing from Levin’s representatives at a special public meeting if they deem it appropriate after the special October 12 PB meeting. 

The October 12 PB meeting is extremely uncommon because routinely when an applicant needs variances they go to the ZB.  As noted earlier, the ZB was no longer an option.  However, by bypassing the ZB, if the PB makes a recommendation to the Council indicating they like the plan, the Council could then approve zoning changes to allow the apartment complex. Several weeks ago, a senior member of the PB wrote on more than one social media website that he believed 200 apartment units would be good for the Kmart site. 

If Levin’s plan is approved, every other commercial/retail property owner in Franklin will be able to ask for the same variances to turn commercial/retail properties into high-density residential.  Precedent will have been set and our boards and Council will be unable to say no to any developer without getting sued. The first domino will have fallen. We could lose retail and commercial properties all over Franklin to be replaced by 1,000s of residential units against our Master Plan that was approved by the Township Council. That’s why our Council directed the Township attorney to go to the Zoning Board meeting before Levin canceled their appearance.

Imagine the consequences, the loss of strip malls and shopping centers to high-density residential housing along many of our main corridors:  Easton Avenue, Route 27, Cedar Grove Lane, Elizabeth Avenue, Pierce Street, School House Road, New Brunswick Road and many more inappropriate areas with residential housing and fewer retail and commercial stores to shop in.

What we need in Rutgers Plaza are places to buy home goods, personal items, clothing, maybe a nice restaurant so we don’t have to go to Bridgewater, Piscataway, Manville or other nearby towns.  Levin’s own website (https://levinmgt.com) will tell you that they,  “consistently rank among the nation’s leading retail real estate firms.”  Live up to your own hype Levin and put what we need on the Kmart site, retail and commercial which is also good for our tax base. 

With increased housing comes additional infrastructure needs (water, sewerage, police, schools, etc. ) commensurate with a population surge.  With all of this additional housing come higher property taxes to pay for the necessary increased infrastructure and Township services.    

We need to let the Planning Board know that we DO NOT WANT THIS!

Your Thoughts


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