In Your Opinion: Say ‘No’ To Proposed Apartments At Former K-Mart Site

By Arnold Schmidt, Somerset.

It appears that after significant pushback from Franklin residents (over 2,000 petition signatures and 100s of social media postings and discussion) the Levin Corporation will soon be submitting a revised application for the Kmart site. The new application may decrease the height (“only” three stories instead of four), and possibly include room for some retail, but they could substantially increase the footprint enabling them to keep their 200 housing units.  

The same traffic concerns will remain – especially rush hour traffic.  Somerset County just received a $1,000,000 grant to study Easton Avenue because it ranks 3rd on the list of high crash corridors in the state resulting in multiple motor vehicle and pedestrian deaths and many more accidents.  It is already one of the most heavily driven roads in Central Jersey.  According to Levin’s own website (https://levinmgt.com/why-levin ), 30,000 motor vehicles currently drive by this property every day.  The increased motor vehicle and pedestrian traffic from 200 new apartments could make this the highest-ranked crash corridor in the state.  

It was understood that the first application Levin submitted was a reach, an opening salvo, a negotiation starting point.  Four stories high, all residential in a non-residentially zoned area where three stories are allowed. This height variance is one amongst several others they would need including the unjustifiable hardship variance this billion dollar corporation is requesting. Will the Levin Corporation be allowed to build their apartments to the detriment of all Franklin residents? Not just the 10,000 people who live within 1 square mile of the Kmart site – additional data obtained from the Levin website.  Levin may say they are helping us with our need to increase our affordable housing quota.  This is categorically inaccurate.  Franklin is already well ahead of its currently mandated requirements.    

With legal recourse at the Township’s disposal, what more needs to be said to stop this by “We the People” of Franklin?  The reverberations of an approval here will be felt throughout the Township when other retail and commercial property owners request the same treatment Levin gets and Township review boards will be unable to say no after saying yes to Levin.  This would be the first domino of many to fall.

This project, including board reviews, Canal Commission and DEP review and approvals, permitting, demolition, cleanup, and construction, will take several years to complete. This eyesore, with absolutely no benefit to the people of Franklin, will be staring us in the face every day for decades, reminding us of all of the subsequent resulting additional residential developments to be constructed on properties previously zoned for retail and/or commercial.  Each new development will require increased infrastructure, and eventually more schools, both of which will increase our taxes.  With each new development come more congested roads, more trees felled, more flooding, more pollution and diminished natural animal habitats which degrade our quality of life.                                                      

Again – It is NOT our job to bail out a billion dollar corporation that boasts on their own website how they …consistently rank among the nation’s leading retail real estate firms.  Empty storefronts or not they must continue to pay their property taxes.  The only acceptable and appropriate development on this property is retail or commercial.  We can’t let Levin be the first of many retail or commercial property owners to demand and receive this preferential treatment. 

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