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Proposed Hamilton Street Student Housing Could Pump $1.7 M Into Township Economy

The Hamilton Street Advisory Board and Township Council held a joint meeting about student housing projects on March 11.


A proposed 362-bedroom student housing project on Hamilton Street could pump as much as $1.7 million a year into the local economy, a consultant said March 11.

In 10 years, that same project could generate as much as $6.2 million in direct and indirect economic activity, consultant Todd Poole told a joint meeting of the Hamilton Street Advisory Board and Township Council.

Poole, along with two associates, was hired by the township to make recommendations about parking requirements for student-targeted housing and to talk about the economic impact to the township of student housing.

The trio used a project proposed by township resident Dean Adi, targeted for the block bordered by Hamilton, Home and Jefferson streets and Highland Avenue, on which to model their findings. Adi said after the meeting that he did not know when the project would be brought to the township for approvals.

Vince Dominach, the executive director of the advisory board, said the meeting’s purpose was to review the consultants’ findings and to get residents’ input.

The consultants were asked “to look at a couple things, the most important being the parking need,” Dominach said. “Because there is no stated parking need or parking standard, we need to know what the appropriate parking is so we don’t have overflow.”

“Number two, we wanted to look at the economic impacts,” he said.

Poole said the proposed project’s economic impact was calculated by determining what a typical student would spend in a year.

“The verage spending among undergrads, graduate students, professional students, which we took as a weighted average to figure out what students at this facility might spend, is about $8,200 per year,” he said. “That covers books and eating out and other sundries and that kind of thing.”

“We did an economic impact analysis … you put a dollar in and you watch how that dollar ripples through a geographic area,” Poole said. “The geographic area we chose was the two ZIP codes for (Franklin). If these students basically occupy this building, and we know that they spend roughly $8,200 per year, we took about 45 percent and said, 45 percent of that $8,200 is likely to be spent somewhere locally, most of it on food.”

“As a result, the direct economic impact, labor, income produced, economic value, represents $1.3 million in one year, once all the students are here,” he said.

The combined economic impact, Poole said, could be as much as $1.7 million a year.

“Combined means, if I spend a dollar, that means a person has a job, and they take that dollar and go out to the grocery store, and that dollar is rippling further throughout the economy,” he said. “In about 10 years, we calculate that the total direct impact would be about $6.2 million just in Franklin Township. So that is significant.”

The differences between this proposed development and others under construction in the Hamilton Street business district is that the Adi project would have no retail component, and would be able to rise to five stories.

“We’re not talking about going to five stories for every other type of development, or five stories for the rest of the town,” Dominach said.

Parking consultant Jim Zullo said the parking recommendation for a project the size of Adi’s would be about 215 parking spaces, if the developer did not include any type of parking management plan.

Those plans include subsidizing Uber and Lyft rides, providing a shared-car program or a bike-share program, or leasing or buying nearby property for overflow parking.

With such a parking management plan in place, Zullo said, the recommendation for total parking spaces would be lowered to 172.

Zullo said that analysts looked at student housing parking in other towns, such as Highland Park and New Brunswick, to get an idea about the needs of student parking.

Zullo said it was important to not over- or under-estimate the number of parking spaces needed.

“Parking is expensive,” he said. “Surface parking can be $3,000 to $5,000 a space, and structured parking is $25,000 a space. As an economic feasibility to developers trying to do development in your community, you don’t want to require too much parking, or that’s money wasted.”

“Just as importantly, parking takes up land,” he said. “That land when it’s surface parking contributes poor environmental effects.”

“You don’t want to under-build parking.” he said. “That forces residents to cruise around neighborhoods looking for parking. That can inundate nearby street parking of adjacent neighborhoods.”

Zullo said that students don’t rely on cars to get around now as much as they did in the past with other options available, such as Uber and Lyft.

“Today’s young person, from 18 to early 30s, that age group in general has a lower incidence of owning an auto and driving an automobile,” he said. “Don’t use the lens of what you knew from back when, use the lens of today. The lens of today in terms of who drives a car and how many cars they have … is different than what it was 25 years ago. It just is.”

Township Councilwoman Crystal Pruitt took issue with Zullo’s statement, saying that she falls into that age group and that cars are necessary in Franklin.

“This is not Philadelphia, we don’t have a subway, we don’t have a bus system,” she said. “So I think when you say they don’t drive cars, yes, but specifically here, I don’t know that that’s accurate. Just knowing what I know about where we grew up, we have cars.”

A number of residents who live on streets abutting Hamilton Street said they were concerned about traffic issues and about building tenants parking on their streets. Their concerns were addressed by Township Manager Robert Vornlocker.

“We have streets without curbing, streets without sidewalks,” he said. “We can’t focus all our attention on Hamilton Street, we have to focus our attention on what backs up Hamilton Street on both sides as well. I think I am going to start that process now.”

Vornlocker said he could use township engineering interns to do tasks such as street inventories to document drainage signage and curbing on the side streets.

“All that backs up Hamilton Street supports Hamilton Street,” he said. “Those neighborhoods behind Hamilton Street support Hamilton Street just as much as what we build on Hamilton Street. The existing neighborhoods can’t be left behind, and I think we heard  that tonight.”

The $80 million to $90 million project as proposed by Adi would be comprised of 16 one-bedroom units, 122 two-bedroom units and 34 three-bedroom units.

Adi said that he would work with neighborhood residents in the project’s development.

“We just want to do what the local community wants,” he said. “The local community is what comes first and everything else comes second.”

“All I care about is what the community thinks, I’m a part of this community,” Adi said. “I’ve been committed to Hamilton Street ever since I was in pharmacy school at Rutgers University since 2003 till today. This is my home, this is my community, I want to raise my son in a community  filled with love. Whatever we have to do to accomplish that, we’ll do.”

Mayor Phil Kramer said that changes to Hamilton Street are inevitable.

“As the future rolls in, there’s going to be change, and we can do nothing and that change will be negative,” he said. “It’s not going to stay the same.”

Kramer said the township doesn’t have the money to do all the projects residents want to improve the Hamilton Street corridor, but projects such as Adi’s could help bridge the gap.

“We have to do something if we are going to improve this area, he said. “This is one suggestion, to bring in students. This is to bring student money into town.”

“I do not want to gentrify, but I want to bring more money into the area, bring in more jobs to the area, so the people of that area benefit so they have more resources, they have more jobs and we can grow,” he said.

Deputy Mayor James Vassanella read off a laundry list of concerns he said have been told to him by area residents, including needing a special lane for increased package deliveries and for pick-up and drop-off by driving services, parking for student parties and for employees of new businesses brought in, parks and other green space, a plan too incorporate bus stops and drivers cutting down side streets to avoid Hamilton Street traffic.

“I think we’re a victim of our own success,” he said. “We have this buildout, we have some issues, we have to catch up with these issues and get a little bit ahead of the curve.”

 

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