Redevelopment Agency Gets Update on Churchill-Millstone Redevelopment

Commissioners not impressed with what they're told.

Redevelopment agency1

Franklin Township Redevelopment Agency commissioners.

Franklin Township Redevelopment Agency commissioners seemed less than impressed Dec. 16 with an update on progress in the Churchill-Millstone Redevelopment Area.

The redevelopment area is roughly 43 acres bordered by Route 27, Berry Street, Millstone Road and an area extending south of Churchill Avenue.

Some commissioners were skeptical of plans to build single-family housing on a portion of the area along School Avenue, and others were troubled by the amount of people the developer looked to be bringing into the area through new housing.

“I’m looking out for our school board,” Commissioner and Township Councilman Carl R.A. Wright (Ward 4) said after the meeting. “We’re already building schools, and I’d rather not have a ton of kids.”

Brendan McBride, vice president of redeveloper RPM Development Group of Montclair, reminded the commissioners that the company is in the process of developing projects on Berry Street, Franklin Boulevard and in the Voorhees Avenue and Rt. 27 area. RPM now wants to focus on parcels on the other side of Berry Street and along School Avenue.

He said the company is involved in negotiations with property owners throughout the redevelopment area.

McBride showed a graphic of what the company envisioned for the former: three, three-story residential buildings holding between 80 and 100 1- and 2-bedroom apartments.

There would be a small courtyard in the center of the complex for residents, he said.

In response to a question from Wright about open space, McBride said the area would not afford enough space “to have athletic fields. Playgrounds, things like that, we can provide.”

Mark Healey, the township’s planning director, said he wasn’t sure that small amount of open space “meets the expectations of the board.”

“Where is there to go?” Wright asked. He said he’d like to see more land for recreation in the development.

“The overall issue is there’s a good amount of housing that’s coming in,” Healey said, referring to other parts of the area’s redevelopment plan. “There will be adults and children who are going to need access to the outdoors.

“As for small pocket parks, the more the better,” he said. “As much as can be presented with the dollars and cents considerations of the budget.”

McBride said the development would be “weighted” toward 1-bedroom apartments, and the overall economic mix of the project would be 55 percent affordable housing and 45 percent market rate.

He said the project could be marketed to Rutgers University faculty and graduate students.

Commissioner Bob Mettler said he’d prefer to see a design that looked more like townhomes than apartment buildings.

“A little more upscale,” added Commissioner and Township Councilwoman Kimberly Francois (At-Large).

Healey said a townhome design would lend itself better to future development in the area.

As for the parcel along School Avenue, McBride said the company envisions single-family homes there, as well as two other parcels.

But Commissioner Ainsley Reynolds said that type of housing “is less than likely” to be able to be built there.

“We’re still looking at our experience, and others’ experience to see how feasible this all is,” McBride said. These parcels, and others yet to be acquired, have posed challenges for the company, he said.

Healey then suggested that given those challenges, RPM might want to look at partnering with other developers.

“The sense I’m getting is that the hill is only going to get steeper in terms of trying to assemble all of these properties,” he said. “Have you thought of partnering with another company to try to bring more money to the table?”

McBride said there was the possibility that RPM could act as a “master developer” with other “sub-developers” under it.

“Some parcels along Rt. 27 are more challenging,” he said. “As we develop other areas, we’re building a momentum and creating a market.”

McBride said RPM’s next step is to “put more details” to the proposals for the two parcels.

“We can start working on that and bring it back to you at your next meeting,” he said.

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