Government South Orange Towns

Local Developers Propose 72-Unit Complex on Irvington Avenue

Local developers Dave Kasdan and Josh Mann presented a proposed 72-unit rental apartment building development to be located at 270-282 Irvington Avenue to a feisty crowd at an informal meeting Wednesday night.

While Mann and Kasdan have been meeting with town committees and neighbors, they said they were presenting to the public tonight to solicit further feedback. Village Administrator Barry Lewis noted that the meeting was not required and preceded any formal approval process. Said Lewis, “This is intended to be an early step in the process.”

The meeting was hosted by the Seton Village Committee — formerly the Irvington Avenue Corridor Advisory Committee — which was appointed by Village Trustees in January 2014 and charged with revitalizing the avenue and neighborhood. Seton Village Committee Chair Doug Zacker introduced Mann and Kasdan.

If the developers wanted feedback, they got it. Mann found it difficult at times to get through his slide presentation as he was peppered with questions from the audience.

Audience members expressed concerns about the size of the project (50-57′ tall) and its density (72 units with 1.2 parking spaces per unit on a slightly less than 1.4 acre lot), its potential impact on the school district, whether or not it would attract Seton Hall students as tenants, drainage, parking, traffic and screening for nearby single family residences — among other concerns.

Mann explained that he himself is a lifelong South Orange resident with three children (Kasdan is likewise a South Orange native and resident). He said that he and Kasdan had signed contracts on the three lots. He said that the depth of the lots lent the properties to denser development (the parcels currently have split zoning for single family housing in back and town home development in front). Mann said that they felt that a denser development would help to “activate” Irvington Avenue and incentivize further development on the street.

He also said that the density of the project was necessary to make it financially viable. When an audience member asked what he would do should the rezoning for multifamily housing not be approved, Mann said that he and Kasdan would not develop the property.

Mann presented a rendering of the building which has 180 feet of frontage on Irvington Avenue, explaining that the current design was a second draft after receiving feedback from local neighbors who asked that the building not look like downtown developments. Instead, the four-story building has a Victorian-style mansard roof and other flourishes that Mann said reflected the “eclectic” architecture of the neighborhood.

The first floor of the building on Irvington Avenue includes one retail space of 1,100-1,200 sf at its northernmost end, a ground-floor gym space to be rented out to personal trainers, and a cut-through entrance for cars to access the parking lot behind the building. Mann seemed ambivalent about ground-floor retail, saying that it had been included by “consensus.”

The proposed building is set back 10′ from the property to its north and 10′ from Irvington Avenue. It’s southern edge goes to the property line.

When Mann announced the proposed height of the building, there was some audible grumbling from the audience. “What?!” one woman exclaimed. Later in the presentation, another questioner called the building a “monstrosity.” Mann said, “I obviously respectfully disagree.” He noted several times throughout the meeting that there were other multistory buildings on Irvington Avenue (including across the street) and that some local homes were four stories tall.

One audience member expressed concern that Seton Hall students would be attracted to the building — particularly in a corridor that had recently been rebranded as “Seton Village.” Mann said that they were not targeting Seton Hall students and would be “surprised if they could afford it.” One audience member called that comment “naive.” When an audience member pointed out that students often live three to a studio, splitting the rent, Mann suggested that he and Kasdan could discourage such practices through lease agreements. In the meantime, Mann said he would “love” to attract grad students and faculty.

Another audience member was concerned that the redevelopment plan process for this project was “doing it backwards.”

“Shouldn’t rezoning be done first?” she asked.

Lewis said that creating a redevelopment plan involved the “same process, same consideration” that would be considered in rezoning. In addition, he said that the proposed development fit guidelines set forth in the town’s Vision Plan of 2008.

Another audience member worried that such a development would not attract high rents and would have a negative impact on housing values in the neighborhood. Mann said, “In my experience, developments like this raise property values.” He said a recent market study of the area showed that “the demand for multifamily in our area is great.”

While that questioner worried that the development would attract a “transient population,” another audience member questioned why such dense developments were being considered when the school district was stressed by increased enrollments. Mann said that, since the proposed building was made up of studios and one- and two-bedroom apartments, it would attract few families with school-age children. He said that the property would attract more students if developed as currently zoned.

Mann and Kasdan also came under fire from audience members because the proposed Irvington Avenue project is their first development as principals. However, Mann said that he has worked on $100 million redevelopment projects and that Kasdan has been involved in highly complex high-rise developments in Jersey City. Mann said that the two currently manage 300 units of multifamily housing.

The next step for the proposed development, said Mann, is to hammer out the redevelopment plan with the town. Mann said that he’d like to put the “pedal to the metal” with the town over the next two to three months to get the redevelopment plan completed. Mann said that he and Kasdan have hired an architect, engineer, planner and traffic engineer to help create the plan and that more detailed documents would be presented during the approval process.

Village Administrator Barry Lewis said that the redevelopment plan process would “spell out” the density, height and uses for the building to be approved by the Board of Trustees and Planning Board. Lewis said that, once the specifics of a development plan were finalized, the approval process would begin. He said that that process — from the introduction of the plan to the Board of Trustees, through referral and recommendation by the Planning Board, to final approval by the BOT — ideally would take six to eight weeks. Later, Mann said that construction would probably take one year. One woman in the audience expressed concern that this project not be “another Beifus site that drags on for seven years.” Lewis responded, “Not on my watch!”

Lewis updated the attendees on the redevelopment study process for eight areas along Irvington Avenue, saying that town planner Susan Gruel was continuing to work on the studies. He expected that Gruel would be able to present her work to the Board of Trustees in the next month or two. At that time, Gruel’s recommendations would be reviewed by the Trustees, referred to the Planning Board, then sent back to the Board of Trustees for potential approval.

However, Lewis said, Mann and Kasdan were not waiting on such designation. Instead, he said they were utilizing the town-wide designation as an area in need of rehabilitation to craft a redevelopment plan with the town and request a staggered 5-year tax abatement.

The meeting, which took place at Congregation Beth El on Irvington Avenue, needed to end at 9:30 p.m. (after two hours) so that the building could be closed; however, Kasdan and Mann continued to take questions in the parking lot.

Click on any image below to view a slideshow of Mann and Kasdan’s presentation.

The author of this story, Mary Mann, is not related to developer Josh Mann.

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