Residents of the Academy Heights neighborhood in South Orange are not happy with Seton Hall University.
That message came through loud and clear at the South Orange Development Committee meeting on June 8 when representatives of Stolar Capital Real Estate presented a preliminary proposal to develop at 216-bed dormitory-style building for Seton Hall University upper-class and graduate students on the current site of All-Star Motors on Valley Street. The site sits across from the215-unit 3rd & Valley residential development and catty-corner from the recently approved 106-unit 4th & Valley project.
Neighbors worried that the development would only bring more boorish behavior to the area. One Academy Street resident complained of “7 or 8 houses” on the block that were being rented to Seton Hall students. “The landlords don’t keep them up. It’s really caused a serious problem.”
Resident Michelle Hollow told the Committee, “Seton Hall doesn’t talk to us. They are not a good neighbor.”
Neighbors complained of noise, trash and discarded furniture at the end of semesters.
In response to a resident’s question, “Why do we want student housing?” Committee member and South Orange Trustee Mark Rosner responded, “We went through this two meetings ago.” Rosner explained that the building would provide an alternative to the rental homes. “These will help them find a place and reduce motivation for students to rent houses.”
The development team argued that the “O”-shape design of the building would create an interior courtyard to buffer student activity and noise. In addition the building would have a national student housing company providing management.
Rosner said that the town would also benefit from SHU placing housing off-campus because it would be taxable.
Later, Village President Sheena Collum spoke in great detail about efforts to deal with “bad” landlords and poorly behaved student neighbors. However, she explained that the students had the right to seek off-campus housing when they were past a certain age. Although the Village was rigorously reviewing and enforcing various ordinances around housing, she noted that students could not be discriminated against when renting homes if they met the definition of a “family unit.” In addition, Collum said that student housing multi-unit projects such as the proposed Stolar project could bring activity to the business district while not putting any burden on the school district.
The conversation, however, could be moot for the All-Star Motors site.
Ultimately, the proposed project may not work in the space. Stolar Capital is proposing a 5-story building in order to work with the difficult topography of the site (it rises 30′ from front to rear) and keep the back of the building away from neighbors on Academy Street.
“I can tell you that this building is too big,” said Collum. She asked Stolar to fill out a form with all the financial information and specifications of the project for the Village to review in order to determine if the proposal could move forward.
Another member of the committee asked Stolar to “try to frame the project within the zoning that you have.” Currently the proposed project exceeds the height limits for the zoning; in addition the back portion of the site is zoned for single family neighborhood housing.
Representatives of Stolar argued that they needed the height to get at least 200 beds into the development; otherwise, they could not attract a reputable student housing management company to the project.
Collum and others expressed an interest in continuing to talk with the developer.
“We ares so early,” said Collum. “Nothing is negotiated yet.” She reminded residents that there was no designation of conditional developer as yet for the site, but also noted that the current condition of the site was also not optimal: “Right now, it’s an environmentally contaminated auto site.”