The clock approached midnight when the Planning Board unanimously approved Toll Brothers’ application for a mixed-use development at Bear Brook and Old Bear Brook Road at the October 21 meeting.
After four marathon meetings, the 45.8-acre site owned by the Maneely family was approved for development into a small village style mixed-use development with 51 three-bedroom townhomes, 192 flexible stay corporate suites, and 40 apartments built over 20,000 square feet of retail space. Ten acres will be deeded to the township for a potential 70-plus unit Project Freedom affordable housing development.
According to Toll Brothers vice president Douglas Heppe, the company is aiming to began site work in 12 months and begin occupancy in fall, 2017. The market-rate townhouses will be deed-restricted to three-bedrooms, and the apartments will primarily be two-bedroom rentals. Of the 20,000 square feet of retail space, only one store can exceed 4,000 square feet and the plan is to have one convenience store and at least one restaurant. The corporate suites on the Bear Brook Road area of the site will include 97 one-bedroom units and 95 two-bedroom units which will rent for roughly $1,500 and $2,000 per month. The short stay accommodations will mainly consist of one-month to one-year tenancies, while roughly 10 units will be nightly and weekly stays.
Prior to approval, planning Board chair Marvin Gardner reiterated his “serious concerns” about the business viability of the corporate suites, citing Toll Brothers’ lack of experience operating such hotel residences.
“I’m concerned about the impact on the township,” Gardner said. “If there is a high vacancy rate, there could be a request for a lower tax assessment and also conversion to rental units, which adds school system burden.”
At the August 19 Planning Board meeting, Toll Brothers representatives indicated the corporate suites could be converted to a different use in future decades. Planning Board attorney Gerry Muller noted any conversion would require a use variance from the Zoning Board and would also require Council approval.
Gardner also asked about the number of affordable apartment units, citing previous documents by township planner John Madden indicating there would be a minimum of eight. Muller, who is also the township affordable housing attorney, said Toll Brothers intends to comply with the zoning ordinance but that the precise number of units cannot yet be calculated. In addition, Toll Brothers is seeking affordable housing credit for the 10-acre parcel on Old Bear Brook Road set to be deeded to the township. The developer will also extend utilities to the proposed affordable housing site.
The public commenting period took more than two hours. Windsor Haven resident Linda Kinzinger asked about the compliance process for state storm water permits, and she also expressed concerns about the traffic that may back up from Alexander Road and block the two Windsor Haven exits.
Township traffic consultant Jim Kochenour said he does not expect long car queues.
At the 11th hour, nearly a dozen residents from the Estates at Princeton Junction, also a Toll Brothers development, made public comments. Most who spoke commute to the train station via Bear Brook Road, and they noted traffic already backs up on the road during rush hour and expected this Toll Brothers’ development to increase volume.
One main concern of the Estate residents was the variance that would allow two of the seven corporate suite buildings to exceed the 50-foot height limit by nearly two feet. Toll Brothers attorney Harvey Kent-Smith explained the variance was needed due to state building code, and he refused to consider lower ceiling heights for the four-story buildings.
The Estate residents were more successful seeking protection of their view. The new Toll Brothers development faces the rear of a row of houses on Lockwood and Devonshire drives, considered premium lots because of the rear view, and residents requested planting evergreen trees to screen the eventual mixed-use site.
Landscape architect Dan Dobromilsky noted there is 400 feet of space between the development and the nearest Estates house, as well as deciduous trees. Toll Brothers’ Kent-Smith said he would work with Dobromilsky on planting additional visual barriers.
After reaching an impasse at the October 7 Planning Board meeting, Toll Brothers agreed to assume responsibility for any archaeological excavation and necessary approvals and permits that may arise on the 10-acre affordable housing site. Planning Board member Michael Huey expressed concern that a “worst-case scenario” after an archaeological dig may affect the developable amount of land, but Muller said there was “no basis” for concern.