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Board Endorses Proposed Devco Buildings For Seminary Site & Grease Trucks Lot

Although Crucial $52M Tax Credit From NJ-EDA Remains Up in the Air, Developer Hopes to Start Work This Fall
Planning Board
The city's Planning Board is appointed exclusively by the Mayor and makes critical decisions about development. Charlie Kratovil

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - The city's powerful Planning Board voted 7-0 to approve three redevelopment areas for College Avenue.

The board members, each appointed by Mayor James Cahill, evaluated the next major plan from the New Brunswick Development Corporation (Devco).

As we reported last month, Rutgers and the city are moving forward with an ambitious plan to redevelop near their campus and also to overtake some of the New Brunswick Theological Seminary's (NBTS) campus.

The Planning Board approved the plan for five new buildings, a parking garage, and a plaza as compliant with the city's "master plan," a detailed document issued by that same body in 2004.

Their approval sends the plan back to the City Council for final approval.

"It sounds like a very exciting proposal.  I look forward to that," said Council President Robert Recine, following a brief summary of the plan at the June 19 meeting.

Both the Council and the Rutgers University Board of Governors unanimously signed off on the massive redevelopment plan the same day it was announced to the public.

"I think this is a pretty exciting redevelopment plan proposal for this area," said Glenn Patterson, the city's Planning Director.

The city government, Devco, Rutgers University, and the New Brunswick Theological Seminary (NBTS) have agreed in principle to the following developments:

  • a 500-bed "honors" dormitory for Rutgers on the existing NBTS site
  • a 2,000 seat academic building for the Rutgers School of Arts & Sciences on the existing NBTS site
  • an 800-bed, apartment-style dormitory building on the site of the 'Grease Trucks' parking lot
  • a "privately-owned but publicly accessible" plaza on the site of the 'Grease Trucks' parking lot
  • a new NBTS on College Avenue, between Seminary and Bishop Places
  • new housing for the NBTS on the former Mine Street site of the Rutgers Catholic Center, which moved to Somerset Street recently
  • a new parking garage in place of the parking lot behind Murray Hall on George Street

Most of the new Rutgers buildings would be owned by Devco and transferred to the University following a 32-year lease agreement, though details on the financing arrangement have yet been finalized.

Patterson said the "most exciting" part of the redevelopment plan was the development of the "Grease Trucks" lot.  But it may also prove to be the most controversial.

The development would force the relocation, at least temporarily, of longtime food truck operators who have been a part of a unique arrangement with the University for two decades.

After the plans became public on June 19, the Star-Ledger focused its coverage on the potential impact on the beloved food trucks.  But Patterson said the Ledger was off base in their reporting, even though he could not promise the trucks would remain after the development.

"Contrary to what was in the Star-Ledger this afternoon, this is not putting the 'grease trucks' off of this lot.  It is actually an opportunity to keep the grease trucks on this lot," Patterson said.

He said that Rutgers was "probably going to relocate them off of that lot in any case."

Patterson couldn't pin down exactly how the trucks would be incorporated into the new development, but he did say the powers that be were in favor of keeping them.

He said they were "trying to incorporate in some space where either the "Grease Trucks" would, their operators could go into some kind of concessionary type of store there.  Or potentially having the trucks in there themselves.

"Those are things we're going to have to talk to the "Grease Truck" operators about and try to incorporate them in there.

"But it's the intention of Rutgers, Devco to try to keep them there on that site, see if we can work that out, because we all think they are one of the things that people think about when people think about New Brunswick and Rutgers, you think about 'Grease Trucks.'"

The only catch is that Rutgers says it could likely be a dealbreaker if Devco cannot obtain $52 million in tax credits from the state's Economic Development Authority (EDA) a deal-breaker.  Rutgers is ineligible to apply for the tax credits, but Devco, a private non-profit corporation, is eligible.

Earlier this year, Patterson announced that NBTS was having financial problems and had asked the city to study the redevelopment potential of their campus.

As Patterson's department has pursued a public-private partnership to redevelop the Seminary site, the EDA moved to halt the application process for giving urban transit tax credits into residential projects because the allotted funding was drying up.

The EDA's board halted the program in February, but new legislation passed last month will give the EDA another $250 million to dole out for various purposes.

It's likely that much of those funds would go towards residential projects.  Even so, the public-private plan may not get approved for the full $52 million, putting the University and the Seminary in a difficult spot.

"We’re very optimistic," Devco President Christopher Paladino told the Star-Ledger. "We believe that, by any standard, we have a very meritorious application."

The Star-Ledger report said officials at Devco were hopeful about securing the tax credit in time to begin the first phase of construction this November.

Another caveat is that the Rutgers Hillel House was already slated to move to a site that's now in the mix.  The Hillel folks, however, may wish to change their plans to make more room for Rutgers, according to Patterson's remarks.

He broached the subject gently at the Council's meeting, "There is an opportunity for Hillel to have a new location on College Avenue where there's a Rutgers parking lot there right now.

"Hillel currently has an approved plan to develop a new facility for them at the corner of George and Bishop and they're talking with Rutgers, with Devco as to whether they want to do that change or not."

"That's kind of not, that's up to them.  If they want to stay at their proposed location at the corner of George and Bishop, they can do that also."