NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—Tonight, the city's powerful Planning Board will decide whether or not two small homes on Mine Street will be replaced with a 57-unit apartment complex that homeowners say will stick out like a sore thumb on their quaint block.
Over time, the block has become overrun with Rutgers student rental properties, but the street is one of the few that have retained its 20th-century character with a mix of two-story homes, fraternities, sororities, and Rutgers offices.
Named for a copper mine that once ran the same route, Mine Street is home to about 200 residents, but the new building would add 140 more to the mix, according to an article on NJ.com.
The proposed site, the former home of the Rutgers Catholic Center, is currently more or less indiscernable from the homes that surround it on both sides.
Buth those buildings and open space are slated to be replaced with a boxy four-story apartment complex, however, if the majority of the city's powerful Planning Board members can be convinced.
Construction Management Associates (CMA), also known as Premier Properties, is asking the board to grant them approval to destroy two houses and a carriage house, and replace them with a $10 million four-story apartment building.
The land is currently owned by a holding company controlled by other entities who are prepared to sell the property to CMA.
CMA has been approved for several new development projects in recent years by the city's Planning and Zoning Boards. The company is a frequent contributor to Mayor James Cahill and his causes, keeping the school board mayorally-appointed.
But the last remaining homeowners on the block do not support CMA's current plan for redevelopment of the Catholic Center site. In fact, they are organizing an opposition.
"The Sixth Ward is being invaded by private developers whose money-making interests are trumping the needs and concerns of proud but beleaguered homeowners and residents like you and me," reads a letter from Jennifer O'Neill, a longtime homeowner who says her home will be in the shadow of the new building.
O'Neill told neighbors, "If you oppose the construction of yet another over-sized, out-of-place apartment building and want to help preserve one of New Brunswick’s remaining historic and beloved residential neighborhoods, I implore you to join us at the meeting and voice your concerns."
A partnership with Rutgers, the original landowners, and other players in a four-way deal to redevelop much of the neighborhood have helped Construction Management secure the unparalleled piece of real estate near the heart of the Rutgers campus.
A private non-profit developer helped secure the land by working out a deal with New Brunswick Theological Seminary, the nation's oldest seminary that just so happens to sit in the middle of Rutgers main campus.
Changes to both campuses came in a package deal pushed through by city-based New Brunswick Development Corporation (DEVCO).
Rutgers said they eventuallly "injected" themselves into the deal between NBTS and DEVCO. Then, a previous deal with the Rutgers Hillel was reconsidered and overturned, and that organization was given a new spot to relocate by the university.
DEVCO's President Chris Paladino told NJ.com, "Rutgers will be a very different place."
His non-profit development firm championed the redevelopment of the former home of the Grease Trucks, the city's famous food trucks in a highly controversial move related to the deal, just a block away.
The only remaining piece of the puzzle was supposedly student housing for the seminary, which had abandoned their only dormitory several years ago.
Members of the Planning Board are selected by the Mayor and City Council, and in New Brunswick, they have a reputation for supporting proposed projects, especially when they are represented by Tom Kelso, the county government's attorney. Kelso regularly represents CMA, DEVCO Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, and the controversial Boraie Development.
Hastily, the Planning Board approved a new redevelopment zone that extended across Mine Street specifically to include the former Catholic Center, in the hopes of redeveloping the old site into modest housing for the 225-year-old seminary.
Instead, just two years later, the board is now faced with a proposal by a private developer to rent most of the units to individuals who may or may not be affiliated with either of the two neigbhorhood educational institutions.
Just the first floor of the four-story building would serve as housing for the NBTS, under the plan currently proposed.
"Use of the first floor has been proposed first floor of the building to house theological seminary students, while apartments on the other three levels will be available to the open market," reads one of the documents submitted to the city.
The neighborhood residents are squarely against development.
"I hope we can block (the project)," Beardslee told NJ.com's Anthony Attrino. "This is one of the few neighborhoods left that has single family homes left."
College Avenue Redevelopment Associates, a holding company, currently possesses the land, and if a project with CMA fails to pass the Planning Board, Rutgers could potentially re-claim the property and have free reign over it.
If Rutgers wanted to build something on the site, because they are part of the state government, there would be no requirement for the Planning Board to approve their development.
However, because CMA is behind the project, one of more than a dozen they have participated in over the past decade, it requires approvals from one of the city's land use boards: the Planning Board or the Zoning Board.
Though this building is going before the more highly-politicized Planning Board, residents still think they have a chance to defeat CMA's proposal on its merits.
"Replacing the old Catholic Center buildings on Mine Street with an apartment building isn’t crazy, but the size of the proposed building doesn’t make sense," said Jon Mills, one of the few neighborhood residents who owns his home.
Mills and others in the neighborhood are mounting an unprecedented effort to defeat the project.
"It’s out of proportion with everything around it and will dwarf the nearby buildings on Mine Street and Stone Street," Mills told New Brunswick Today.
"If it’s built without any changes it will ruin the look and feel of the block and that will be a terrible loss for the neighborhood and the city," said Mills.
Many residents are also concerned about the impact the building will have on parking in the neighborhood.
"Overcrowding Mine Street is going to have a ripple effect for the surrounding blocks as new residents and their visitors try to find places to keep their cars nearby," said O'Neill.
The building only offers 43 parking spaces, by way of an underground garage. Normally, a building of its size would require 106 parking spaces, a deficiency of 63 spaces.
The Planning Board meets tonight to hear this application in the top floor of City Hall, 78 Bayard Street in downtown New Brunswick at 7:30pm.
The meeting is open to the public and anyone is allowed to ask questions or make comments at the hearing.
Editor's Note: Premier Properties is an advertising sponsor of New Brunswick Today.