NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—What is perhaps the most desolate block of the city's main drag is about to see its first new building in a while.
The block of George Street between Morris Street and Tabernacle Way is home to the Bravo supermarket and the Abundant Life church, but, other than those, the site is mostly vacant or used for parking.
After lying fallow since the 1970's, the land at the corner of George and Tabernacle may be about to sprout a three-story mixed-use building. The city's Zoning Board of Adjustment approved the required variances on March 24.
According to the approved plans, three storefronts will be erected along the George Street side of the building, and a single apartment will be located behind the stores, fronting on Tabernacle Way.
The second and third floors will contain an additional twelve apartments.
Milltown-based developer Egyptian Gardens LLC and its owner, Sayed Seliman, have been working towards this development project for over a decade, including the 2007 acquisition of some land from the city government.
In April 2004, the company purchased 243 George Street, the first of the two properties that have since been consolidated, for $220,000, according to the city spokesperson.
Though city officials claim the property was a vacant lot at the time of its sale, there was actually an abandoned building taking up much of the property. That structure was eventually destroyed.
More than three years later, Egyptian Gardens purchased the second lot, 245 George Street, from the City of New Brunswick for $120,000.
"I do not have further information regarding why the property was sold, or if it was auctioned," said spokesperson Jennifer Bradshaw.
City governments are usually required by law to hold an auction before selling city-owned property. The developer tells New Brunswick Today the property was indeed auctioned off and confirmed the $120,000 sale price.
In 2011, when the first planning documents were submitted to the city, the project was envisioned as a single-story commercial building, with four retail establishments. It would have had three stores along George Street and one along Tabernacle Way.
However, within a year, plans were modified to include two additional floors of apartments. Egyptian Gardens asked for nine residential apartments in its proposal, each of which would have two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a kitchen. Most units also included separate dining and living rooms as well.
One apartment was to be situated behind the George Street stores, but the other eight residences would be upstairs.
By 2013, some apartments were downsized to one bedroom, and the total number of apartments rose to 13. As of 2014, there is now a basement planned as well.
The block itself has largely been vacant since the 1970's, when the houses occupying the corner of Neilson and Morris Streets were torn down.
The Tabernacle Way side of the block has been mostly empty for even longer. A look at a Sanborn Fire Insurance map from 1912 reveals the reason why: that side of the block was largely occupied by a cemetery.
Although it may not look like a burial ground at first glance, it is still on record as being a cemetery, currently owned by the United Methodist Church. Part of that site has been used as a garden in recent years, and the rest of the cemetery site looks no different than any lawn.
Across Tabernacle Way from where the new building is to stand, the Tabernacle Baptist Church has stood for many years. Previously, the building was occupied by Pitman Methodist Church, which merged with the St. James Methodist Church and First Methodist Church to form the United Methodist Church in 1961.
Pitman had once owned the site of the proposed new building, having used it as "a clearing for camp meetings and picnics."