Developer Secures Approval to Build Apartment Complex and Restaurants in Movie Theatre Parking Lot

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—The large parking lot behind the AMC Loews movie theater may soon see the construction of three buildings, including two restaurants and a four-story apartment complex.

On September 22, the city's Zoning Board unanimously approved the application by Raritan Heights Phase II, LLC, a company owned and controlled by Piscataway-based Edgewood Properties, for changes to their already approved plans.

Edgewood is owned by millionaire real estate mogul Jack Morris, who also serves as the Vice President of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital's Board of Directors.

Plans for a development at the site have been in the works for years, but only time will tell if the notorious developer will actually follow through with construction.

The proposal dates back to at least 2002, when the Planning Board approved the mixed-use project, even though the land falls under the C-5 Highway Commercial zone.

According to the minutes of a 2011 Zoning Board meeting, attorney Thomas F. Kelso, who represents both Edgewood Properties and the Middlesex County government, the plans originally included a 70,000 square foot retail space, which later evolved into more than 200 units of housing:

[Kelso] stated that the site is located on Route 1 South and is developed with the Loews Theater and a restaurant. There are also approvals for another restaurant pad and a 70,000 square foot retail building. Mr. Kelso said that the applicant proposes to replace the retail with a mixed-use building with 236 residential units, and 12,300 square feet of first floor retail space.

The remaining retail space was removed from the latest incarnation of the plans, replaced by an additional 18 apartments in the modified proposal approved last month.

At the 2011 hearing, one of the few questions asked came from by Zoning Board member Margaret Chester.

Chester asked whether the project would have access to public transportation for students that may decide to live there.

Traffic engineer Karl Penke responded that he was not sure of an answer.

Board member Susan McElligott pointed out other apartment complexes nearby indeed included bus stops and asked if it was feasible to add one to their proposal.

Project manager Ron Aulenbach explained that the differences in grades would make it difficult to create one but he “would consider a shuttle or extending the existing sidewalk to Route 18.”

Without further questions or comments from members of the public, the proposal was unanimously approved with the promise to look into mass transit option.

Aulenbach has not responded to multiple inquiries from New Brunswick Today about the project, including whether or not mass transit had been actually been considered or added to the project.

The apartment building will be built on what it is today primarily a patch of dirt in the back corner of the movie theatre's parking lot.

However, without mass transit, some people are concerned that the project could create traffic or parking problems.

"I worked at that theater for 4 years," said one commenter on the New Brunswick Today Facebook page.  "I really do not know how they will deal w/ increased traffic (both bodies and vehicles) in that area!"

The changes approved on September 22 increased the total number of apartments to 254.

The project will also reduce the total parking spaces available for customers of the theater and Famous Dave's restaurant from 1,700 to 1,500.

Aulenbach said that there was no word yet on which vendors might be interested in the two restaurants his company plans to build.  The plans called for one "fast food restaurant" closer to the highway and another "restaurant" behind Famous Dave's.

Aulenbach expressed optimism, saying that Edgewood expects to have vendors lined up by the end of 2014 or beginning of 2015, adding that his company expects to finish most of the project's first phase within a year and a half.

Edgewood Properties has backed several projects in New Brunswick, including one that never fully came to fruition.

While the company successfully opened a Walgreen's pharmacy in their "Jersey Handy Plaza" about ten years ago, much of the rest of the plaza remains unfinished.

A bank building was constructed around the time of the pharmacy, but it never opened.  An adjacent strip mall was also slow to fill up with tenants.

But plans for housing and a supermarket on the south end of the site, which once was home to a factory building, never came to pass, leaving the neighborhood with large piles of dirt and refuse for years to come.

Planning Director Glenn Patterson confirmed that, barring a change in zoning, the board's approval for the Route 1 project would not have any timeframe requirement for the company to actually start or finish building the project.