Zoning Board Hears Plan For New Student Housing in Sixth Ward

UPDATE (4/28): The Zoning Board of Adjustment unanimously approved the planned 28-unit building on Morrell Street, and its developer said he hopes to start construction in three months.

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—More apartments geared towards college students are planned for an area between Morrell and Ray Streets in the Sixth Ward.

At the April 27 meeting of the city's Zoning Board of Adjustment, the board members will hear a presentation about the project as well as testimony from any member of the public who wants to speak about it or ask questions.

The public hearing will be held on the top floor of City Hall, located at 78 Bayard Street, and begins at 7:30pm.

The proposed building is the second phase of a two-phase apartment complex being built by Recon Services LLC, which also goes by the name RU Off Campus Apartments.

Phase I, 55 Morrell Street, was approved by the Zoning Board of Adjustment in July 2012, although there was substantial public opposition to the project.

"We aren't an off-campus dorm room…we offer affordable luxury student living!" reads the company's website advertising the 55 Morrell Street property.

It offers 35 two-bedroom apartments on its three floors. It is currently leasing for the 2015-2016 academic year, and it shows the housing conditions and policies that the proposed building might offer.

Apartments at 55 Morrell are $1800 a month, or $900 per resident. Parking can be rented in the basement at $75 a month, and there are 32 spaces.

55 Morrell Street boasts kitchenettes with granite countertops and appliances already installed, ceiling fans, wall-to-wall carpeting, keyless entry to the building, security cameras, underground parking, and other amenities.

Only one resident is allowed per bedroom, two per apartment.

To put up the proposed Phase II building, three houses and a detached garage would be demolished.  One of the houses is on Ray Street, and two are on Morrell Street.  The site is about a block from College Avenue Campus and, as are many urban construction sites, are near gas mains and sewer pipes.

The Morrell Street houses are wood frame houses, about two and a half stories tall.  Both are narrow, with porches facing the street, typical of the 19th-century New Brunswick urban housing format.

The Ray Street house is a brick-clad saltbox, although its lower side faces the street.

The plans for the new building, designed by Robert B. Roth, call for 28 two-bedroom suites, with ten each on the second and third floors, as well as eight more on the ground floor.

Each apartment would have two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchenette, and a bathroom with sink, toilet, and shower.

Some living rooms would not have windows in them, but all bedrooms would have windows. Bathrooms would be on the interior and thus not have windows. 

The ground floor would also include two lobbies, a hallway, a garbage room, a laundry room, and a smaller room with a laundry washbasin. Mailboxes would be available in the front lobby.

The second and third floors would have ten units each, with two on each floor having interior living rooms and the other eight having daylit living spaces. The only other distinguishing feature of those floors are the connecting hallways and the electrical/mechanical rooms, one to each floor. 

The basement would have 27 parking spaces – one fewer than the number of apartments.  Current parking requirements call for 56 spaces, but the plans call for just 28 parking spaces, requiring a variance from the board.

The additional space, a wheelchair-accessible space, would be provided on the ground floor. 

The new apartment building would have two staircases, but no elevators. The wheelchair-accessible parking space would presumably be for someone living on the ground floor.

Elevations for the proposed apartments show vinyl siding for the upper two floors and much of the ground floor, with a first-floor rock facade facing Morrell Street.

The first floor on Ray Street would also be partially clad in rock, although vinyl would surface the rest of that floor, similar to how the developer decorated 55 Morrell Street.

Not all apartments will be able to have a basement parking space available.  Evidently, some residents are expected to use campus buses, car-share, on-campus parking, or other transportation services.

To judge from the rental application for the Phase I building, the owners are wary about residents that need parking, have filed for bankruptcy, are convicted felons, have been kicked out of housing, have been sued for not paying rent, or have been sued for damaging a residence.

They back up their questioning with background checks, according to the rental application.

In spite of the building's security and background checks, robbers succeeded at stealing valuable objects from a 55 Morrell Street apartment back in February, according to what police described as a drug deal gone wrong.