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WOODBRIDGE, NJ–The Woodbridge Township Planning Board gave the go-ahead to build a 100-unit affordable housing complex and athletic field on a 15-acre site where the Warden at East Jersey State Prison once lived.
The property, which includes some of the last remaining open space in the highly-developed area, is valued at $1,573,300.
It was transferred from the NJ Department of Corrections to Woodbridge Township for just $1 on June 6, 2015. Though the prison is typically associated with Rahway, it is physically located in the Avenel section of Woodbridge.
Thomas F. Kelso, of Kelso & Bradshaw, represented Cedar Meadows LLC, a development subsidiary of Philadelphia-based Pennrose Properties, at the July 27 hearing on the proposal.
Neither the Woodbridge Township Mayor’s Office nor Kelso could be reached for comment on the total cost of development.
Kelso is also the official attorney for Middlesex County, though he has previously insisted that there is no conflict of interest between his role in representing the public entity and his position serving the private interests of developers seeking to build in Middlesex County.
Pennrose has properties in nine states, including several in New Brunswick. They were also chosen by the County's Board of Chosen Freeholders to take over the county-owned Roosevelt Care Center in Edison and transform it into senior citizen housing.
But this new location, in the Avenel section of Woodbridge would be isolated from the rest of the residential community. It is currently obscured by trees along Rahway Avenue, save for four small vehicle entrances and a bilingual "No Trespassing" sign.
The site faces the state prison to the West, and is bordered by swampland to the South, industrial warehouses to the North and East.
The State of New Jersey mandates the quality and number of affordable housing units per municipality, but where they are constructed is ultimately up to local governments.
The Township of Woodbridge Spending Plan calls for an allotment of $2.6 million from a canceled Forest View Apartments construction project to be portioned to this venture from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
The plan calls for accomodating developmentally disabled and mentally ill residents in addition to the affordable housing tenants.
The housing would be divided into three sections, with 25 units going to Disability Equality Duty (DED), elderly, and Emergency Medical Health Services (EMHS) residents, 50 units going to county residents at or below the Middlesex county median income, and the remainder to those at or below 30% of the Middlesex county median income.
Individual units will be designed with modern amenities, including a courtyard garden, community rooms, kitchenettes, on-site management, exercise spaces, libraries, supportive services, laundry, and trash disposal on every floor.
Each room would be handicap adaptable–though not accessible–meaning the room would have to be configured first for the desired use.
The athletic field will be a regulation size synthetic soccer field, along with a 237-space parking lot and restrooms. The lot will be shared with residents and any guests they may have, though there is also a bus stop nearby.
The field encroaches on the nearby wetlands, and representatives of the developer have stated they are already in the process of obtaining the necessary approvals to allow this.
Overall, the impact on the community was emphasized by the applicant as neutral to positive – traffic studies have turned up no additional traffic impact at peak hours, and there will also be an environmental remediation effort to clean up pollutants and asbestos already present on the property.
Whether future residents, the younger visitors who may want to use the new athletic fields, or the disabled and elderly who want to become more active within their community, stand to benefit from such an unusual location remains to be seen.