NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ—One single street in downtown is poised to add more than 450 units of rental housing if real estate developers follow through on their plans, but it seems unlikely that any of those new apartments will be priced affordably.
None of the five companies planning to build on Bayard Street have committed to include any “affordable” units in their projects, continuing a trend of concentrating expensive housing in downtown and constructing little to no new affordable housing.
After a unanimous approval from the city’s zoning board on September 25, a 22-story, 331-unit tower could soon be rising at the corner of Bayard and Kirkpatrick Streets.
It marks the latest approved plan from Woodbridge-based Wick Companies, which has previously secured the board’s permission for a 20-story tower at the same site in 2017.
It’s not clear what has been holding back Wick and its leader, Robert G. Paulus, from developing there, but the new plans call for a taller structure comprising more apartments and less office space.
The proposed tower at 90 Bayard Street is not the only development planned in this section of downtown New Brunswick.
Bayard Street is also where two smaller developments are currently under construction, and at least two more developers—both represented by the same attorney as Paulus—have acquired approvals to build, but not yet commenced with the projects.
Not every development project that starts the zoning process finishes with an approval and not every project that gets approved gets built. Many developments depend on further approvals from other entities or financing decisions from banks and other lenders.
If built, the new downtown tower would include a 285-space parking garage, occupying the second, third, and fourth floors, and a portion of the ground floor, which would also include 8,550 square feet of offices and 2,190 square feet of retail space.
In the latest plans, the tower’s stormwater management system has been re-designed to divert rainfall towards Bayard Street, instead of New Street where it would have likely made the existing flash flooding problem near the county’s Family Courthouse worse.
The whole project would cost more than $106 million, according to the approved application for a lucrative 30-year property tax break, a deal that the New Brunswick City Council approved in 2020.
Just a few blocks away, more than a dozen people are apparently living under a railroad overpass, and hundreds more are homeless here.
The annual “point in time” count of homeless persons in New Brunswick jumped from 163 to 244 in the past year.
According to a draft document on the city government’s website, the City of New Brunswick reported to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that it constructed zero units of affordable housing between July 1, 2022 and June 30, 2023.
New Brunswick’s Consolidated Annual Performance and Evaluation Report (CAPER) says it had expected to create 30 units of affordable housing under a strategic plan for that year.
The document also admits the city had expected to provide rental assistance to 50 residents in the name of “homelessness prevention,” but zero were actually assisted during the year.
Those revelations come as the cost of housing has continued to skyrocket, and while the existing state law and city ordinance allows new housing projects like the ones planned for Bayard Street to claim an exemption from rent control restrictions that can last for decades.
Last summer, the city’s Planning Director Daniel Dominguez said there were 201 units of affordable housing “in the pipeline,” citing five different pending developments. But none of the projects Dominguez identified have broken ground or begun construction.
Meanwhile, the plans for Bayard Street have already caused the demolition of at least three buildings, and several more could be on the chopping block if they actually proceed.
At the end of each construction project, there would be more housing units in the area than before. But only a scant few might be affordable to the average household in New Brunswick, where the median household income was $49,338 in 2021.
That same year, the developer of a 26-unit project going up at 96 Bayard Street said that he hopes to charge monthly rents between $2,100 and $2,200 for a one-bedroom unit, and between $1,600 and $1,700 for a studio.
That developer, Arie Behar, testified in support of the tower proposed by Paulus, saying that the 22-story project was of a “size and scale that can bring New Brunswick one closer step to the major cities of New York City.”
At just over 255 feet tall, it’s likely the tallest proposed building ever approved in the Zoning Board’s history. Typically, projects of this scale end up before the Planning Board.
New Brunswick Today asked Paulus how much his company is looking to charge for rent in the tower, which will include a sky lounge on the top floor and a pool on the fifth floor.
“We haven’t set [monthly rents]. I can only tell you what we experience in Woodbridge,” said Paulus, referring to his company’s six-story, 146-unit apartment project located just steps away from the train station in downtown Woodbridge.
“The lease-up period was approximate nine months, very quick,” said Paulus. “Rents were increasing. We held them down.”
Paulus said rents for one-bedroom units there were “starting to push up” to the $2,500-$2,600 range, while two bedrooms were now fetching $3,500 per month. He says it’s why the units added in the latest design are studio apartments and one-bedroom units that are significantly smaller than the ones originally contemplated.
“Construction costs are a driving factor, obviously,” said Paulus of the increasing rents, also noting that the housing market here was “pushing” towards smaller apartments.
In September 2020, the New Brunswick City Council unanimously approved a 30-year property tax exemption for Paulus’ operation if the building gets built.
The project has been in the works for many years, with shell companies controlled by Paulus acquired the properties, including one from New Brunswick’s Mayor James Cahill.
Cahill and his former law partner, New Brunswick Municipal Prosecutor Robert Adochio, sold 24 Kirkpatrick Street to EURO LLC, a company controlled by Paulus, for more than $1.1 million in 2006. Cahill’s firm, Cahill & Branciforte, still rents an office in the building.
In all, Paulus said his company spent $7 million buying up the properties along Kirkpatrick, Bayard, and New Streets that would be needed to build the planned tower.
Arie Behar supported Paulus’ zoning applications for the 90 Bayard Street project, and has his own plans in the works for a nearby property.
Behar owns a pair of buildings that nestled together and previously connected by a shared stairwell, located at 96-100 Bayard Street.
The new plans leave the “atrium one” office building at 100 Bayard Street intact, while the two-story structure next door at 96 Bayard Street—consisting of county government offices that closed for over a decade ago—was demolished and is being replaced with apartments.
Arie Behar, owner of 96-100 Bayard Street Associates, had previously secured zoning approvals to build apartments at 96 Bayard Street in 2012, and again in 2016, when the zoning board granted approval for a 10-story, 36-unit structure.
Construction finally began after another approval in February 2021, where the downsized plans for a six-story, 26-unit building were approved after a public hearing.
Behar told the board he had originally contemplated keeping the existing two-story structure at 96 Bayard and simply building on top of it, but that wouldn’t hold up.
“Originally, we thought we can add some steel and make it stronger, so we can build on top of it,” Behar said. “As we went deeper, we found it was not possible. And we came to the conclusion that we have to demolish the building.”
Seeking the third approval, Behar said the planned 10-story building was “just too big.”
“When you start to look into building that, and find out that there’s no way to put a crane that big to construct such a big building,” said Behar. “We came to realization that the best way to build it is pretty much simple structure by hand, where there’s no steel, it’s concrete blocks, and then framing.”
Three of the five recent Bayard Street projects approved had the same lawyer, Thomas F. Kelso, who also represents Middlesex County’s government.
Kelso, a fixture in New Brunswick’s government and politics for decades, runs his private law firm and holds a six-figure job inside the County Administration Building at 75 Bayard Street, just north of the area where a flurry of zoning approvals he secured could re-shape the area.
But it remains to be seen if his clients will follow through on their projects. So far, none of his Bayard Street clients have actually started construction based on the approvals he won.
Paulus’ company was first granted zoning approval for his tower in September 2017.
“We’re going for 2018,” Paulus said at the time, when pressed on the timeline for commencing construction during the hearing.
But that didn’t happen, and Paulus and Kelso subsequently went behind closed doors to make changes to the project, apparently attending a meeting of the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC), a city agency that operates largely in secrecy.
After appearing before the TAC in May 2019, a resolution was to be prepared documenting the supposedly minor changes to the site plan, wherein a reconfigured 18-story tower was presented and approved without public notice or engagement.
There’s no available records of the relevant meetings on the city website at this time, so it’s unclear if Paulus or Kelso gave an updated timeline on the tower’s construction throughout the closed-door process.
Now, more than four years later, Paulus testified that “the start date would be sometime in the latter part of next year,” and that construction would take about two years to finish.
Two other pending projects for Bayard Street have not begun demolition or construction.
On January 24, 2022, 89 Bayard LLC received approval from the zoning board to build a six-story, 45-unit building at 89 and 91 Bayard Street, directly across the street from Paulus’ potential tower.
Later that year, the two properties were sold by 89 Bayard LLC to the similarly-named 89 Bayard Street LLC for $2.6 million. The company that hired Kelso, got the approvals, and sold the properties was started by four New Jersey residents: Shan and Satpal Kapoor, of Morganville, and Naresh and Nainil Bhadiyadara, of Rutherford.
It’s unclear if the site’s new owners, a company started by two residents of Glen Head, New York, Dalbir Singh and Rajvir Dahiya, will follow through with the approved plan, apply to construct something different, or simply continue with the existing pair of office buildings.
One block to the west, the property at 114 Bayard Street has been approved for a five-story, 23-unit building per a May 23, 2022 approval granted to Bayard Metro LLC, another Kelso client.
That company was started by Steve Kontos, of Homdel, and Michael Kontos, who used an address in the Sayrebridge Professional Building, located on Bordentown Avenue in Parlin.
Across the street from that potential project, JCM Investors 1012, LLC has been constructing a five-story, 37-unit apartment building based on an April 23, 2018 approval from the city’s Zoning Board.
The structure being erected at 111-113 Bayard is replacing a 36-room boarding house that was sandwiched between the Bayard Street Presbyterian Church and a downtown campus of Rutgers University.
The zoning hearing on this project was interesting because New Brunswick Municipal Judge Phil Borow questioned the developers over their management of the boarding house, which has since been demolished to make way for the Florio project.
“I started this project two years ago when started looking to empty the building out. It did take us two years,” testified project manager Nick Daurio, who called the prior structure there “an eyesore” and “a nuisance to the neighborhood.”
“We want to get rid of it and put a nice building there, something that will conform with the neighborhood,” said Daurio, who said Matthew Florio was the sole owner of the company.
Borow, who owns several residential properties across the street, grilled the applicant about their management of the house and other issues, leading to some dramatic objections from the applicant’s attorney, Michael Rubin.
The proceeding also stood out because the developer was seemingly unconnected to the local political power structure, but does have a base of power stemming from another New Jersey city.
JCM Investors is owned by members of the Florio family, who are well-known for real estate development in the City of Paterson. According to the testimony, they operated some 400 properties in the Silk City, but this marked their first project in New Brunswick.
The Florios and their company were involved in bringing about the downfall of then-Mayor of Paterson Joey Torres, after having a falling out with him in 2015.
Torres was ultimately prosecuted, and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit official misconduct after a Florio-funded investigation revealed city workers were illegally paid overtime to perform manual labor at a private business owned by Torres’ family members.
Torres was recently indicted for trying to run for Mayor again, in violation of his plea deal.
Editor’s Note: The author of this article is a staff member for an organization that has been a longtime tenant at the atrium one building at 100 Bayard Street.
Charlie is the founder and editor of New Brunswick Today, and the winner of the Awbrey Award for Community-Oriented Local Journalism. He is a proud Rutgers University journalism graduate, a community organizer, and a former independent candidate for mayor of New Brunswick.