WOODBRIDGE – It took a bit of undercover work, a breakfast at the Reo Diner on Amboy Avenue, and many tireless hours to make the Greens at Avenel, which will provide 100 apartments for families and individuals with special needs become a reality.
Mayor John E. McCormac said around the time he became mayor in 2006, the state had declared the property on Rahway Avenue surplus property, which allowed the municipality the first option to buy it.
“We talked to the [Gov. Jon] Corzine administration, that’s how far back this goes, and talked about our interest in the property with some kind of use toward affordable housing,” he said.
McCormac said talks carried over into the Gov. Chris Christie administration. He said during a breakfast at the Reo Diner with state Sen. Joe Vitale (D-Middlesex), a deal was struck: the state would sell the property to the municipality for $1.
With many moving parts, the reality of the Greens of Avenel was years in the making. Before any decisions were made on choosing a developer, McCormac said he traveled with Caroline Ehrlich, chair of the Woodbridge Redevelopment Agency, to observe firsthand the Chuck Costello Complex Special Needs Living facility in Old Bridge.
Pennrose, master redeveloper of the site, the Woodbridge Redevelopment Agency and township officials celebrated the grand opening of Greens at Avenel on Oct. 18.
The project transforms a former vacant and underutilized site into a vibrant residential community with 100 apartments for families and individuals with special needs and includes a new 1.25-acre Woodbridge Township youth sports field.
McCormac said the project signifies the township’s recognition there was a great need for special needs housing in the township.
“We do have a pretty significant affinity for the special needs population here in Woodbridge Township,” he said.
McCormac said he remembers trips as a Boy Scout with Troop 49 in Iselin to the Woodbridge Developmental Center, an intermediate care residential facility for individuals with developmental disabilities founded in 1965, to help serve meals; and he remembers celebrating Christmas in July as a member of the Iselin Knights of Columbus.
The state closed the facility in 2014.
“The population is a group we really never forgot,” McCormac said, adding the Woodbridge Developmental Center was part of the fabric of the township.
The four-story development includes 20 one-bedroom units, 61 two-bedroom units and 20 three-bedroom units ranging from 30% to 60% of the area median income for Middlesex County. Twenty-five units will be set aside as supportive housing with rental and service support provided by the Department of Development Disabilities (DDD) and the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS). Of the 25 units, 15 will be reserved for physically and developmentally disabled individuals and 10 will be for residents with mental health challenges referred through DDD and DMHAS, respectively.
“Greens at Avenel is a great example of the positive economic impact public/private partnerships can have on a community,” said Timothy I. Henkel, principal and senior vice president at Pennrose. “We worked closely with the Woodbridge Redevelopment Agency and the township to directly address the need for affordable, special needs housing in central New Jersey and we look forward to residents moving in.”
Henkel said it is humbling to work on projects like Greens at Avenel and their Chuck Costello Complex in Old Bridge.
Residents will have access to an array of community amenities including a library, game room, fitness center, on-site superintendent and a partially enclosed green courtyard with seating overlooking a tranquil wetland reserve. In addition, a 1,300-square-foot community room was designed to create an environment for residents to gather, socialize and enjoy various programming.
In 2015, Woodbridge Township took title of the site, formerly owned by the New Jersey Department of Corrections, that it had identified as a prime location for affordable, special needs housing. Pennrose was selected as the master redeveloper in 2016 and worked closely with the township to secure funding for demolition and development activities.
Financing for the project was provided by New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency, the Woodbridge Redevelopment Agency, Woodbridge Township, Citi Bank, Hudson Housing Capital, and the Federal Home Loan Bank of New York, with critical operational support from the New Jersey Department of Human Services.