Zoning board will continue to hear application on RPM Development on Oct. 21

The would-be developer of a 70-unit affordable housing development, adjacent to the Lawrence Shopping Center, may find out whether the Lawrence Township Zoning Board of Adjustment will approve its use variance application at the board’s meeting on Oct. 21.

The zoning board began the public hearing on RPM Development LLC’s request for a use variance for its proposed 100% affordable housing development on land off Texas Avenue, at the rear of the Lawrence Shopping Center, at its Sept. 16 meeting. It ran out of time to complete the public hearing.

RPM Development needs the use variance because duplex and multi-family developments are not permitted in the Highway Commercial or R-4 residential zones. Most of the four-acre site on Texas Avenue is zoned Highway Commercial and a small portion is zoned R-4. The density of development at 17.9 units per acre also exceeds the maximum of 10 units per acre in the R-4 zone.

With the exception of the apartment set aside for the on-site superintendent, all of the apartments are earmarked for low- and moderate-income households. The development will help Lawrence Township meet its obligation to provide affordable housing as a result of a lawsuit filed against it – and several other towns – by the Fair Share Housing Center.

The site was added to the township’s Housing Element and Fair Share Plan in the Lawrence Township Master Plan in July. The site would have to be rezoned to permit the multi-family development, but RPM Development is working under a tight deadline to apply for funding under the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program.

RPM representatives told the zoning board at its Sept. 16 meeting that the company specializes in developing affordable housing and has done so for more than 30 years. It builds and manages affordable housing developments, including 4,000 units in New Jersey.

Much of the Sept. 16 public hearing focused on traffic and parking issues, with some discussion about the lack of recreational amenities for the residents of the 69 affordable rental apartments.

The original plan showed 79 parking spaces, of which 23 were to be located on the street on Texas Avenue. The rest of the parking spaces would be distributed on the property. A variance is required, because 141 parking spaces are required for the mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments.

In an amendment to the application submitted prior to the Sept. 16 meeting, the plan showed 102 parking spaces. Of those 102 parking spaces, 42 would be located on land belonging to the Lawrence Shopping Center, between the rear of the shopping center and the three apartment buildings. The remainder of the parking spaces would be on RPM Development’s property.

The applicant’s traffic engineer said the number of parking spaces is sufficient. Given the income of the renters, the number of cars that could be expected to be parked at the affordable housing development would be fewer than in a market-rate housing development, he said.

The applicant has data from its other properties that show one car per apartment, the traffic engineer said. NJTransit operates two bus routes nearby, which would reduce the parking demand.

The proximity of the development to a grocery store and other retail stores at the Lawrence Shopping Center, as well as the potential that some renters could find jobs in those stores, also reduces the need for parking spaces, the traffic engineer said.

The applicant’s civil engineer told the zoning board that although the development does not include formal recreational amenities, there is an area of open space near the Texas Avenue entrance to the Lawrence Shopping Center that would be part of the development.

The civil engineer said his client would be amenable to working with the township to provide recreational amenities, such as benches or swings, on the open space near the shopping center entrance.