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Application for affordable housing development will continue in January

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The would-be developer of a 70-unit affordable housing development, adjacent to the Lawrence Shopping Center, hopes to wrap up an application for a use variance before the Lawrence Township Zoning Board of Adjustment next month.

The zoning board held the second in a series of public hearings Dec. 16 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.

The board ran out of time to complete the application and will listen to additional testimony at its Jan. 20 meeting.

RPM Development needs a use variance because duplex and multi-family developments are not permitted in the Highway Commercial or R-4 residential zones. Most of the 4.3-acre property 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 one apartment set aside for the on-site superintendent, all of the apartments are earmarked for low- and moderate-income households. The development, which consists of a trio of three-story apartment buildings and six two-story duplexes, will help Lawrence Township meet its obligation to provide affordable housing. The township, along with several other towns, was sued by the Fair Share Housing Center for failing to provide its fair share of affordable housing.

Much of the focus of the Dec. 16 public hearing was aimed at revisions to the site plan made by the applicant in response to comments and issues raised at the initial public hearing on Sept. 16.

Among the tweaks to the plan, RPM Development has purchased additional land from the owners of the Lawrence Shopping Center that will allow it to put all of the 102 parking spaces on land that it owns. The previous plan showed 42 of the 102 parking spaces on land belonging to the shopping center, through an arrangement between the two parties.

A variance is required, however, because 141 parking spaces are required for the mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments. The original plan showed 79 parking spaces, of which 23 were to be located on Texas Avenue in front of the six duplex buildings. All have been moved to the parking lot.

RPM Development also eliminated two separate driveways into the property and combined them into one driveway. One of the two driveways would have been an entrance driveway and the other one would have been an exit driveway.

The applicant also revised its recreational amenities plan to include a playground and a dog park. Both would be located on land near the Texas Avenue entrance to the Lawrence Shopping Center. The playground and dog park would be open to the neighbors, as well.

“The dog park is meant to be a benefit to the neighborhood. It will be open to the neighbors,” said Kevin Kavanaugh of RPM Development LLC. The playground also will be open to neighborhood children.

When attendees were given a chance to ask questions, one woman who lives on nearby Harding Avenue said she was concerned about lighting from one of the three-story apartment buildings shining into her home. She also asked about buffering between the development and neighbors.

Engineer Thomas Muller, who represented the applicant, said the wooded area between Harding Avenue and the development would not be disturbed. The proposed apartment building is about 100 feet away from the nearest home on Harding Avenue, he said.

And when another resident asked about the development’s impact on the school district, Kavanaugh said there would likely be an impact, but he could not be more specific about the numbers.

There are about a dozen one-bedroom apartments which would likely not generate any school children, but there could be children living in the two- and three-bedroom apartments, Kavanaugh said.

“There will be an impact, but that’s as much as I can say. This (development) is an obligation that Lawrence has, and we are doing our part to satisfy the courts. We are part of the solution,” he said, referring to the lawsuit settlement between Lawrence Township and the Fair Share Housing Center.

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