Board member compares development to college dormitory
Despite residents’ objections, a planned 54-unit affordable housing development at the rear of the Lawrence Shopping Center received final site plan approval by the Lawrence Township Zoning Board of Adjustment.
RPM Development LLC’s proposed 100% affordable housing development at 2495 Brunswick Pike was approved by the zoning board in April 2021. The zoning board had granted a use variance, preliminary and final subdivision approval and preliminary site plan approval.
The developer was required to return to the Zoning Board of Adjustment for final site plan approval, which was granted at the board’s Aug. 16 meeting.
“The zoning board had no choice but to approve it,” zoning board attorney Edwin Schmierer told the meeting attendees.
“This is a technical review. It is not a re-do of the underlying application.”
Project architect Anthony D’Agosta said there had been no changes to the application. The plan calls for a pair of three-story buildings behind the Lawrence Shopping Center and six duplex buildings along the Texas Avenue frontage.
Building “A” will have 24 rental apartments that include two one-bedroom apartments, 16 two-bedroom apartments and six three-bedroom apartments.
Building “B” will have 18 apartments to include 10 two-bedroom apartments and eight three-bedroom apartments.
The six duplex buildings along Texas Avenue will each have two units – one apartment on the first floor and one apartment on the second floor. They will be a mix of one- , two- and three bedroom apartments.
The architect’s plans show that in the multi-family apartment buildings, a one-bedroom apartment is 825 square feet and a two-bedroom apartment is 960 square feet. A three-bedroom apartment is 1,245 square feet. The apartments in the Texas Avenue duplex units will be slightly larger.
The ground floor units in the multi-family apartment buildings are designed to be handicap accessible, D’Agosta said. The countertops can be lowered in height, should a resident need it.
Amenities include a playground and an outdoor pavilion.
Project engineer Thomas Muller told the zoning board that the site will have to be re-graded along the Texas Avenue frontage. A majority of the trees will have to be cut down.
Traffic engineer Justin Taylor said there will be parking for 109 vehicles and will include two electric vehicle charging stations. Bicycle racks will be scattered throughout the development.
When the meeting was opened for public comment, several residents criticized the project – from cutting down the trees to questioning the potential for flooding. One objector showed photographs of flooded conditions at the rear of the shopping center.
Resident Jim Hooker termed the removal of the trees along Texas Avenue as a “sacrilege.” He said he understood people need a place to live, but “the location behind the Lawrence Shopping Center overlooking the loading docks is not ideal.”
Resident Sylvia Kubo told the board that as an immigrant, she would have needed to live in affordable housing, but her family helped her. She said she did not think she would want to “take that option” and live behind the Lawrence Shopping Center.
“I don’t think it is quality housing. It is not a healthy place for a child to grow up,” she said, mentioning “the runoff from flooding and the emissions from diesel delivery trucks.”
Resident Eric Puliti said RPM Development LLC’s project is detrimental to the quality of affordable housing stock in Lawrence Township.
“There is a lack of balconies and a lack of storage,” he said. “There will be a mud-caked, flooded-out playground for children. We are creating living conditions that are not fit for regular housing, but seemingly satisfactory when considering units for low-and middle-income households.
“Cramming affordable housing onto the site of a former ceramic tile dump in an area that is prone to flooding and with pervasive sink holes (in the Lawrence Shopping Center parking lot) in order to satisfy a number on a sheet of paper is not justice.”
The application had one supporter in the audience.
Resident Martha Friend thanked the zoning board for approving RPM Development’s application, because “there are many people who are desperate to find affordable housing.”
When it was time for the zoning board to vote, zoning board member Charles Lavine said it was one of the most difficult applications that he has had to consider in his four terms on the board.
Lavine said “everybody knows” that he was not happy with the location behind the Lawrence Shopping Center, the size of the units and the lack of balconies. He compared it to a college dormitory.
“I will be voting ‘yes,’ much against my will,” he said.