Redeveloper granted parking alternative due to low use

Planning professionals attested the proximity of the Light Rail as a reason

Bayonne has approved the amended final site plan of a multi-phase redevelopment project at the westernmost portion of the former Military Ocean Terminal at Bayonne (MOTBY) now known as the Peninsula at Bayonne Harbor.

The redevelopment in question is Bay151, by Kushner Real Estate Group.

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The amended plans will see a number of changes primarily including the construction a surface parking lot with phased-in solar panels and a basketball court in lieu of a multi-story parking garage.

The Bayonne Planning Board voted to approve the application by Centre Street Redeveloper, LLC at its May 23 special meeting. The application was presented to the board by attorney for the redeveloper Patrick McNamara, who described the changes as “a series of minor revisions to the overall site plan.”

The redeveloper already got final site plan approval to construct two four-story apartment buildings and the associated parking garages in 2016 and final site plan approval for the third building in 2018. Buildings 1 and 2 were constructed as part of Phase One, as well as two connected multi-story parking garages attached to the back of each building facing Route 440.

As part of Phase Two of the project, another building and an associated multi-story parking garage connected to the others was planned to be constructed. This will be known as “Building 3,” and will be home to an amenity clubhouse and 9,815 square feet of retail.

Now, as the redeveloper is constructing the building, they have decided that the parking garage is unnecessary.

Parking demand low at other buildings

McNamara said the first two buildings are already constructed. He added both are doing well when it comes to occupancy. Despite this, the parking decks for both Building 1 and Building 2 are both underutilized.

“The actual usage is nowhere near what’s projected,” McNamara said.

As such, the redeveloper wants to prevent this by constructing surface parking instead. Instead of a parking garage spanning two stories, a surface parking lot will be constructed with considerably less spaces although more than what is required.

“Even with the reduction we’re seeking, we still do not need variance relief from the provisions of the redevelopment plan,” McNamara said.

Adding to the benefit of the surface parking lot, McNamara said it would have an array of solar panels constructed overhead. However, this would be phased in based off of the market.

“We’re also seeking approval for the solar arrays to be put in the surface parking,” McNamara said. “We request some degree of flexibility on timing so that when the economic conditions justify, we will proceed to go with each respective phase of putting up the solar canopies, rather than being mandated under initial approval.”

Less parking spaces 

Project engineer James Ward said the plans for the 260 parking space garage were scrapped for an 171 surface space lot. This is a reduction by 89 parking spaces. However, Ward testified this was still over what was required in the redevelopment plan of 1:1. The parking was reduced from 1.43 to 1.33.

“This is still above the ordinance requirement of one space per unit,” Ward said.

Ward testified that in Building 1, nearly all of the 200 units were occupied except for four units. With those 196 occupied units, there were only 134 cars. There is a similar situation occurring with Building 2. Of the 122 leased units of that building, there are only 46 cars.

The redeveloper felt that the proximity to the Hudson Bergen Light Rail and other public transportation meant that the many residents of the buildings don’t own cars or may opt not to own cars.

“We feel a reduction is warranted based on the proximity to the Light Rail,” Ward said. “And the facility also runs a shuttle to Grove Street.”

But more givebacks

While the surface lot increases impervious coverage at the site, it is still within what is allowed in the redevelopment plan. Ward concluded that removing the parking structure would open up the area and better the site.

“We think the removal of the garage actually provides a benefit, access to the back of the building for increased fire safety.

A driveway nearby was also removed, while a retaining wall and safety fencing will be added. Some landscaping may occur as well.

“We have to take a look at the grading,” Ward said. “We might flatten out the slope a little bit.”

The major tradeoff for the switch from a garage to a parking lot was the addition of a half-basketball court. In addition, the redeveloper is moving and consolidating garbage compactors to behind one of the other parking garages.

The new plans also see the addition of a pool to Building 3. And the new parking lot will be home to 8 electric vehicle spaces.

Commissioner concerns rectified

Chairwoman Karen Fiermonte raised concerns about the lack of a buffer between the basketball court and Route 440 as there would be between the court and the Light Rail, to which the redeveloper was agreeable to any solutions.

“Theres no buffer there at the moment,” Ward said. “We’ll take a look at that. Maybe we can reorient it or something.”

”For public safety, should it be a frequented site by people in the community, I’m just thinking about their safety with cars,” Fiermonte said.

“We had an issue with trash compactors occupying the same area so we’ll take a look at that,” Ward said, noting the redeveloper was agreeable to making the necessary changes.

Consulting City Planner Mika Apte asked if the redeveloper would comply with the required 32 electric vehicle parking spaces, to which redeveloper also agreed.

Other concerns regarded monument signage and lighting, to which the redeveloper said they would be ask for a variance or design waiver and work board professionals to remedy any issues.

Board professionals in favor

Consulting City Engineer Andrew Raichle personally testified to the emptiness of the garage.

“I occasionally go up to the garage because it’s got a cool view of the whole peninsula, the upper floor,” Raichle said. “There’s never any cars in there, so I feel comfortable about this. And just to be clear, they’re still substantially above the redevelopment plan’s requirements.”

Raichle suggested a design waiver for the lighting, and also noted the orientation of court could cause safety issues.

“I grew up in the 70s and have no problem with a basketball court at the end of the road, but I do realize that may present safety issues,” Raichle said.

While Raichle was willing to have design waiver and work with applicant, McNamara said they would just change the design as opposed to causing any issues for public safety.

City Planner Suzanne Mack applauded the applicant’s work with her office for years due to the site’s proximity to the Light Rail. She was in favor of the amended application.

“I would certainly recommend it,” Mack said.

The board that day voted unanimously to approve the application, consisting of Fiermonte, Commissioners Michael Quintela, Jack Beiro, Thomas Moirano, and George Becker.

Also on the agenda for the special meeting was the public hearing for an 18-story high-rise and a six-story building across the street as part of the next phase of the Silk Lofts redevelopment. However, it was postponed again to June 14 at 6 p.m. in the municipal chambers at City Hall at 630 Avenue C at the request of the redeveloper. This follows Mayor James Davis’ pause on most major residential redevelopment outside of MOTBY.

For updates on this and other stories, check www.hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Daniel Israel can be reached at disrael@hudsonreporter.com.

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