A massive residential development that one town official called "a second Harmon Cove" has been proposed for the long-unused Shiptank property in the north end of Secaucus.
The application, submitted to the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission (NJMC) early in November, seeks to construct 225 townhouses on a site of about 14 acres.
The site, which has lain vacant for more than a decade, served as site for a company that reconditioned and stored sea containers until it went out of business in the early 1980s. Neighbors routinely call the grass-covered area "the Shiptank property."
Charan Industries of Garden City, N.Y., has owned the property since, and the town has struggled to have the property owner maintain the grounds.
"We used to get on them to clean up the weeds," Mayor Dennis Elwell said. "Since then, the town does and bills them for the service."
The town was notified of the application in a letter on Nov. 13, which listed Baker Residential as the intended developer. Baker has not yet bought the property from Charan Industries, but may do so if they get the approval. The company has built more than 10,000 homes in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey over the last 30 years. Baker, which recently designed the Cambridge Heights condo development in Nutley, specializes in customized townhouse development, often creating custom-fit homes, which include larger bedroom, media rooms and gourmet kitchens. To do this, Baker Residential offers a wide range of floor plans and design variations, plus many standard and custom features from which buyers can choose. The Nutley project provided five different styles.
Although the company has not yet done a full presentation for the NJMC, the company is known for developing its projects on previously neglected properties. The townhouses are expected to cost above $300,000, and would be three or four bedroom units.
Town officials are concerned over the impact the project will have on schools and traffic. They also acknowledge the increase in ratables the project can bring.
"That property is zoned so that they could put in as many as 450 units," Elwell said. "They originally proposed 270 when they brought this to me at my office. I told them that I was concerned about the density."
The property's potential development has always posed a concern for area residents because four streets come to a dead-end at the Shiptank property. Fears in the past centered on the speculation about what might happen if a project such as this was to open those streets to through traffic.
"Many residents bought their homes in that area because the streets were dead-ends," Elwell said.
The property also has access to Meadowlands Parkway, which could result in heavy traffic accessing the north end of Secaucus through the property and the residential streets.
As envisioned, traffic into and out of the townhouse development would be solely at Meadowlands Parkway, although the project could provide another way in and out for emergency vehicles.
"But this would have a gate with a lock on it, and would not be open to general traffic," Elwell said.
As planned, the townhouse development would be a gated community similar to Harmon Cove - although without the 25-story towers. Visitors to the development would be required to stop at a guarded gate.
"It will be an upscale, gated community," Elwell said. "While I don't like to see that large a residential development isolated from the rest of the community, the streets in that area are narrow and we don't want to put more traffic on them."
Another plan was unacceptable
Elwell said he had opposed a previous plan by another developer that would have installed 250-300 rental units on the property. He believed rental units would not be kept up as well over the long run as privately owned homes. While he would have preferred single-family homes, homeownership was key.
Elwell said he was also looking for accommodations for open space. Baker Residential's other projects are noted for landscape design in which open space figures prominently.
The mayor has also expressed concern about public access to the river, and the developers appear to be willing to allow the town to construct a public walkway along the river behind the development.
While the project will need no variances for number of units, it will have to meet some affordable housing requirements, and may face other approvals depending upon the design presented.
Elwell and Councilman Robert Kickey have asked that one of the three public hearings to be scheduled on the project be held in Secaucus at night.
"We want residents to be able to hear for themselves what this project is about," Elwell said.
A change of plan
Plans to build a five-story high assisted living facility on Flanagan Way was abandoned in November after a new developer submitted plans to construct 12 townhouses on the site. The developer has requested a change of ordinance that would allow for residential units on property previously zoned for commercial uses.
The units are slated to be constructed on a 1.1-acre site that is behind the site for the new town library, and will provide three parking spaces for each residential unit. No off-street parking will be needed. The buildings will be set back from the street by 35 feet, allowing for significant landscaping.
At a public hearing held on Nov. 26 before the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission, no residents spoke out against the project. The townhouses are supposed be two and three bedroom units.