A 191-unit, five-story, transient-oriented luxury apartment building is the most desirable type of development for a five-acre plot of land on Island Road currently occupied by Ramsey Lumber, a developer looking to build an apartment complex on the site argued at the first session of a Zoning Board of Adjustment public hearing Wednesday night.
On behalf of his firms – Russo Acquisitions and Russo Development – Ed Russo argued the land, which is directly across from the NJ Transit rail station on Route 17, is “uniquely and specifically suited” for the development he proposed.
The apartment complex would include a mix of one, two and three-bedroom units that would start leasing at $2,000 a month, Russo said. The proposed complex is made up of four floors of apartments on top of two floors of covered parking lots, one aboveground level and one basement-level. Common spaces in the complex includes an outdoor courtyard and heated pool with lounge areas and a fire pit, a clubroom, media lounge, and fitness center, as well as on-site property managers and a concierge service.
The units, Russo said, were designed to target two groups of potential renters – young commuter couples who he said will “take advantage” of the proximity of the complex to the rail station, and local empty nesters who want to remain in the area but are looking to downsize.
Russo Acquisitions started a multi-night hearing Wednesday applying for several zoning variances it would need approved before it could build the project, including a land use variance, as the current zoning of the property does not allow for multi-family developments. Russo is also seeking a height variance, as zoning ordinances in the area only allow for three-story buildings, not five.
But, Russo argued some of the uses that would be allowed on the land – like industrial developments, retail centers and office complexes – would not ideally fit the land in question.
The lot also includes land on the adjacent Ferguson Place, on which Russo is proposing to build seven single-family homes on quarter-acre subdivided lots.
“We felt that development would compliment the residential developments already there,” he said.
The homes would be blocked from the apartment complex by a line of 10-12-foot evergreen trees planted between the two lots, he said.
Though Ramsey’s Master Plan specifically favors single-family over multi-family developments, Russo argued Wednesday that the 2006 document, which makes development recommendations for the borough, warns against multi-family complexes because of their potential impact on traffic.
“We felt this property was different, and could be developed without that negative consequence,” he said.
At a later hearing, Russo said he will present a traffic engineer to testify as an expert witness about the estimated impact to traffic. The engineer will be one of five experts set to testify on topics ranging from the fiscal impact the development might have on the borough’s tax rate, to the impact more students moving to the borough might have on the school system.
Though Russo only presented an outline of the proposal to the board Wednesday night, members had a long list of questions about the development, whether or not another type of development might be better for the property, and the impacts the proposed apartment complex might have on the borough.
Members asked questions on the company’s background with other residential building projects, to see data from other similar developments in Bergen County, and the impacts those have had on the communities they are in.
The board also questioned the borough would need a taller ladder truck to respond to a five-story building, and if so where it would physically house a taller truck, since it would not fit inside the current firehouse. The environmental condition of the land – which has been used as a lumber yard for many years – and whether or not the development would stress the school system were also among board questions.
Ramsey’s interim Superintendent of Schools Bruce DeYoung said at a school board meeting Tuesday night that district officials would also be watching the ongoing hearing closely to monitor what the impact of a concentrated influx of students might be.
Still, Russo said he feels the development would be beneficial for Ramsey, and testimony expected at future hearings will elaborate on why.
“Buildable land is a scarce resource in Ramsey, and there are not a lot of newly-built living options in Ramsey for people looking to move here,” he said. “And, this is a very desirable community to live in.”
Russo’s testimony on the development was carried to a Jan. 16 meeting.