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February 19, 2017

Mixed-use project planned for 653-acre site off Route 1

WEST WINDSOR — For more than a decade, the 653-acre former American Cyanamid complex has sat vacant, a ghost town of rundown buildings overgrown with weeds and brush.

The redevelopment of the property is still years away, but in an important step toward moving the project forward, the developer filed a conceptual plan with the township on Feb. 10.

The proposal envisions about 2,000 housing units, retail and office space, walking trails and parks and potential sites for a hotel and school.

For much of the site’s history, the buildings were used as an agricultural research facility and was last occupied in 2002 by German chemical giant BASF. The property changed hands several times over the next few years.

It has been owned by the Howard Hughes Corporation since 2010 when it emerged out of the bankrupt General Growth Properties.

Public forum held about long-vacant site

The company went before the township council in 2014 in hopes of having the property designated as an area in need of redevelopment. But the council decided against taking further action, instead recommending they submit a conceptual plan to the planning board.

“This site is one of the largest undeveloped tracts of land on the Northeast corridor,” said Adam Meister, the vice president of development who joined the project’s team a little more than a year ago. “It’s significant in scale and therefore that much more critical that it be planned in a thoughtful manner.”

The site is bounded by Quakerbridge Road to the west, Route 1 to the north and the Northeast corridor’s rail lines to the south. Clarksville Road bisects the land.

A new road network would be built, including a road that cuts through the site connecting Avalon Way with Route 1.

“We’ve developed a vision for the site that is a live-work-play community that maximizes the strategic location of the site … and transforms what is now a blighted site into a really vibrant community asset,” Meister said.

About 240 of the 653 acres would be set aside as preserved open space. The development, Meister said, would be bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly and have public plazas and parks, including a linear park alongside Quakerbridge Road to commemorate Gen. George Washington’s march to Princeton.

The conceptual plan, still in its early stages, calls for about 2,000 units of both market-rate and affordable housing. A variety of types are planned, including single-family homes, age-restricted homes, townhomes and apartments.

Meister says the more denser section of the development would be closer to what is considered the heart of the project — a roughly 28-acre village center. The downtown-like area would have 200,000 square feet of retail, from a mix of boutiques and services to restaurants, a specialty grocer and offices.

He said the retail offerings would be complementary to Quaker Bridge Mall, Mercer Mall and the other big-box shopping centers nearby.

“We recognize that there’s a lot of retail, but we want to create a much more dynamic and interesting street-oriented shopping district … that would not only serve the community that we’re proposing to develop but also be a place for local residents to come,” he said.

The group also envisions a “gateway” commercial area at the entrance to the property from Route 1 that could combine a hotel and office space.

“It depends on how the market evolves,” Meister said. “It’s intended now to be office, but it could be a mix of office and retail or it could be something different.”

In the past, residents have raised concerns about increased traffic and the impact new housing would have on the school district — issues Meister says Howard Hughes is taking into consideration.

“We believe that this will not have a negative impact on traffic,” he said. “If anything, it’ll be positive because of the type of smart growth, mixed-use development that actually alleviates traffic over the long run by creating more compact and dense development with convenience access to housing, employment and retail opportunities.”

Meister says they’ve done preliminary traffic studies and have begun talks with NJ Transit about improved access to mass transit, like adding bus routes and connecting the complex to the Princeton Junction train station. He said there’s also space on the site for a potential new station.

As for the impact on the West Windsor-Plainsboro Regional School District, Meister says there is 32 acres set aside for a school should it be needed.

Recommendations address overcrowding, enrollment

The nearly 10,000-student district completed a demographic study in 2013 that projected a net gain of 373 students by 2020-21, but this property was not included in the list of proposed new housing.

Of the district’s five West Windsor schools, the study says Maurice Hawk Elementary School and High School South are the only buildings where enrollment currently exceeds capacity. By 2020-21, Maurice Hawk, the closest school to the site, will exceed capacity.

During Tuesday’s school board meeting, Superintendent David Aderhold will be making a presentation about the impact of housing developments on the schools and addressing any questions about growth.

Meanwhile, the project’s next steps include a conceptual plan review by the planning board.

A date has not yet been set, but the planning board, township professionals and the public will all have an opportunity to ask questions and make comments, said Sam Surtees, who heads the Division of Land Use. He says there will be as many meetings as needed to accommodate everyone.

That would then be followed by rezoning, a process he says could take a while with the back-and-forth that’s required between the planning board and council.

Meister says the company doesn’t have a specific timeline in place, but anticipates that rezoning could take at least a year.

“The redevelopment area designation approach provides for more effective mixed-use, long-range planning and control … however there are other alternatives and each will be considered at the appropriate time,” Meister said.

Once approved, Howard Hughes would then have to apply for preliminary and final site plan approvals. Meister says construction would likely be done in three phases over a 15-year period.

The company has launched a website and Facebook page for the project.

Cristina Rojas may be reached at crojas@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @CristinaRojasTT. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

Read the original article here: http://www.nj.com/mercer/index.ssf/2017/02/mixed-use_project_planned_for_653-acre_site_off_ro.html

February 19, 2017 News