By Ron Leir
It may require an extended backstop at Harvey Field to prevent foul balls from whacking cars and/or people and perhaps a buffer of some kind for a residential dog run.
But, in any event, Carlstadt developer Ed Russo will be returning to the Kearny Planning Board March 4 for local approvals to expand his residential project along the north side of Bergen Ave. adjacent to the town’s Harvey Field recreation complex.
Last Wednesday, the board began hearing testimony on Russo’s proposal to demolish two commercial structures at 311-337 Schuyler Ave. and erect two 3-story buildings with 70 rental apartments as part of what the town has designated as an area in need of redevelopment.
It will reconvene next month to hear more about Russo’s expanded project but in the meantime, it voted to approve the developer’s application for a subdivision and amendment to the site plan for the first phase of his residential project – six buildings – on the south side of Bergen Ave. to accommodate a clubhouse and fenced-in dog run on the site of what had been projected as a retail pad.
In other business, the board also sanctioned a site plan and variance application submitted by Kearny Holding VF LLC/Fitness Intl. LLC to convert the old Pathmark supermarket at 175 Passaic Ave. to an LA Fitness facility.
Kearny attorney Gary Bennett, representing Fitness Intl., told the board that his client has negotiated a long-term lease with the property owner, Vornado Realty Trust of New York, to occupy the 58,000 square feet former supermarket building with no change to the structure’s footprint.
James O’Sullivan, director of development for Fitness Intl., said that the company has 650 locations in the U.S. and Canada and of those, he developed 60 in the past decade.
O’Sullivan said the building will be equipped with a kids’ club, locker rooms with bathrooms and showers, a spa, a 3-lane lap pool, basketball/ volleyball court and studios for cardio, yoga and cycling workouts.
Chances of putting in a juice bar are “50/50” at this stage in the development process, O’Sullivan said.
The facility will be open from 5 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days a week, he said.
Plans call for the exterior masonry to be refurbished and repainted with an “earth-tone” color and “additional glass and light,” removal of the former supermarket’s loading docks, installation of brick pavers and bike racks near the front entrance and landscaping with 400 new plants anticipated, he said.
It will probably take a few months to file for building permits and, once granted, “five to six months to construct,” according to O’Sullivan. “The goal is to get this club open this year.”
Once construction starts, the company will open a “pre-sales office” to solicit memberships, he said.
Down the road, O’Sullivan said, the Kearny facility figures to employ more than 75 fulland part-time workers, with job opportunities for local residents.
As for the Bergen Ave. development, Russo told the board he expected to “be 100% complete” with his first phase which he calls Vermella Crossing – 150 rental apartments spread over six buildings – by October 2015.
Assuming favorable action by the board on his proposed expansion, Russo said his hope was to begin construction on that project by “sometime in 2016.”
Monthly rentals are projected at the “mid- $1,600s” for his one-bedroom apartments and in the range of “$2,200 to $2,400” for the two-bedroom units, Russo said. He has no plans to switch to “for sale” units.
Several board members, noting the proximity of the 2.2-acre development site to Harvey Field, wondered whether residents and/or their property might be in harm’s way from foul balls hit by batters during baseball season and that concern triggered discussion about the town doing some adjustments to the baseball field backstop which adjoins the targeted development site. No final plan was agreed to last week.
Asked about concerns raised by the Kearny Fire Department about access to hydrants and the ability of fire trucks to maneuver around the proposed residential buildings, Doug Bartels, an engineer and vice president with Russo Development, said that interior stairwells in each building would be equipped with standpipes and that fire rigs – and garbage trucks – should have enough room “to circulate around both buildings.”
Two board members – Chairman Fred Esteves and Councilman Jonathan Giordano – worried that tenants exiting either of the two proposed driveways from the site would have a tough time negotiating the flow of westbound traffic along Bergen Ave., which tends to stack up at the light at Schuyler Ave.
“There’s no way people are going to be crossing those driveways,” Esteves said. “No one’s going to give them a chance.”
Russo vice president Christopher Minks, the attorney representing the developer at the board hearing, said that the company may be “open to discussion on the more westerly of the two driveways” on possibly restricting the direction of traffic flow to oneway out only. “We’ll be looking at all options,” he said.