From pet supplies to loft apartments

Photos courtesy BRG Harrison Lofts Urban Renewal Renderings of the loft apartment complex proposed for the Vo-Toys property in Harrison.
Photos courtesy BRG Harrison Lofts Urban Renewal
Renderings of the loft apartment complex proposed for the Vo-Toys property in Harrison.


By Ron Leir

Observer Correspondent


For six decades, the Voy- Toys company has made and distributed wholesale pet shop supplies from its Harrison headquarters.

But now it looks like the three mammoth structures in the 400 block of S. Fifth St. that has catered to the production of leashes, collars, catnips, rubber dog toys, rawhide dog chews and the like will give way to lodgings for human occupants.

On June 18, the Harrison Planning Board, meeting in special session, voted to grant approvals to Berkenkamp Realty Group Harrison Lofts Urban Renewal, of Millburn, to convert the factory/warehouse complex into multi-family residential rental apartments and a parking garage.

This project would be the latest in a series of private redevelopment ventures springing up in this West Hudson community, mostly off the Passaic River waterfront, although this newest proposal is situated in what the town has designated as the “RCA Redevelopment Area.”

The target site was originally occupied by Edison Lamp Works, then redeveloped by General Election and occupied for many years in the early 20th century by the Radio Corporation of America for the production of radio vacuum tubes, before Vo-Toys came along.

Details on possible environmental remediation measures weren’t readily available.

How soon the conversion will happen isn’t yet clear since the buildings are still being used by Vo-Toys which is reportedly continuing to search for new quarters.

A year ago, the Planning Board recommended designation of the 2.5-acre site – bounded by Sussex St. to the north, Bergen St. to the south, Sixth St. to the east and Fifth St. to the west – as an “area in need of redevelopment” and the town’s governing body concurred, adopting a conceptual redevelopment plan in September 2012 calling for the creation of loft-style apartments within the existing three-story shells of each building plus two additional floors to be built above two buildings and one extra floor above the third.

As required by the Harrison Redevelopment Agency, all new floors being added to the warehouse footprint “must be set back a minimum of six feet from the existing building façade.” The HRA gave the project its blessing on April 30.

The residential complex would house 294 apartments: 48 studios, 218 one-bedrooms, and 28 two-bedroom units would be spread among the three buildings. Sections of each building would be demolished to make room for a landscaped interior courtyard and common areas including a fitness center and lounge for tenants.

The developer would provide on-site parking for 333 spaces, of which 263 would be contained in a five-level garage to be built in a lot south of Bergen St. and west of Fifth St., with the remaining 70 spaces to be contained as part of one of the three buildings.

New public sidewalks and curbs, supplementary street lighting, street trees and planters are also part of the overall design.

No retail space is planned.

Total cost of the building and site improvements and material costs for masonry, metal studs and fiber cement paneling, is projected at $50 million.

Vo-Toys President Arthur Hirschberg (VIP Realty Associates) has filed no objections to the project, according to documents on file with the town Construction Office.

Thomas A. Berkenkamp, founder and president of Berkenkamp Realty Group, has a master’s degree in architecture from Harvard University, supplemented by studies in general business and real estate finance at Harvard Business School and Law School and MIT’s Sloan School of Management. He is an adjunct professor at NYU’s Schack School of Real Estate.

According to the Mortgage Bankers Association of New York website, BRG “is actively involved in the development of multi-family residential properties and the acquisition and restructuring of distressed debt. He has been continually involved in real estate since 1981 [dealing with] apartments, condominiums, office, retail, parking garages, mixed-use and hotels.”

Berkenkamp previously served as COO of Pinnacle Companies, a Montclair firm that invested in “more than 20 projects comprising more than 2,000 residential units and 100,000 square feet of commercial space with an aggregate value of more than $1.5 billion.”

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