It’s all systems go for converting the old Essex County Isolation Hospital multi-building complex and, more recently, Garden State Cancer Center, into an upscale residential building.
The Belleville Planning Board voted July 9 to grant site plan approval, allowing the new owner, Belleville Equities LLC, of Long Island City, N.Y., to refurbish the brick exterior and create 245 rental apartments plus some commercial space for tenants.
Ekaterina Valiotis, director of property management in New Jersey for Belleville Equities, said the company was projecting “16 to 24 months” for development with occupancy sometime in 2017. The company specializes in re-adapting former industrial and/or commercial properties into residential developments.
“You can’t find structures like that anymore,” Valiotis said, referring to the classic brick look of the Belleville building. “You can’t build something like that today. We tend to be attracted to properties like the old Greystone Park (Psychiatric Hospital in Morris Plains) that is, unfortunately, being demolished. These are beautiful structures that can live on, if properly restored.”
Asked if the company was concerned about possible disruption of the project, given the still pending litigation between the township and a would-be developer over the expansive lawn that provides frontage for the former hospital building along Belleville Ave., Valiotis said: “That’s none of our business. We see it as open space. The more green the better.”
Next step, Valiotis said, will be completion of construction drawings and application for building permits. Selection of a general contractor has not yet been announced; Belleville Equities will provide on-site management, she said.
Much of the old hospital building has undergone interior demolition, following damage previously done by vandals who reportedly tore out all of the old copper fittings during the lengthy period the building was vacant.
Essex County, which foreclosed on the 9.1-acre property after the cancer research facility went bust, auctioned the massive building and Belleville Equities, also known as Alma Realty, of Astoria, N.Y., was the successful bidder with a price of about $3.7 million in December 2012.
The new owner was not required to go before the Zoning Board of Adjustment for a land use variance because multi-family residential is a permitted use under the redevelopment area plan for the site as adopted by the Belleville Township Council.
Of the new apartments, 183 will be one-bedroom units, 42 will be two-bedroom units and 20 will be studios.
Schematics submitted to the Planning Board showed that the apartments would be spread over eight floors, including a two- to five-story addition to an existing two-story structure in the middle of the complex, and that there would be a central courtyard.
The ground floor would contain three commercial spaces – a 2,700 square foot laundromat, 2,800 square foot convenience store and 1,600 square foot fitness center – all reserved for use by tenants only.
There will be surface parking for a total of 345 vehicles – above the 247 required – including eight spaces reserved for disabled motorists. Also in the works: a storm water management facility, lighting and landscaping improvements.
The Planning Board attached a list of conditions to its site plan approval. To that end, Belleville Equities must:
• Revise plans “to elimi nate potential conflict where three driveways intersect” at the northeast corner of the property.
• Provide the township with the right to access the property. •
Negotiate a redevelopment agreement with the township prior to getting a certificate of occupancy.
• Avoid outdoor storage of trash/recyclables.
• Preserve certain archi tectural features “unless [it] can prove it is cost-prohibitive. These elements include: main entrance inlaid stone floor, hallway skylight that connects main entrance building and tower building and coffered ceiling in main entrance building, stone floor and three skylights.”
• Allow only residents and visitors access to retail spaces.
• Place no apartments in the basement, “except for four residential units located under the main foyer portion of the building.”
• Provide a crosswalk connecting the site to the sidewalk on the west side of Carpenter St.
• Move four of the Green spire Linden trees along the Oval to within five feet of the curb and provide a Skyrocket Juniper.
• Submit future landscaping plans for the “gardens” to the township planning consultant for approval.