By Joshua Burd
Somerset Development has completed its long-awaited acquisition of 31 acres in downtown Somerville, paving the way for a project that includes more than 500 residential units and other uses adjacent to the borough’s train station.
The developer announced Monday that it has closed on the site, where it’s now planning what it says is the largest mixed-use development ever approved by the Somerset County borough. Plans now call for two apartment buildings with 371 units, 156 townhomes spread across 14 buildings, structured parking, 4,000 square feet of retail space and a 4,000-square-foot community civic center.
Somerset Development acquired the site from NJ Transit, with Investors Bank providing financing for the acquisition. AvalonBay Communities Inc. will develop the 370 apartments and the structured parking.
“This acquisition marks the culmination of 10 years of work between Somerset Development, the borough of Somerville and NJ Transit to realize our shared vision of transforming this former landfill site into a vibrant, mixed-use transit village,” said Ralph Zucker, CEO and president of Somerset Development. “We are incredibly thankful to all of the partners who played a role in the planning and execution of this transaction, and look forward to beginning work on creating a development that can create a better, more prosperous future for downtown Somerville.”
Known as Somerset Station, the project will serve to redevelop a piece of a 100-acre former landfill site bounded by NJ Transit’s Raritan Valley line, South Bridge Street and Route 206. Somerset Development received approval for the acquisition via a unanimous vote from Somerville’s planning board in May 2018, according to a news release, after proposals from other developers had been denied over the last three decades.
The parking deck, which will be the first structure to be built, is set to replace the existing commuter parking lot adjacent to the train station, the news release said. Construction is set to begin this summer, as NJ Transit commuters who use existing lots in the area will be directed secondary lots to avoid disruption during the development process.
“After many years of planning the redevelopment of the whole landfill area, the Borough Council and myself are pleased to have had the opportunity to work with Mr. Zucker, Somerset Development and NJ Transit on the concept design of the Somerset Station project,” Somerville Mayor Dennis Sullivan said in a prepared statement. “This milestone project, with its variety of housing alternatives, public areas and community spaces, will offer a new and exciting neighborhood for future residents of Somerville to enjoy.”
Sullivan also noted that the project will link the downtown to the recently completed 17-acre open space area that adjoins the redevelopment area, adding to the borough’s walkability. Somerset Development also plans to build a road connecting the transit village to nearby Route 206.
“The new road link to Route 206 will provide direct access to the NJ Transit train station for commuters without impacting local streets,” Sullivan added. “Somerset Development has planned for the needs of the community and incorporated these into this project.”
Meantime, a new community civic center facility will provide much-needed space for future borough council and municipal boards meetings, Somerset said. Plans also call for more than 300 trees to be planted along the residential streets within the new community.
The full development process is expected to be completed in 2023.
“AvalonBay is very excited to have the opportunity to help create a dynamic transit-oriented development in Somerville’s wonderful, rapidly growing downtown,” AvalonBay Senior Vice President Ronald Ladell said. “We look forward to working with our colleagues at Somerset Development, and extend our gratitude to NJ Transit and the borough of Somerville as we begin the process of delivering this transformational mixed-use project.”
NJ Transit sold the property for $11 million, the state agency said.
“After more than a decade of delays, I am proud that my team at NJ Transit was able to advance this project to this next stage,” NJ Transit CEO and President Kevin Corbett said. “Mass transit provides cleaner, greener ways for people to get to work, school and entertainment. Planned communities that combine transit and a walkable lifestyle benefit everyone and we are pleased to be a part of this initiative. One of my priorities as president and CEO of NJ Transit is to help propel projects like this one, which provide long-term environmental and economic benefits locally and in the State of New Jersey, and improve access to our system.’’