In mid-March, Mayor Eric Wilsusen provided an update on how many apartments would be built on Hellers Lane near QuickChek in Lake Hopatcong. Subject to change, the proposed number has decreased from the original estimate on that site.
Two buildings are planned. One will be three stories tall with 40 apartments: 26 two-bedroom units and 14 one-bedroom units. This building will be situated on the 4.8-acre site with a density of 8.3 units per acre. The second building will house 27 apartments: 16 two-bedroom and 11 one-bedroom units. It will be constructed on the 3.3-acre site with a density of approximately 8.2 units per acre.
With 67 apartments proposed on Hellers Lane and possibly 35 more apartments at the strip mall by Jefferson Diner, the total potential number of 102 is very close to the original estimate of 100 new apartments.
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Desperately needed housing could be coming soon to Lake Hopatcong. Developers and co-owners Stephen Shaw and Mark Walker hope to create two apartment buildings at 9 Heller’s Lane, which is located between the north- and southbound lanes of Route 15. The buildings would be situated between QuickChek to the north and the professional offices to the south. The plan was presented for discussion at the town council meeting on February 6.
Proposed plans must conform to approved usage in particular locations (zones). The 9.8-acre property, including 9 Heller’s Lane plus three adjacent lots, was part of a redevelopment plan created in December 2016, which included construction of a 38,000-square-foot commercial building. According to Shaw, that project “sat on a shelf” because it was not economically viable for him. He acknowledged that former town planner Jill Hartmann had suggested creating apartments as an alternative use.
To move forward, however, the property needed to be added to existing properties in the RA-3 zone, which allows flexibility of design for different types of residential development. According to public records, 9 Heller’s Lane was reclassified to the RA-3 zone via an amendment to ordinance 17-02 in April 2017. Two apartment buildings with 16 units each were approved for the site.
Shaw and Walker now seek to increase the number of units to 50 for each apartment building and preclude the bulk area variances that were previously required. (Such variances may be required when a feature of the property denies the landowner the same rights and use enjoyed by owners of neighboring properties.) According to Shaw, the requested ordinance change had been discussed in at least five meetings with the previous administration, but never gained traction. Therefore, he sought to present his idea to the new administration.
The Town Weighs In
Council member Melissa Senatore lamented that the plans were submitted by redevelopment creator Benecke Associates only one day prior to the council meeting, and that the plans were difficult to read despite her experience in the field. Township attorney Larry Cohen explained that the overall required density of fewer than 10 units per acre has not changed. Shaw emphasized that the footprint and density of the apartments will be approximately 50% less than the commercial building that was already approved.
Mayor Eric Wilsusen told The Jefferson Chronicle, “Housing in Jefferson is hard to come by, and I think new apartments will be welcomed.” Council member Kim Finnegan questioned the price range of the apartments; Shaw responded that they would be mid-range. There is no plan for an affordable housing component.
The council expressed enthusiasm for the project along with concern about introducing an ordinance change without Planning Board involvement. Council members voted unanimously to move the request to the Planning Board for comment.
The same development plan includes up to 35 apartments slated for construction above Adam’s Hot Bagels and neighboring businesses in the Bowling Green Parkway strip mall. However, this plan appears to be dormant for now. Neither location is at the stage of site plan consideration by the Planning Board.