The former American Cyanamid site on Route 1 by Quakerbridge Road is one of the few undeveloped parcels along the highway, and if the Howard Hughes corporation has its way, it won’t stay that way for long. However, there is strong opposition to the company’s plan to build around 2,000 housing units and 2 million square feet of commercial space on the 653-acre site.
The Howard Hughes Corporation made its case, but anxiety is still running high among West Windsor residents who fear the plan will have a number of adverse impacts on the town.
More than 150 people attended the May 10 planning board meeting to view and comment on a concept plan presentation for a development being proposed by the Howard Hughes on the 653-acre former American Cyanamid property, which is bounded by Route 1, Quakerbridge Road and the Amtrak mainline.
On the other side, some business groups took the unusual step of speaking out in favor of the development.
“The MidJersey Chamber of Commerce is continuously supporting innovative growth-driven projects, such as this, that support our regional economic development goals,” Mid-Jersey Chamber of Commerce CEO Bob Prunetti wrote in a letter of support the day before he was fired from that post (U.S. 1, May 10).
“Through this project, the Howard Hughes Corporation hopes to serve the local community in an interesting and strategic way,” Prunetti wrote.
Peter Dawson, who runs Leigh Visual Imaging on Everett Drive, said the mixed-use plan would attract people to live here, which is important to him as a business owner.
The director of NJ Future, Peter Kasabach, also supported the proposal. “The type of place presented tonight is the future marketplace,” he said. “West Windsor has a great opportunity to create new choices for those who would like to move here.”
Paul Kuhl, chairman of the MidJersey Chamber of Commerce, and Peter Crowley, president and CEO of the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce also supported the plan. “I have companies that are busing people in from Jersey City,” Crowley said.
In response, planning board chairman Marvin Gardner noted that the Howard Hughes property is larger than 72 municipalities in New Jersey. “There are a lot of implications,” Gardner said.
Appearing in public for the first time since 2014, company representatives gave a general overview of how they want to develop the site. In addition, they called on the township to declare the parcel as an area in need of redevelopment.
West Windsor currently has roughly 10,000 housing units, and the company’s concept plan proposes 1,976 units. Of the proposed total, nearly half are high-density apartment rentals, followed by 353 townhomes, 462 single-family homes, and 236 age-restricted homes.
At this point, the proposal is effectively a wish list, since the entire property is currently zoned for more than 6 million square feet of research, office, and light manufacturing. Any rezoning would requires the township council to pass an ordinance.
The concept plan presentation was an informal hearing, and no action was taken. The board did allow ample opportunity for residents to comment, and by and large, those who spoke opposed the project. Following the presentation of the plan, there were more than 40 comments from members of the public.
“Howard Hughes is looking to create a separate city with current residents footing the bill,” said resident Andrea Mandel.
Two speakers later Marshall Lerner said: “Platitudes, flowery rhetoric and fancy slides are designed as distractions.” He ended his comment by saying, “These flacks are trying to pimp our community.”
Resident Becky Marks, who is also a board member of Friends of West Windsor Open Space, noted that the one-third of the 653-acre parcel set aside for open space also happens to overlap with the property’s unbuildable wetlands.
“We are a community that values open space and our schools. We do not want to change the fabric of the community because you happen to own a large parcel,” Marks said.
The heart of the matter for many residents is the anticipated number of school-age children that would result from the Howard Hughes development and the corresponding burden to a public school district already at capacity.
During Howard Hughes’ presentation, consultant Keenan Hughes said the proposed development was a “major ratable for West Windsor.” A planner with Hoboken-based Phillips Preiss Grygiel, Hughes claimed that the development would generate more than $30 million in gross property taxes at full build out, adding more than $1 billion to the town’s tax base.
The company would like to complete the project in three phases over 15 years, and Hughes said the school district would be receiving net annual revenues at the completion of every phase, culminating in $6.6 million of net revenue at full build-out, plus $1.5 million of net annual revenue for the town.
Hughes did not address whether the presented figures also factor in potential school construction costs, though he mentioned that designating the site as an area in need of redevelopment would “open up flexibility for the financing of a school site.”
Another member of the Howard Hughes team, planner Jim Constantine of the Princeton-based firm Looney Ricks Kiss, said the existing zoning of “single-use, auto-oriented” suburban office is “obsolete.” He added that the proposed mixed-use development would feature multiple modes of transit and align with state and county planning goals.
Howard Hughes attorney Thomas Letizia, of Carnegie Center-based firm Pepper Hamilton, said the company is hopeful for a collaborative process with the town and residents.