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Weiss: New Upscale Rental Project Is Latest Step Forward For Somerville

Robert Weiss had owned the site for some 20 years. But it was only recently that he could tap into the potential of a property that is steps from both a commuter train station and downtown Somerville.

The turning point came when local leaders became interested in attracting new residents to their central business district, Weiss said. Officials then moved about four years ago to rezone the parcel on Veterans Memorial Drive from commercial to residential, allowing the developer to justify the cost of remediating and redeveloping the property.

“This is something that they really wanted to see happen and they really helped with the process,” said Weiss, president of Weiss Properties. “And whenever you have a town or a borough helping a developer with the process, you know that this is something that everybody wants. So it was really their vision of bringing housing and apartments to the center of town, and I think it’s paid off tremendously.”

That was all too clear last summer when Weiss Properties opened The Cobalt, its new 117-unit high-end apartment building at the site. The four-story property has revitalized a long-vacant, formerly contaminated site just a block from Main Street — which housed a junk yard and metal fabrication facility — offering a new living option for a town that is primed to tap into the market for walkable, transit-centric destinations.

The Cobalt, which is about 65 percent leased, has seemingly checked those boxes while also embracing the surrounding environment. Project architect David Minno said it was “designed to be a little bit edgy-looking, and it’s in what I would call an edgier location of Somerville.”

That has resulted in an eye-catching, multicolored exterior with corrugated metal siding and contemporary-style windows, he said.

“We really wanted to say that this was a project not necessarily just for young people, but one that has a contemporary, vibrant edge to it on the edge of the town next to the tracks,” said Minno, principal and co-founder of Minno & Wasko. “And the interior design followed through with the color scheme.”

Located at 70 Veterans Memorial Drive East, the property borders NJ Transit’s Raritan Valley Line to the south and is about two blocks from the commuter rail station. Minno said that proximity to the tracks created the potential for noise, but the design time “turned lemons into lemonade” by building a 109-space parking deck between the building and the rail line.

The mass of the parking structure helps soften the sound from passing trains, he said, while also providing an additional amenity for renters at The Cobalt.

“It was a nice way to handle what could have been a tough edge,” Minno said.

Minno’s firm has also designed Weiss’ next project in Somerville, a 60-unit development on Davenport Street that was slated to break ground this month. It’s one of several projects in the pipeline for a borough that has also attracted builders such as Edgewood Properties, which built the town’s first luxury apartments in 2014 as part of a project on West Main Street, and Somerset Development.

Weiss, who credited former Mayor Brian Gallagher and longtime Planning Board Chairman Bernie Navatto, is especially bullish on Somerville. That’s due to the borough’s embrace of new mixed-use development, the activity from the county administration and courthouse buildings and a popular downtown that is bustling with upscale shops and restaurants.

“Every time you turn around, it’s like something new is being built or being redone or being added,” Weiss said. “So it’s a town that’s just moving forward and we feel that for more and more people, given the choice of fresh new, contemporary modern designs, it’s going to be very popular.”

County officials seem to agree. The Cobalt was one of six projects recently to receive a Land Development and Planning Award, a distinction offered by the Somerset County Board of Chosen Freeholders and the county planning board.

“Each year, awards are presented for land development and planning that exemplify superior site design, address contemporary planning issues, or exert a positive influence on the character of the county,” said Gallagher, now a county freeholder. “I congratulate all of the honorees for demonstrating the positive impact that well-designed and -planned projects can have in communities.”


Somerville: Former Social Security Building Demolished To Make Way For Apartments

Article Published HERE

SOMERVILLE, NJ – A work crew demolished the former Social Security office building on Davenport Street Monday morning.

The building had been surrounded by a chain link fence and orange safety barrels the past two weeks in preparation for demolition of the one-story building, which had fronted on the borough’s Parking Lot #2.

Weiss Properties, the owner of the property, has approval to build a 5-story, 60-unit apartment building on the site.

Developer Robert Weiss scaled back his original proposal which had met with opposition from merchants and residents concerned that the new building’s tenants would expropriate what limited parking space there is in the lot behind stores on West Main Street and adjacent to the Social Security building.

The revised plan for “The Davenport” reduces the number of apartments while increasing the number of parking spaces by adding a second sub-level beneath the building to accommodate cars.

The original plan called for 72 residential units – 12 studio apartments, 48 one-bedroom apartments and 12 two-bedroom apartments.

The revised plan calls for 60 residential units. The studio apartments were eliminated so that the new configuration features 40 one-bedroom apartments and 20 two-bedroom apartments.

There will be 68 parking spaces – 46 on the upper level, or ground floor, and 22 spaces on the sub-level. To satisfy the borough’s ordinance on occupancy and parking, which requires 1.2 spaces per rental unit, Weiss will need to purchase four or five parking permits from the borough.

Architect David Minno of Minno & Wasko Architects & Planners, Lambertville, describes The Davenport as an “attractive, in-town building.”

Weiss expects the building will attract the so-called Millenials, younger tenants looking for a pleasant place to live with enclosed parking, in a building designed to not look like a townhouse. He described The Davenport as “softened elegance, loaded with a lot of glass.”

A courtyard will be in the center of the building, with vehicular access to the ground floor and sublevel parking through two entrances.

Weiss expects site work to begin in the spring, with several months spent excavating for the underground parking garage.

The Social Security offices closed in late November, 2016 and relocated to an office building at the Bridgewater Plaza, 245 Route 22, located between Route 28 and Milltown Road on the westbound side of the state highway.

Weiss Properties, based in New Brunswick, is also the developer of the Cobalt Apartments, a 113-unit five-story development on Veterans Memorial Drive adjacent to the NJ Transit Raritan Valley line.


Somerville: Cobalt Apartments To Receive Land Development And Planning Award

SOMERVILLE, NJ – The Somerset County Board of Chosen Freeholders and the county Planning Board will honor six local projects, including the Cobalt Apartments on Veterans Memorial Drive at the 35th annual Land Development and Planning Awards at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 20, in the Freeholder Meeting Room, located on the third floor of the county Administration Building at 20 Grove St.

Free parking is available in the adjacent Bernie Field Parking Deck; its entrance is located off of East High Street.

“Each year, awards are presented for land development and planning that exemplify superior site design, address contemporary planning issues, or exert a positive influence on the character of the county,” said Freeholder Brian G. Gallagher, planning liaison. “I congratulate all of the honorees for demonstrating the positive impact that well-designed and -planned projects can have in communities.”

Gallagher is the former mayor of Somerville, and was a strong proponent of the development during the planning stages. He also presided at the Sept. 29 ribbon cutting ceremony last year.

Cobalt Apartments is the winner in the Residential category of the awards program, which was initiated in 1983; since then, Somerset County has recognized 180 outstanding land developments and innovative planning initiatives.

The four-story, 117-unit residential structure in Somerville was located on a former seven-lot parcel that included a junk yard and metal fabrication facility, which had been vacant for over twenty years. The site was severely contaminated and required significant cleanup and remediation before construction could commence. It is located in Somerville’s transit village area, close to the Somerville Train Station and within walking distance of shopping, dining, public amenities and the Peters Brook Greenway.

Project amenities include a club-quality fitness gym, outdoor courtyard, club room with recreation dining and entertainment facilities, free Wi-Fi, a smartphone intercom system and an attached parking deck. Large energy-efficient windows provide light to each apartment.

The emergency management plan that was developed for the building, in cooperation with Borough officials, includes a generator to heat the building and power an elevator. Electricity is provided to designated locations to provide light, food preparation and computer/smartphone charging stations. A short-term safe haven for residents has been designated in the event of a major weather event. This project demonstrates how a vacant and contaminated property can be transformed into productive use through sound site planning, engineering and cooperation between a developer and a municipality.

The developer was Cobalt Urban Renewal, LLC. The architect was Minno & Wasko Architects and Planners and the engineer was Van Cleef Engineering Associates.

Other winners include:

Office category – Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals: Located in Bedminster Township, this project addresses the necessity to find a new use for vacant office buildings that were built during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Totaling 230,000 square feet, Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals upgraded two office buildings that had been vacant for many years to Class A office space. The company consolidated their Specialty Brands and supporting functions in Bedminster in 2017.

The buildings now include a fitness center with locker rooms, a full service cafeteria and a data center. Seventy percent of the office space is now an open floor plan that facilitates a collaborative work environment.

Upgrades included energy efficient LED lighting. A new daylight harvesting system was installed which senses daylight to control overall light fixture lumen output relative to the natural ambient light. This system is tied into a master lighting control panel with relays and a programmable timeclock on each floor, which turns the lighting on and off at scheduled times, according to the tenant’s normal business hours. In addition, about seventy-five dead or damaged trees were removed from the property and replaced with 115 indigenous tree species.

The developer was Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals. The architect was Remiger Design and the engineers were the Rock Brook Consulting Group.

Institutional Category – Raritan Valley Community College Workforce Training Center: Located in Branchburg Township, the 47,000 square-foot training center addresses the need for an education and training model to create more effective career pathways into high-demand and high-wage positions. The program, which focuses on technical job training and service learning experiences, helps certificate program students and RVCC graduates with job placement and advancement. Local businesses can benefit from a highly skilled workforce.

It provides specialized training labs with real life equipment as well as multi-purpose class rooms. The building, which is consistent with the RVCC Facilities Master Plan, has facilities for cosmetology, advanced manufacturing, environmental controls, welding, automotive and general academic classrooms. It is also home to the Small Business Development Center.

The structure maximizes the use of natural daylight to reduce dependence on artificial lighting and has operating windows for natural ventilation. Also, solar screens and sun-shading devices help to control glare and avoid heat buildup. By situating the building where it can share parking space and connect to existing infrastructure, construction required fewer materials, site disturbance and impervious coverage. Sustainable landscaping and the removal of unsuitable soils helped to direct construction to areas that were already disturbed and left virgin soils untouched.

The developer of the project was the Raritan Valley Community College. The architect was SSP Architects and the engineers were Van Cleef Engineering Associates.

Warren Town Hall: Constructed ahead of schedule and under budget, the new 26,538 square foot Warren Town Hall is located in the municipal complex within the Warren Town Center. The innovative design allows visitors to seamlessly find their way into the building and locate their destination.

The offices are a combination of open space and closed spaces as required to serve the need of each department. The corridors are lined with tall pilasters that clearly define each space. Signage, in the form of applied letters, is also placed on each pilaster so that visitors can easily find their destination. The four meeting rooms are named after neighborhoods in the Township.

Skylights allow natural light onto the second floor and skylights located in the hallways of the second floor allows light on the first floor. The building was constructed with thermally efficient windows led lighting and the use of NRG block walls with integral insulation which provides an efficient thermal envelope.

The developer of the project was the Township of Warren. The architect was Salustro Partnership Architects, and the engineers were Murphy and Hollows Associates.

Mixed Use Category – 495 Watchung Avenue: The mixed-use building consists of 2,000 square feet of commercial space and three one-bedroom apartments. The project involved the redevelopment of the old Mansueto’s Fish Market. Taking the unique location of the property into consideration, the site plan made improvements for circulation, allowing proper ingress and egress from the site. Sidewalks were added along the frontage to improve pedestrian circulation.

The building, which uses a traditional architectural design with hip and gable roofs, was raised out of the flood zone. All four sides of the building have operating windows for natural ventilation. Radon piping was installed beneath the foundation as a preventative measure for the benefit of occupants. The building is energy efficient, built with green products that are low maintenance and sustainable. High speed internet access, with the latest in wiring for communications, is readily available.

The developer was Monogram Building & Design, Corp. The architect was Salustro Partnership Architects and the engineer was Page Engineering Consultants, PC.

Excellence in Planning: The Montgomery Township Master Plan Committee undertook an extensive collaborative process with land owners, developers, consultants and staff to create a comprehensive overlay zoning district that will revitalize and redevelop an area of the Township that is currently underutilized. The 50-acre site is located at the northwest corner U.S. Route 206 and Georgetown-Franklin Turnpike. The overlay zone, adopted in October 2017, employed a unique approach to suburban compact design that will allow for an exciting and vibrant mixed-use development with public gathering spaces and community green spaces where residents can live, work and play in an pedestrian-friendly environment.

The zone permits 150,000 square feet of non-residential uses and up to 300 residential units which would include housing options for millennials and seniors looking for smaller housing options within walking distance of shopping, jobs and public transportation. The developer’s cost-share includes the construction of two loop roads which will implement the Townships 2003 traffic circulation plan. The overlay zone provides pedestrian and bicycle access to multiple destinations and establishes important missing links from the surrounding neighborhood to existing retail and the New Jersey Transit bus line.

The ordinance was prepared by the Montgomery Township Master Plan Committee.


Somerville Apartment Building Celebrates Grand Opening

SOMERVILLE – Robert Weiss believes in Somerville.

“We’re pretty excited,” said Weiss, whose company, Weiss Properties, this week celebrated the grand opening of The Cobalt apartments on Veterans Memorial Drive  and will be starting construction on The Davenport, a 60-unit apartment building on Davenport Street, early in 2018.

And Somerville appreciates the faith that Weiss has shown in the county seat, Mayor Brian Gallagher said.

“You’ve taken a piece of property that has been fallow for a number of years and turned it into a destination,” Gallagher said.

READ: Somerville riding the wave of redevelopment

READ: Somerville builder gets $23 million loan for apartments

READ: Somerville’s Main Street adding more apartments, gym

The property, which backs to NJ Transit’s Raritan Valley Line and is two blocks from the train station, was once a junkyard and was once eyed as home to the borough’s emergency services.

Gallagher said Weiss’ investment is a vote of confidence in Somerville’s future and the revival of its downtown.

“The private sector will go where there is a return,” Gallagher said. “They’re investing in the entire community.”

Gallagher said Weiss was the first developer to visit him when he first took office 14 years ago and immediately he knew they would be working together.

“We’re not done yet,” Gallagher said.

Weiss returned the compliment to Gallagher, saying. “He has a total passion for this town.”

The 117-unit Cobalt is 50 percent leased, Weiss said. All but one of the studio apartments have been rented and there are 32 one-bedroom apartments remaining, said Magaly Zuniga, the property manager.

Rent for the studios is $1,650 per month, one-bedrooms start at $1,825 and two-bedrooms are $2,400.

Many of the new tenants, Zuniga said, are young professionals and out-of-state residents relocating to Central Jersey for jobs.

That’s a description fitting 26-year-old Tom Santangelo and his fiancee, Gina Cordell, 25.

Santangelo came to Somerville from Stony Brook, Long Island, and commutes by train to Manhattan for his job as an environmental consultant. Cordell got a job as a music teacher at Branchburg Central Middle School and moved here from northern Virginia.

“We decided to split the difference,” Santangelo said.

“It’s really nice,” Cordell said. “It’s a great place.”

Santangelo said he enjoys living in Somerville, especially the downtown events and the Division Street pedestrian plaza.

The Cobalt features a fitness center, a club room with a pool table and kitchen, a courtyard lounge, a srmartphone security system and an attached parking deck. Each apartment has a washer and dryer, built-in microwave, walk-in closets and granite countertops.

Staff Writer Mike Deak: 908-243-6607;

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