A hometown boy delivered details regarding Toll Brothers being selected as the primary builder of residential aspects of the redevelopment of the former Bell Labs/Lucent property in Holmdel during a special public presentation held on June 17.
Mr. Christopher Gaffney, a Holmdel High School graduate who is now a group president with Toll Brothers Home Building Operations, was warmly welcomed by some in the audience of about 200. The event, featuring video presentations, a panel of speakers led by Somerset Development President Ralph Zucker, members of the township committee, and their professionals, was held in the Holmdel Community Center.
Much of the two and a half hours was devoted to Mr. Zucker offering detailed information, with visual aids, about what is expected to occupy the 2,000,000-square-foot Eero Saarinen-designed building at the center of the site. Somerset Development has stuck with the project for six years, including “waiting in the wings” when other firms dipped in their toes only to pull out when the vastness of the effort proved too daunting.
The last hour was devoted to audience questions, with answers coming from the panel and officials. Several speakers expressed support of the project’s details, with some urging quick progress to get the site back on the tax rolls and actively utilizing one of Holmdel’s most prized pieces of real estate. Concerns continue to be raised about environmental issues, traffic, specific components, and, most often, the housing component. The township-approved redevelopment plan allows Somerset to build assisted living units inside the main building. Outside the building, at the side/rear of the property, 40 large single-family homes and 185 “luxury, active adult age-restricted” dwellings are planned.
Testimony was given by the township’s special attorney for issues involving the New Jersey Coalition on Affordable Housing (COAH), that 45 beds in the assisted living units would satisfy Holmdel’s COAH obligations. Much of the building interior is set to house medical and wellness uses, with doctors’ offices, laboratories, a health/fitness center, acute and rehabilitation care, a sleep center, aquatic and physical therapy, and more.
Mr. William Colgan, co-founder and managing partner of Community Health Associates, the firm chosen as Somerset’s “development partner” for the healthcare aspects, said the facilities will address today’s growing trends of offering more outpatient services as opposed to long-term hospital stays for medical procedures and holistic health services. He said about 300,000 to 400,000 square feet will be devoted to “world-class, state-of-the art healthcare and wellness…all in anticipation that there will be a tremendous need as these services move out of hospitals.” That aspect is expected to be developed over three to four years, Mr. Zucker said, adding it could take seven to ten years to fill the building.
Regarding other building components and tenants, Mr. Zucker explained, “We have not gone to market with anyone else due to the uncertainty up until now. We lost significant tenants along the way. Our unpredictability hurt serious negotiations with some. We have not engaged a real estate broker yet. People who run businesses do not want to know about dreams. Healthcare is the anchor. That will help us drive the rest. Seventy-five percent occupancy would be a tremendous success.” He said that a major hotel chain studied the site, but none has signed on yet.
A hoped-for higher education facility has not yet materialized. Mr. Zucker said, “We brought in a local college five years ago, but they said, ‘Call us when you get the plans approved.’” Higher education tenants have turned to nearby Fort Monmouth, also undergoing redevelopment. Officials there have indicated an announcement could be made soon about a college use of some of that massive property, which spans three towns.
“We’re not talking about a mall,” Mr. Zucker said. “The secret is in mixing the uses – health, wellness, fitness, fields, tracks for tennis, lacrosse, a small golf use, but not a golf course. We are keeping a lot of the Eero Saarinen influence alive with simple, clean, modern forms. People will come to a great space with great places without severely impacting the surrounding community. Re-use of the building, roadways, infrastructure is always the best. I know you don’t believe me, but I really care about you and we really do sweat the details.”
A sizeable municipal library is in the plans, as are restaurants, retail shops, offices, and a large five-story atrium through the center that would serve as a “main street” for doors to occupants. The atrium will have high-tech display capabilities for showing sporting events and other crowd presentations. About 4,700 parking spaces are planned. A 30-acre area behind the building has been designated for outdoor recreation, approved by the township.
One resident asked about indoor youth recreational facilities, including a gymnasium, in addition to outdoor fields and courts. Mr. Zucker said that Somerset would not develop that, but is in “negotiations.” Mayor Patrick Impreveduto interjected at that point, saying, “We’re on it,” but provided no details.
After deductions, it is anticipated that the site will eventually generate about $5,056,878 in annual ratables. Alcatel-Lucent still owns the property, but both the mayor and Mr. Zucker said closing with Somerset is expected within a few months. The next step is placing the plans for the building before the local planning board and subsequent public hearings.
The Housing Component
Once the building plans are approved, Somerset must submit separate plans for the housing components on the surrounding property. Currently, 40 4,000- to 5,500-square-foot luxury homes and 2,700- to 3,400-square-foot, equally luxurious over-55 age-restricted units are planned. Some in the audience indicated today’s baby boomer, downsizing buyers want less elaborate homes with fewer steps and less space to clean and maintain. Mr. Gaffney repeatedly stated there is an eager market for the high-end residences.
“This will be one of Toll Brothers flagship communities,” he said. “We will study this market 20 to 30 times before moving forward so it is successful for this town. Our buyers pick and choose what they want in their homes. We tweak the floor plans depending on what works and listening to our customers. There is a tremendous shortfall in the county right now for housing. What the town wants, we want.” Keeping, yet pruning, existing trees is planned, as is adding berms, landscaping, and paths for passive recreation like walking, jogging, and biking.
“You can see why we are very excited about this project,” Mayor Impreveduto said. “We want the vista to remain the same, not to be too intrusive, and create a viable ratable for the town. It will be tweaked. This has been a long time coming.”
Look for Part Two in Your August Journal
The presentation that evening focused primarily on the main building, which will be redeveloped first. Next month, The Journal will offer more details on other aspects of the redevelopment discussed on June 17.