WESTFIELD — After nearly two hours of public debate and discussion, the Westfield mayor and council voted Tuesday to enter into a redevelopment agreement for the construction of a multi-use residential complex at the corner of Prospect Street and Ferris Place.
Mayor Shelley Brindle and Councilmen Mike Dardia, Scott Katz, Mark Parmelee and David Contract voted to approve the resolution, while Councilwomen Emily Root and Linda Habgood and Councilman Mark LoGrippo voted no. Councilwoman Dawn Mackey, who works for redeveloper James Ward as a part-time employee at Selfie Stations NJ, recused herself from the vote.
“Tonight I will vote no because I know so many of you still have concerns, and I want you to know that I am listening to you,” said Councilwoman Habgood, who cited the project’s underground parking, setbacks, ratables, density and exterior design as being both consistent with the town’s Master Plan and beneficial to the community as a whole, “but by the end of this process, I hope you will say to me that you wish I had voted yes. It’s important for all of you to know that I want to vote yes because I believe in the process that we have gone through, and I believe that this has been vetted by our professionals. I am going to continue to work for smart development in this town.”
The agreement, which officially designates Ferris Prospect Development LLC (FPD) as the redeveloper for the site, represents one of the final administrative steps in a process that began back in 2020 when the council adopted Resolution 225-2020, which declared that the entirety of the town met the statutory criteria for designation as an area in need of rehabilitation.
The Prospect and Ferris Redevelopment Plan, which was adopted in December, initially called for up to 64 apartments and as much as 1,000 square feet of retail space. Since then, said FPD attorney Richard Skolnick, the project has been scaled back and modified to accommodate the requests of the town council, the planning board, local residents and the Historic Preservation Commission (which contributed to all decisions pertaining to an 18th-century home that will ultimately be incorporated into the property).
“It is certainly true that this concept has been in the works for several years. We believe that Mr. Ward has worked tenaciously and cooperatively with the town to develop a unified vision for the project,” Mr. Skolnick said.
The finalized agreement allows for a maximum of 60 rental residential dwelling units (nine of which must be affordable); 500 square feet of retail or cafe space; 96 off-street parking spaces (some of which must include electronic-vehicle charging stations) and “associated improvements and preservation of the historic home for future use as an educational and cultural amenity.” The project, when completed, will be the dubbed The Sofia.
According to the terms of the agreement, Mr. Ward will be required to pay his debts and begin construction within an established time frame; maintain valid insurance policies at the site; receive approval from the town before transferring ownership of the property; and promise not to abandon the project or suspend work for more than 60 days. Mr. Ward also would be held accountable for any local, county, state or federal environmental violations that may occur at the site.
Mr. Ward, who has owned the properties in question for several years, will have one year to obtain all of the necessary governmental approvals, which includes approval by the Westfield Planning Board, for the project, at which point he will have six months to begin construction. Assuming that there are no substantial roadblocks along the designated timeline, residents can expect construction on the project to begin no later than November 2023.
Construction on the site, once it begins, also will be held to certain designated parameters, including the hours during which it can take place, the condition of the worksite, off-street parking (whenever possible) and adequate signage.
Several local residents, many of who cited existing problematic traffic and parking conditions in the area, expressed concerns surrounding the construction phase of the project.
“We know that there are going to be trucks and vehicles parked on Prospect Street, on top of our driveways…I was told by someone that if that happened, I could just call the police, but that doesn’t feel like a solution,” said Prospect Street resident Robert Tarte. “If the town says they are going to be [overseeing] this project, then they need to have someone down there to make sure it doesn’t happen.”
As per the agreed-upon terms, Mr. Ward also will be required to obtain certification for his green roof (designed to mitigate floodwaters and storm runoff) and establish a 10-year historic reuse plan for the 18th-century historic structure at 112 Ferris Place.
The project will now progress to the Westfield Planning Board to begin the site-plan-review process.
Despite the scaled-down site plans, many local residents said Tuesday that the project as presented is still too large and too out of character to blend in with the surrounding community.
“It seems that the mayor and council, at least so far, are more interested in being loyal to the developers than to the residents of this neighborhood, which includes a lot of people like me who not only voted for you, but who also support strategic redevelopment in places that have the capacity to support it,” said resident Ted Ritter.
“I am standing with over 1,000 of my neighbors who have signed a petition opposing the height and density of The Sofia apartment building. To be clear, we are not opposed to the redevelopment of this site, but it should be reasonably scaled. Both this building design and the town’s development process are objectionable and heavy-handed,” said former Westfield Board of Adjustment member Carla Bonacci, who presented the council with her own renderings on Tuesday of what the project could look like if the size and scope were reduced.
Other residents, however, including Allen De Rose of Bradson Court, said the project will likely provide a good alternative for new and current residents alike who would like to be able to take advantage of all that the downtown area has to offer.
“My wife and I will downsize at some point, and will most likely look to move into an apartment in downtown Westfield,” said Mr. De Rose, who noted that as a 30-year resident of the area, he has seen the neighborhood “atrophy” over the years due to vacancies and under-utilization. “At this point, however, there is a very limited supply of high-quality apartments to choose from. It has been determined, and I agree, that more development of both offices and apartments in the core of Westfield needs to be encouraged in order to attract visitors and businesses and to create the environment that our downtown needs to thrive.”
Any significant changes to the concept plans from here on out will need to be submitted to Mayor Brindle (or a designated appointee) for approval, but, the agreement states, that approval cannot be “unreasonably withheld, conditioned or delayed.”