2019 12 WWP Cyanamid Atlantic Howard Hughes site

The 657-acre former Howard Hughes site is pictured in the shaded area above in a map from West Windsor’s draft master plan. At top is Route 1 and the bottom of the site is the Amtrak mainline. Clarksville Road bisects the property.

The 558-acre former American Cyanamid tract in West Windsor has a new owner. What that means for the future of the property is anyone’s guess.

The property was sold on Oct. 29 by Howard Hughes Corporation to Atlantic Realty for $40 million. The property, which is located at the corner of Route 1 and Quakerbridge Road, is one of the largest contiguous undeveloped properties on the East Coast. It has been vacant since 2004.

The sale is the result of a management reshuffle at Howard Hughes and a subsequent decision to sell about $2 billion of non-core assets, including the West Windsor property. The company announced the sale of the tract in an earnings call on Nov. 5.

West Windsor Mayor Hemant Marathe confirmed to The News that the property had been sold to the Woodbridge-based Atlantic Realty. He said that he had been “playing phone tag” with officials from the company and was unaware what their plans are for the tract.

Calls by The News to Atlantic Realty for comment on the purchase went unreturned.

Before its sale, the site was the subject of an ongoing lawsuit by Howard Hughes against West Windsor, challenging its zoning. The developer wanted to build a mixed use property with up to 2,000 residential units, while the township insists it should remain all commercial. The impact of the sale on the lawsuit is unknown at this point.

Atlantic already owns one development in the township—Princeton Terrace, a 138-unit apartment complex on Clarksville Road. The township’s affordable housing plan also calls for Atlantic to construct a 120-unit rental project (Princeton Terrace II) on a 13.75-acre parcel adjacent to Princeton Terrace.

The developer has already shown it isn’t afraid to resort to the courts in an effort to get West Windsor to change its zoning.

Marathe said Atlantic is part of a lawsuit against West Windsor challenging the zoning of a property on Southfield Road across the street from the Southfield Shopping Center. The developer wants to build a residential affordable housing development on the tract, a use not allowed on the site, Marathe said.

Atlantic is no stranger to building mixed-use residential projects similar to the one that was proposed by Howard Hughes. It is the developer of the Ewing Town Center, which is currently under construction. That project calls for the construction of 1,184 residential rental units (including affordable housing), 94,750 square feet of retail and 14,375 square feet of offices.

The likelihood of housing being constructed on the Cyanamid site without a court challenge is very low. Marathe, members of council and the majority of the West Windsor community are unified in opposition to housing on the property.

Marathe said that there are already some 2,000 residential units approved for construction throughout the township, and there’s no capacity for more. “How many residences can one town absorb?” Marathe said.

The township’s affordable housing plan does not include any housing on the site, and the draft master plan currently being reviewed by the planning board calls for the site to be commercial-only. The draft plan is the result of a year-long evaluation of the township’s zoning.

The draft recommends the following uses: research, testing, analytical, and product development laboratories and pilot plant facilities; general, corporate, administrative, and professional offices; data processing and computer centers; limited manufacturing; warehousing; distribution centers; conference centers; hotels; business support uses; banks with or without drive-throughs; limited retail establishments; health clubs, fitness centers, and indoor-outdoor recreation centers; veterinary offices; urgent care and out-patient surgical facilities; and gas stations with convenience stores.

It also recommends that no more than 150,000 square feet of retail space be permitted on the tract, and that big-box retail and strip retail developments “are strongly discouraged in this district.”

The master plan also calls for the construction of a road through the property from Quakerbridge Road at its intersection with Avalon Way to Route 1 at its intersection with Nassau Park Boulevard.

Atlantic is the latest in a long list of owners of the site that date back to the 1950s. The history of the property is long and convoluted, involving a number of mergers, acquisitions and development proposals.

The site, which is bisected by Clarksville Road, was first developed when American Cyanamid built its agricultural research facility on the property in 1950. Cyanamid continued there until 1994, when the company merged with American Home Products, a conglomerate that manufactured food, healthcare and household products. It was one of the largest companies in the United States at the time.

In 2000, AHP sold the Cyanamid agricultural division was to BASF, a German chemical company, but AHP retained ownership of the tract. Two years later, AHP changed its name to Wyeth after founder Frank Wyeth. The company leased the property to BASF until 2004.

That year, Wyeth sold the property to the Rouse Company, a developer of shopping malls and residential communities, for $35 million. Only two months later, Rouse was acquired by General Growth Properties, a real estate trust that developed retail properties.

In 2006, GGP proposed a mixed-use residential/commercial development that would have been anchored by an upscale shopping mall.

At one point, GGP was in deep negotiations with Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom’s to anchor a proposed mall for the site, but both of those chains subsequently opted for locations at Quakerbridge Mall as part of that center’s 600,000-square-foot expansion.

GGP’s plans never materialized, though, due to the Great Recession in 2008, and GGP unsuccessfully tried to sell the tract. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2009.

A year later, GGP emerged from bankruptcy and The Howard Hughes Corporation was created as a separate spin-off of non-core GGP assets, which included the former American Cyanamid property.

Currently on the tract are the original Cyanamid buildings amounting to 886,000 square feet, but current zoning would allow as much as 1.5 million square feet of research, office and manufacturing space.

In 2017, HHC proposed a plan for the township to rezone the property to allow 1,976 units of housing—rental apartment, townhomes, single-family homes, and age-restricted units, and more than 1.3 million square feet of commercial retail and office space.

The developer filed its lawsuit the following year after the township refused to change the zoning. The litigation asked the court to designate the property as an area in need of redevelopment. Under state law, the designation would be a significant benefit to the developer.

HHC claimed that the current zoning renders the land useless, because there is no current demand to develop it under the uses currently allowed.

“The current (zoning) of the site is obsolete and has not been updated in any significant respect since it was adopted in or about 1980,” claimed the HHC lawsuit. “The township has recognized the need for a ‘special planning study’ to consider alternative zoning options for the site since as early as its re-examination of the master plan in 2000, but has, for nearly two decades now, forestalled any such study.”

The township has countered that it was in the process of conducting its master plan review, including a study of the HHC site and how it relates to future development in the rest of the township.

HHC also alleged that the site’s current commercial zoning is meant to create a “holding zone” to prohibit any development on the property.

It also alleged that no one wants to develop the property under the current zoning, and the township is “depriving the plaintiff of all economically viable and productive uses of the site.”

HHC also argued that the current zoning, which allows for some 7 million square feet of commercial space is not viable, because there is an “oversupply of research and development space in the state and Central New Jersey in particular.”

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