The Lawrence Township Zoning Board on April 28 approved a 54-unit affordable housing rental complex on Texas Avenue.

The project, which is being developed by RPM Development Group, will be constructed on a 4.3-acre parcel in back of the Lawrence Shopping Center. The lot will be purchased from the owner of the center and subdivided from shopping center property.

The approval included a use variance and preliminary site plan approval. RPM must appear before the board again to obtain final site plan approval before construction can start.

“It is our hope that allowing the board to review final site plan approval at a later date, along with the revisions to the plan recently discussed and to be presented on the 28th, will provide the board with the comfort that their concerns concerning the site playout can be adequately addressed,” said Ryan Kennedy, the attorney for the applicant.

The board first began hearing the application in mid-2020 and held a total of eight meetings on the plan, which faced opposition from members of the community, who felt the project was too big for the site.

That included a meeting in February, which had to be adjourned because the virtual meeting platform the township was using was limited to 100 people, and couldn’t accommodate all the members of the public who wanted to attend.

The plan was first proposed as 70 rental apartments in three multi-story buildings and six two-story duplex buildings. The plan was ultimately amended and reduced by 16 units, after members of the board and community expressed concerns that the site was being too densely developed.

Under the amended plan, one of the apartment buildings was eliminated and four apartments were removed from the third floor of one of the other buildings. Site amenities including a patio, benches and a bike rack will be included in the area where the third building was eliminated.

The project was also amended to increase the number of parking spaces from 102 to 109.

A use variance was required because the zone in which the project is located does not permit duplex and multi-family dwellings. One of the primary criteria for a use variance is a finding that a project is inherently beneficial to the community.

State law defines a beneficial project as “a use which is universally considered of value to the community because it fundamentally serves the public good and promotes the general welfare.”

The project was found to be beneficial because it is 100 percent affordable housing and helps the township meet its mandatory requirement to provide for affordable housing.

According to a report by zoning board planning consultant Elizabeth McManus, “the board should consider the property as a suitable site for the construction of affordable housing. The Board, nevertheless, must be satisfied that the site plan, as revised, appropriately works so that with conditions that the board may attach to any approval, the result will be that there will be a development of a residential community that is appropriate for the township and for the residents who will be given an opportunity to live in the township.”

RPM, based in Montclair, is the developer of a number of affordable developments within the state.

“Founded in 1986, RPM is one of the leading developers of affordable housing in New Jersey,” states the company’s website. “Our company has developed residential communities that are home to thousands of New Jerseyans and represent hundreds of millions of dollars in community investment across the state. Our work has included new construction on underutilized land, the adaptive reuse of industrial properties, the restoration of historic buildings, and multi-phase initiatives to increase affordable housing options in urban and suburban communities.”

Other communities in which RPM has built projects include Trenton, Newark, Jersey City, Pleasantville, Somerset, Orange and Atlantic City.

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