Mixed-use development at North Village underway

Route 15 site will have ShopRite, stores and residential

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  • Site plan for the North Village at Sparta, being constructed on Rt. 15. The mixed-use development is slated to be completed in 2021, with the ShopRite which is anchoring the retail plaza to be opened in July 2019. Photos by Mandy Coriston

  • The foundation has been poured for the ShopRite at the North Village at Sparta on Rt. 15.

  • Artist's rendering of the retail stores at the North Village at Sparta mixed-use development being constructed on Rt. 15.

  • An artist's rendering of the Modern Farmer restaurant to be built at the North Village at Sparta sits atop a pile of material samples at Dykstra Associates in Andover.

  • The intersection of Rt. 15 and what will become North Village Rd. A traffic light will be installed at the main entrance to the North Village at Sparta mixed-use development.

  • The foundation has been laid at the future North Village at Sparta for a 70-bed Chelsea Assisted Living facility. The building, slated to open in October of 2019, will sit at the north end of the Rt. 15 frontage for the mixed-use development.

By Mandy Coriston

— The foundation has been poured for the new 80,000 square foot ShopRite and ShopRite Liquors on Rt. 15 North. The area’s 8th RoNetco, Inc. supermarket will be the anchor for an ambitious mixed-use development known as North Village at Sparta. The project is slated for full completion in 2021, and will consist of a retail plaza, a 70-bed assisted living facility, 92 single-family homes, and townhomes and duplexes which will number over 100 units. Open green spaces and park facilities are also part of the plan for the 90-acre site, approximately 65 acres of which are being developed.

“Thus far, the overall plans and progress are very encouraging," Sparta Mayor Joshua Hertzberg said. " We are fortunate in Sparta to have new growth and development opportunities, particularly given the limitations imposed by the Highlands Act, not only here but throughout Sussex County.”

The acreage being left undeveloped is protected by the Highlands Act and a 2.5-acre recreation area at the center of the project will be deeded to Sparta as a municipal park. The ShopRite is projected for opening in July 2019, and some of the commercial and residential units are expected to debut next fall, with the whole village to be completed and occupied by 2021.

The parcel of land, which sits between Woodruff’s Gap and White Lake Road, is owned by Dykstra Associates of Andover Township, and the surveying and engineering firm is managing the development of the property. Dykstra acquired the property in 2005, and originally had planned on putting an industrial park there.

“We changed our minds and went with a mixed-use development instead, because an industrial park would have required septic,” Owen Dykstra, the company’s director of Engineering, said, “Because the land sits directly on the aquifer, it would have been difficult to get approval. A mixed-use plan like this uses sewer instead, which has clean water discharge and is better environmentally. It has less impact on the surrounding areas.”

Additional infrastructure is being installed as the roads and sidewalks are being paved, including natural gas lines for every structure within the complex, as well as lines to connect the buildings to the existing Sparta Township Water Utility supply. Ryan Homes of Reston, VA is contracted to build and sell the single-family homes in the development, and Dykstra believes the way the neighborhood is designed will be both attractive to homebuyers and beneficial to the town.

“There is not much road frontage per house in this section of the development,” he said, “It will mean higher tax revenue and lower overhead for the town to keep the roads clear of snow. There’s an average of 50’ of road frontage per house, as opposed to an average of 200’ of frontage in other parts of the township. The relative density of these houses is definitely a good thing for Sparta.” Potential buyers will have a choice of modern floorplans, and models are under construction for viewing in the fall. Dykstra expects some homes to be built and occupied by mid-2019, with the last of them being completed by 2021.

“All the housing — the townhomes, duplexes, and houses — will be walking distance from the retail plaza,” Dykstra said, “We feel this will draw potential residents from all demographics; Older people looking to downsize, younger people with children looking for family homes, and millennials who like walkable communities and who don’t want the burden of a lot of home maintenance. We think the homes will attract a wide range of new residents.”

There’s a lot of buzz surrounding the retail plaza itself, with speculation as to what products and services will be available. Leasing of the retail space is being handled by Silbert Realty and Management, Inc, and much of the space has already been filled. While Dykstra could not comment on many of the pending leases, he did say consumers can expect to see a Starbucks and a Verizon dealer, as well as the Modern Farmer restaurant and bar, which is a joint venture of Tom Pepe of Green Acres Farm in Wantage and Steve and Rachael Scro, owners of the Mohawk House, a popular restaurant and bar located about a mile from the North Village site. For more on the projected Modern Farmer, see www.spartaindependent.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20180718/NEWS01/180719957/Modern-Farmer-will-rise-on-old-farmland

There will be additional fast food options, as well as a bank and a daycare, and a medical services building which Dykstra says will be suitable for procedures such as physical therapy or diagnostics. Dykstra also said that the retail buildings are being designed to utilize natural materials that fit in with the surrounding landscapes. The assisted living facility being constructed on the north end of the site will be a part of the Chelsea Senior Living franchise, and is scheduled to open in October of 2019.

With a development of this size, it’s not surprising that some concerns have been raised about traffic volume on Rt. 15, already a heavily traveled thoroughfare.

Jody Novak Torre, owner of 20/20 Solutions, Inc. on nearby Wilson Drive, said, “Sussex County needs businesses and economic growth, so this (the project) is a good thing. However, I have seen nothing about how traffic will be handled, roads widened, or any proposed solution to an already bad situation. That part of 15 is already bumper to bumper as early as 3:30 in the afternoon and can be virtually impossible on the weekends.”

Torre’s sentiments were echoed by Harry Kinney, the owner of Aurora Electrical Supply, across the way at the corner of White Lake Rd. and Rt. 15.

“New buildings mean new business,” Kinney said, “but everyone is concerned about traffic, we need more lanes to keep traffic flowing.”

Kinney, who opened Aurora three decades ago, said that when the intersection in front of his showroom was being updated, he attended meetings held by the state reviewing traffic flow on that part of Rt. 15.

“The state said then that they had no plans to widen the road. I suspect the Pennsylvania commuters will be upset, it’s going to tie them up,” Kinney said. “But we’re going to have to see where it goes. It’s good ratability for the town, and I hope it’s successful for everybody’s sake.”

At Casa Capri, the Italian restaurant directly across Rt. 15 from the main entrance to the development, feelings on the project are positive.

“We’re generally pretty excited about it,” employee Violet Jastrzembski said, “The owners, Mike (Collins) and TJ (Kiester), are looking forward to the plaza opening. We’ve already seen a small uptick in lunch business from the construction workers. Personally, I think it’s a good utilization of that space. People who enjoy ShopRite won’t have to go over to Newton anymore. It’ll be nice to have another grocery store close by, and it’s going to create jobs and benefit everyone overall. And I honestly don’t think it’s going to add that much more traffic.”

According to Dykstra, the state conducted a study and concluded that the developer would need to be responsible for adding turn lanes in and out of the development, and a traffic light will be installed at the main entrance to the ShopRite Plaza at Rt. 15 and what will be known as North Village Road. A southern access point on Rt. 15 and an additional access point on White Lake Road will not have traffic signals.

“The ShopRite will be open in July of 2019 and the residences will be filling soon after, but we really don’t anticipate that we’ll be adding too much to the traffic volume on Rt. 15,” Dykstra said, pointing out that the retail plazas in surrounding towns, such as along Rt. 206 through Newton and Hampton, have much longer frontages and multiple traffic lights holding up the flow of vehicles. “This development actually has a much smaller footprint and only 850’ of road frontage on Rt. 15.”

While Dykstra declined to comment on the total cost of the project, he pressed the point that the development is a boon for Sparta and for Sussex County.

“This fills a need. This is a unique location and creates healthy business competition, with Sparta currently only having one supermarket. And we’re bringing housing straight to the retail area — that’s a model that we find is becoming more popular,” Dykstra said, “The tax impact for Sparta will be tangible, and the ShopRite alone will create 125 jobs. We’re excited to be bringing this development to our community.”

Despite the developer’s confidence, the Sparta Police Department is preparing itself for an influx of new residents and the potential for traffic snarls. Sparta Police Lt. John Lamon said that the development will present new challenges for the department, but that they are being proactive about the matter of patrolling the area.

“We’re splitting our coverage zones from four to five, because we expect an increase in retail-related calls, such as shoplifting, and residential calls, with the potential for hundreds of new residents,” Lamon said. At this time, there are no plans to add personnel to the Sparta Police Department, but Lamon said that the possibility isn’t ruled out and it’s something they will continue to evaluate as the development progresses and becomes occupied.

Addressing the issue of increased traffic in the area, Lamon said there are two factors that the department will be concerned with.

“We expect more fender-bender, rear-end type accidents, due to bumper-to-bumper traffic, like we see now at rush hour,” Lamon explained, “And we also think we’ll see increased traffic on side roads, as people try to avoid that stretch of 15. It could lead to issues on roads like Limecrest, Demarest, and House’s Corners, that aren’t engineered to handle heavy volume.”

Lamon said Sparta police have a traffic specialist, but he has not been privy to any state plans to widen Rt. 15 at the site of the new development, and the traffic signal is the only change of which police are aware. Published reports show that the current average traffic on this portion of Rt. 15 is just under 25,000 vehicles per day. Attempts to reach the NJ Department of Transportation for comment were unsuccessful.

Another party concerned with a growth in residency and a change in traffic patterns is the Sparta Board of Education. Dykstra Associates had to submit an economic study to the school district as part of their documentation for the approval process, but according to Superintendent Dr. Michael Rossi, it’s not yet possible to know what bearing the development will have on the town’s school enrollment and bus routes.

“At this time, we do not have a complete picture of what impact any construction will have,” Rossi said, “When that data is available we will consider any potential alterations to transportation, staffing, etc.”

“There are obvious concerns with traffic, which our Council and Planning Board have expressed since the beginning," Mayor Hertzberg said. "Traffic on Rt. 15 remains an issue for anyone who travels it daily. However, based on the reports and testimony provided to the Planning Board, it is not expected to generate a significant increase in new traffic to the area.”

Hertzberg referenced the data reviewed by the NJ Department of Transportation, and their findings that turn lanes and a traffic light would be sufficient improvements.

“I would expect there will be an adjustment in traffic patterns on Rt. 15 for current users who already take this route, as well as those residents that will now be going to the site, particularly at certain times of the day. No one appreciates additional traffic,” Hertzberg said, “However, we believe that the many positives of the project significantly outweigh any negatives. The township has been and will continue to stay involved with petitioning the State to evaluate and make changes on Rt. 15 to address any future issues.”

Hertzberg said town officials will continue to monitor the project and work with the developer to protect the best interests of the community.

“The key is to remain diligent and work towards smart growth that benefits the entire township," he said. "It is a challenge to attract, as well as keep, development that allows communities to maintain stable taxes, provide ongoing services and infrastructure improvements, while minimizing the burden on residential taxpayers. Our governing body, along with township leadership, is committed to moving Sparta forward, while maintaining our core values that we believe make Sparta the amazing place it is to both live and work. We hope that the North Village project will ultimately be part of that effort.”

Hertzberg also said that as a resident of Sparta and Sussex County, he’s personally pleased to see the development underway.

“It will add another shopping and dining dimension to the region that residents and visitors will enjoy. Sparta’s Planning Board, staff, and professionals have worked diligently on the proposed plans to ensure they comply with all land use and building requirements,” he said, “We want it to not just meet the minimum standards for development under the Municipal Land Use Law, but to go beyond and be the measure by which future development is judged.”

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