After remaining an empty eyesore for over four decades, the property known as Redevelopment Area 5, a 17-acre property near the George Washington Bridge, could be nearing final approval on the eastern parcel.
The Fort Lee Planning Board hosted the first of two meetings on Monday, Feb. 6, at the for residents who filled the room to near capacity.
The meeting, a preliminary and final major site plan and subdivision for the eastern parcel of Redevelopment Area 5, allowed James Demetrakis, the attorney representing the developer of the eastern parcel, Fort Lee Redevelopment Associates (FLRA), the opportunity to qualify members of the architectural firm Elkus Manfredi Architects before board members and the public questioned details regarding the site.
For Demetrakis, Redevelopment 5 brings his career as an attorney and a developer full circle.
"This is a very interesting night for me because I stood before a board in Fort Lee 40 years ago on the exact same type of application, which was the Helmsley tract,” said Demetrakis. “At that time the board granted approval of the site, and 40 years later, I’m back doing it over again.”
The FLRA application is primarily residential and includes two 47-story towers that will house a total of 902 units, some of which will feature dramatic views of the iconic George Washington Bridge, the Palisades and the Hudson River.
Each tower will feature a five-story, wrap-around parking garage with 630 parking spaces for the north tower and 589 for the south tower. The eastern parcel will also feature a landscaped, 1.7 acre public park designed with pedestrian walkways, a pond and a walkover bridge, and a refreshment kiosk, all of which will be donated to the borough.
FLRA is also donating a movie theater and a museum to honor the borough’s Revolutionary War and pre-Hollywood history.
A high-end, 7,000-square-foot restaurant, which is expected to be a major attraction of the east parcel, is also being constructed for a private entity.
Howard Elkus of Elkus Manfredi Architects described the inspiration behind the design for the eastern parcel as the creation of a significant open space.
“No one could be asked or given such responsibility without recognizing the iconic nature of this site,” said Elkus, adding, “Anything less than a brilliant design would be a tragedy. This is a great site. How it stood fallow for 40 years stuns me.”
Elkus said the site should inevitability become a “symbolic portal” to Fort Lee that residents and visitors can enjoy. He also described the east parcel, along with the western parcel, which is being developed by Tucker Development, as major catalysts for the borough’s main business district.
The borough is currently finalizing the redevelopment agreement for the west parcel.
After describing the building materials for the towers, including the low-reflective glass that will be used in their construction, Planning Board Chairman Herbert Greenberg requested a sample for inspection. He expressed concern over the potential glare on surrounding properties.
Several board members, including Janet Cooney, were also concerned with the number of parking spaces inside the parking garages, which will be dedicated to the restaurant, kiosk and theater.
According to Elkus, 24 parking spaces will be dedicated to the restaurant, three for the kiosk and 35 spaces for the theater.
Fort Lee Councilman Armand Pohan was especially concerned with the number of seats inside the restaurant’s ground floor and the addition of outdoor seating on the second floor.
“I’m not sure that when the governing body approved this redevelopment plan that the second floor of this space would be an open space where dining was going on,” he said.
Pohan was also concerned with the potential adverse effects of lighting and noise from the restaurant on residents living nearby.
“I have a concern as to how much more additional parking will be generated,” Pohan said. “I’d like to know the number of tables.”
Demetrakis said the lighting and exact number of seats would be addressed at the next meeting.
During the public comment portion, Fort Lee resident Alex Floratos, a board member of the Fort Lee United Homeowners Association, asked Demetrakis if parking for employees of the residential towers, the movie theater, the museum and the restaurant were taken into consideration.
"A restaurant of this size will probably have in the neighborhood of 40 or 50 employees,” said Floratos.
Demetrakis said while a number of employees will commute in vehicles, most will use public transportation.
“Employees that are in the building maintenance business traditionally use pubic transportation,” Demetrakis explained, adding that most restaurant employees also use public transportation.
“Many will come from New Jersey, and some will come from New York," he said. "Gas is expensive; tolls are expensive. We have sufficient parking to accommodate employees.”
Details regarding traffic studies, the restaurant and the potential impact new residents of the towers could have on Fort Lee schools will be addressed at the next meeting scheduled for Feb. 13 at 7:30 p.m. at the Fort Lee Community Center on the second floor.