A long-planned 72-unit affordable development by Project Freedom received planning board approval on Feb. 8. The Lawrence-based nonprofit specializes in building housing accessible for disabled individuals, and a development on Old Bear Brook Road would be the first of its kind in West Windsor.
Plans call for an all-affordable project, named Freedom Village, that would be composed of 14 one-bedroom units, 42 two-bedroom units, and 16 three-bedroom units. The apartments will be divided among six two-story buildings, and the site will also include a 5,200-square-foot clubhouse center. There will be one social service worker on site.
A quarter of the units will be deed restricted for disabled residents. The remaining units will be open to non-disabled families. About 40 percent of Project Freedom’s integrated developments are occupied by disabled residents, said Tracee Battis, Project Freedom’s director of housing development.
Freedom Village will be built on a 10-acre parcel along the Amtrak mainline. The land is being deeded to the township by Toll Brothers as a condition of approval for its mixed use project on the adjacent Maneely tract.
Approved in 2015, that project includes 51 three-bedroom townhomes, 192 short term stay corporate suites, and 40 apartments built over 20,000 square feet of retail.
Battis said Project Freedom would begin in construction in the spring of 2018. It is expected to take at least that long to secure funding for Freedom Village. The project’s cost is around $20 million, said Battis, and more than two-thirds of the cost will be financed through the sale of federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credits. Builders apply for the credits through the state Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency.
The agency is expected to award the tax credits some time in August. Project Freedom is also applying for a $500,000 grant from the Mercer County Housing and Community Development office, and the remaining development costs will be financed by a commercial mortgage.
Since 1987, Project Freedom has built more than 400 units, the majority of which are in Mercer County. Florence Cohen, a former chair of the township’s affordable housing committee who has since moved to Florida, inspired West Windsor’s Freedom Village more than 15 years ago. Her son lived in a Project Freedom development in Robbinsville, and Cohen connected the nonprofit with West Windsor officials.
Resident Nantanee Koppstein voiced support for Project Freedom during the public comment period of the meeting. She moved to West Windsor in 1986 and she said her 29 year-old daughter would benefit from such housing.
“I know of multiple families in West Windsor with the same objective of remaining in the township as empty nesters once their adult children move to Freedom Village,” Koppstein said.
Resident Hope Corman also has a daughter with a disability, and she echoed Koppstein’s statement.
“Affordable housing is so badly needed,” Corman said. “I urge you to approve something tried and true in so many communities.
The planning board recommended the inclusion of the Project Freedom site into the train station redevelopment area at its Jan. 25 meeting. The measure, which still requires council approval, would create an eleventh zone in the town’s redevelopment plan. Designating the land as an area in need of redevelopment would improve the project’s standing for grant applications.
Also included in the proposed redevelopment area is an adjacent three-acre parcel that is home to Mark’s Trackside Auto and Tindall Ranson Plumbing and Heating. The site would be rezoned to recognize its existing uses, and if the land were to be sold it would be eligible for residential development with a density of 7.5 units per acre. A quarter of the residential units would have to be affordable.