When SilverLake Apartments opened its doors in Belleville this past March the 232-unit community was already 87% leased, according to its developer, Baltimore-based Klein Enterprises. Located within 15 miles of New York City – and next to the Silver Lake light rail station – the property at 165 Belmont Ave. in Bellville has what renters are looking for: In addition to its transit-oriented location, the five-story building features ground-floor commercial space and a wealth of amenities.
Something you’ll notice about SilverLake, though, is that there’s actually a lot of green. In all, 75,000 square feet reserved for green space and a dog park, inclusive of a courtyard that itself boasts 26,000 square feet. From above, you can see it; laced with pathways, punctuated by circular gathering areas and outdoor kitchens. The parking lots, too, are broken up by green due to a feature from the civil engineering group at land-use consultancy Dresdner Robin.
“[W]hen you think about your resident in an upper floor of the apartment, and you look down at the parking lot, and you have these little islands of green roof, yes – you are having a positive impact on storm, but you are also breaking up that expansive asphalt,” says Lauren Venin, senior project manager and landscape architect at Jersey City-based Dresdner Robin, who served as project lead on SilverLake. “So you’re creating aesthetic appeal as well, and you’re also reducing the heat a little bit.”
SilverLake has two of the custom green-roof carports, designed by the firm and manufactured by Icon Shelters. Offering parking for 18, the number of poles used is minimized to optimize space for vehicles. But that’s not all they do. The structures also help to balance the amount of impervious surface at the property, according to Venin, and the plants atop help to prevent runoff by absorbing storm water.
Dresdner Robin started its work on SilverLake in 2018, providing civil engineering, site planning, and landscape and lighting design services for the community. According to the firm’s associate director of land development, Mark Vizzini, “Because we provide a range of services, more often than not we provide multiple services on every project, whether it’s surveying, engineering, landscape architecture, environmental, and planning.”
In Belleville, Dresdner Robin’s work covers the area surrounding the buildings, which are positioned to create a sort of triangle. That includes the resulting courtyard at the center of the property, the parking lot layout, utilities, grading and drainage, and ground floor landscape and site design. According to Venin, the firm worked with Klein to get municipal and site plan approvals and saw the project through to construction and design development. That last part includes details within the courtyard, like ground plane amenities.
Like much of the firm’s work at SilverLake, even the dog park area seeks to offer balance. Venin said the goal was to keep it looking natural, like a regular lawn, but to bake in considerations for up-keep. “What your user would want in terms of keeping it clean and having something that can’t get torn up too much by the dogs, while still having that natural turf,” she said. To achieve that, the team used two different materials and a gravel buffer, “so that you do have that natural turf area to it. And then also have an area that can handle the more intense use, like a synthetic turf.”
Despite the relative expansiveness of the courtyard, that doesn’t mean there weren’t challenges to tackle. For instance, the space needed to include a 20-foot clear lawn area, Vizzini said, to accommodate a fire access road. Dresdner Robin was able to meet the challenge, but if you look at the courtyard, you might not be able to tell, and that’s by design. “It’s hidden in the lawn,” Venin said. A mat-like plastic honeycomb structure is rolled out, its cells are filled with soil and then grass is either seeded into them, or sod place over, she explained, so it provides support in the event that a fire truck needs to reach the building, but it doesn’t sacrifice the aesthetic appeal of the property’s lush green spaces.
The community is having a positive effect on its hometown, too. In his state of the township address, delivered April 27, Belleville Mayor Michael Melham praised the city’s recent redevelopment projects for enticing new and returning residents with contemporary, interesting spaces to occupy. “Our newest residents are mostly young professionals with disposable income to spend locally,” Melham said in the address, as reported by Patch. “These well-planned buildings have replaced vacant and often environmentally contaminated land which yielded little tax revenue to the township.”
“These are the new revenues that have been needed for decades to stabilize our taxes,” he added, explaining that prior to 2018, the last major development to come to Belleville had made its entrance nearly 20 years before.
In February, the city was awarded a $290,000 grant under the state’s Fiscal Year 2022 Safe Streets to Transit Program for a light rail pedestrian safety project—in part, due to SilverLake, which is part of a transit-oriented redevelopment plan. According to Venin, offsite improvements for the community included a protected crossing at Belmont Avenue with additional signage; the grant will allow for even more work around the station. “Having this particular piece of property redeveloped into a higher density residential building is helping [to] increase their ridership,” she said. “Which in turn is helping them get the grants, make the improvements to their station. … So this is one of those, bringing more people into the space, and then your mass transit functions better because you have more people using it.”
There are developments in urban areas popping up across the state, but SilverLake’s green spaces set it apart. “It’s a very large area when you look at it relative to the footprint of the buildings and it provides such a high level of amenity space, which allowed in turn for more variety of experiences within that space,” Venin said. “[I]t’s not as common … to get that level of ground plane space for open space and green amenity areas for the residents.”
But when it does happen – it’s not just a boon for future renters, it’s also enticing for the people creating it. According to Venin, having the space to “play” makes her work more fun, which is fitting, because it brings that quality to tenants, as well. “It certainly gives us more room to execute designs. It lets us do more with the space … it lets us really enhance the experience for the residents.”