Wood-Ridge On track

Jessica Perry//September 22, 2014

Wood-Ridge On track

Jessica Perry//September 22, 2014

These days, when Ralph Zucker travels to Wood-Ridge, he sees something he’s only been able to imagine for the better part of a decade.

“If you go out there, you can clearly see the train station in the making,” said Zucker, president of Somerset Development. “And I think sometime next year … you should be able to get on the train at Wesmont Station and roughly 25 minutes later get to Midtown Manhattan.”

The construction is a welcome sight, considering the station is the centerpiece of a long-running redevelopment plan spearheaded by Zucker’s firm. Known as Wesmont Station, the $400 million project is transforming a piece of the former Curtiss-Wright aircraft plant in the Bergen County borough into a 70-acre, pedestrian-friendly transit village — with nearly 1,200 homes and a mix of commercial space and community facilities.

It’s a case of creating an urban pocket where none currently exists, making Wood-Ridge one of three towns featured in this week’s NJBIZ Urban Living Spotlight.

Work on the train station began earlier this year, but only after years of delays tied to environmental cleanup, infrastructure planning and a faltering economy. And the overall redevelopment project goes back to the late 1990s, when borough officials sought to reinvent the industrial site and partnered with Zucker’s Lakewood-based firm.

Not that the setbacks have stopped the project from moving forward up until now. Last year, AvalonBay Communities Inc. completed a 406-unit luxury rental apartment complex that marked the first phase of the project.

Ron Ladell, AvalonBay’s senior vice president and top executive in New Jersey, said the company was “very pleased” with its project there, but also “very eager for the train station to become operational next year.”

“Once that train station is operational, we expect that the demand for our apartments and the adjacent housing that is in the process of being built will only increase,” he said, “making Wesmont Station a true sense of place for Wood-Ridge and surrounding community.”

Those other components include 217 for-sale townhomes, which are well under construction by the national builder Pulte Homes. Zucker also said Ingerman, a Cherry Hill-based developer, has started work on about 100 affordable housing units near the new station.

The new station, which Somerset is building under a public-private partnership with NJ Transit, will anchor what amounts to “building a small town,” Zucker said. But he also said the development is filling a void in the existing area — or the “hole of the doughnut” created decades ago by the adjacent airplane engine factory.

“The fabric of the community was split by the Curtiss-Wright plant, a 150-acre site where the roads didn’t connect and the community didn’t connect,” Zucker said. “I think what we’re doing is stitching it back together.”