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Builder confident transit development project will soon get under way

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The residential component that jump-started a decade-old redevelopment plan in Wood-Ridge is all but complete, and the site’s master developer said a new train station project that is critical to the effort may soon break ground.

The project, known as Wesmont Station, is awaiting prep work by NJ Transit that will pave the way for construction of the new rail facility, said Somerset Development President Ralph Zucker, whose firm is the lead developer of the 70-acre site. He said last week a contractor had been selected and that the work was “starting imminently.”

The long-stalled train station component is central to the project, which calls for transforming the former Curtiss-Wright aircraft plant into a mixed-use transit village. Under the current plan, the Lakewood-based developer will build the platforms, waiting areas and access roads, Zucker said, while NJ Transit will build and maintain parking areas.

“We’re hopefully at the end of a lot of delays, so hopefully now everything should proceed smoother,” said Zucker, who estimated that the station could be complete in about a year and a half.

Progress on the station is being eagerly awaited by AvalonBay Communities Inc., which kicked off construction at the site in 2011 with a four-building, two-phase residential component totaling more than 400 units. Ron Ladell, AvalonBay’s senior vice president and top executive in New Jersey, said the company has effectively completed construction of the last two buildings and will be leasing the remaining units in the coming months.

“AvalonBay was eager to be the first one (to break ground) and to move the project along,” said Ladell, who added that the company is also leasing retail spaces at the buildings. “Others hopefully will follow soon.”

Zucker said last week that Somerset has entered into a contract with Pulte Homes, which plans to build town homes near the AvalonBay apartments. The company also will bring on several other developers in the coming months, he said, as part of its strategy to be successful in such a large-scale project.

“This allows the site to be built more efficiently — it moves a little bit quicker because everybody can focus on what their expertise is,” Zucker said. “So it brings a lot of leverage and a lot of power to bear on the site, probably a lot better than we could do if we were trying to do everything ourselves.”

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