When SilverLake Apartments opened in Belleville last March, the 232-unit community was already 87% rented, according to its developer, Baltimore-based Klein Enterprises. Located less than 15 miles from New York City — and adjacent to the Silver Lake Light Rail Station — the property at 165 Belmont Ave. in Bellville has what tenants are looking for: In addition to its transit-oriented location, the five-story building includes commercial space on the ground floor and numerous amenities.
Something you will notice about SilverLake, however, is that there is actually a lot of green. In total, 75,000 square feet reserved for green spaces and a dog park, including a yard itself of 26,000 square feet. From above you can see it; intertwined with paths, punctuated by circular gathering spaces and outdoor kitchens. The car parks are also separated by green due to a feature of the civil engineering group of the spatial planning consultancy Dresdner Robin.
“[W]When you think of your resident on an upper floor of the apartment, and you look at the parking lot, and you have these little green roof islands, yes – you’re positively impacting the storm, but you’re also separating that expansive asphalt,” says Lauren Venin, senior project manager and landscape architect at Jersey City-based Dresdner Robin, who served as project manager on SilverLake. “So you’re also creating aesthetic appeal and also reducing the heat a bit.”
SilverLake has two of the custom green roof carports, designed by the company and manufactured by Icon Shelters. Offering an 18-space car park, the number of posts used is minimized to optimize space for vehicles. But that’s not all they do. The structures also help balance the amount of impermeable surface on the property, according to Venom, and the plants on top help prevent runoff by absorbing stormwater.
Dresdner Robin began 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 land development manager, Mark Vizzini, “Because we provide a range of services, more often than not we provide multiple services on each project, whether it’s surveying, engineering, landscape architecture, environment and planning.”
In Belleville, the work of Dresdner Robin covers the surroundings of the buildings, positioned in such a way as to create a sort of triangle. This includes the resulting courtyard at the center of the property, parking lot layout, utilities, grading and drainage, as well as ground floor landscaping and site design. According to Venom, the company worked with Klein to obtain municipal and site plan approvals and took the project through construction and design development. This last part includes details in the yard, such as ground equipment.
Like much of the company’s work at SilverLake, even the dog park area seeks to provide balance. Venom said the goal was to make it look natural, like a regular lawn, but consider maintenance. “What your user would want in terms of maintaining cleanliness and having something that can’t be torn too much by dogs, while still having that natural grass,” she said. To achieve this, the team used two different materials and a gravel pad, “so you have this area of natural grass. And then also have an area that can withstand more intense use, like a synthetic turf.
Despite the relative size of the yard, that doesn’t mean there weren’t challenges to overcome. For example, the space needed to include a 20-foot clear lawn, Vizzini said, to accommodate a fire access road. Dresdner Robin successfully completed the challenge, but if you look at the yard you might not be able to tell, and that’s on purpose. “It’s hidden in the lawn,” Venom said. A carpet-like plastic honeycomb structure is rolled out, its cells are filled with soil, and then grass is sown in it or covered with sod, she explained, so that it provides a support in case a fire truck needs to reach the building, but that doesn’t sacrifice the aesthetic appeal of the property’s lush green spaces.
The community also has a positive effect on his hometown. In his state of the township address, delivered April 27, Belleville Mayor Michael Melham praised the town’s recent redevelopment projects for attracting new and returning residents with contemporary spaces. and interesting to occupy. “Our new residents are mostly young professionals with disposable income to spend locally,” Melham said in the speech, as reported by Patch. “These well-planned buildings replaced vacant and often environmentally contaminated land that brought little tax revenue to the township.”
“It’s the new revenue that’s been needed for decades to stabilize our taxes,” he added, explaining that before 2018, the last major development to come to Belleville had entered almost 20 years prior.
In February, the city received a $290,000 grant through the state’s Safe Streets to Transit program for fiscal year 2022 for a light rail pedestrian safety project, thanks in part to SilverLake, which makes part of a transit-oriented redevelopment plan. According to Venom, offsite improvements for the community included a crosswalk at Belmont Avenue with additional signage; the grant will enable even more work to be done around the station. “The redevelopment of this particular property into a higher density residential building helps [to] increase their ridership,” she said. “Which helps them get the grants, to make improvements to their station. … So it’s one of those, that gets more people into space, and then your public transit works better because more people use it.
There are developments in urban areas popping up across the state, but SilverLake’s green space sets it apart. “It’s a very large area relative to the footprint of the buildings and it provides such a level of amenity space, which in turn has allowed for a greater variety of experiences in this space,” said Venom. “[I]It’s not as common… to get that level of floor space for open spaces and green spaces for residents.
But when that happens, it’s not just a boon for future tenants, it’s also attractive to the people who create it. According to Venom, having space to “play” makes her job more fun, which is fitting, as it also brings that quality to tenants. “It definitely gives us more room to execute designs. It allows us to do more with the space…it allows us to really improve the resident experience.