A project that would reshape the corner of Elkton Road and Casho Mill Road easily cleared its first hurdle last week.

In a 6-0 vote, the planning commission recommended city council approve the mixed-use development planned for 1501 Casho Mill Road.

Developer Lou Ramunno – whose company Liborio LLC also owns the Shoppes of Louviers and other development projects around the state – is proposing to demolish the existing single-story medical office complex and replace it with a three-story structure containing office space and 48 apartments.

The first floor would have 19,000 square feet of office space and two apartments, while the upper floors would each have 23 apartments. The project would include 22 two-bedroom units, six one-bedroom apartments and 20 studio units.

While taller, the new building would have a slightly smaller footprint than the existing one, which was built in 1988. Ramunno plans to donate 1.75 acres at the western side of the site, bordering the Christina River, to the city.

William Rhodunda, an attorney representing the developer, said the project fits in well with the surrounding area, where there are both apartment complexes and commercial sites. The building would be a combination of red, gray and black brick, he added.

“This is certainly bringing it into modern times over what exists today,” Rhodunda said.

The proposed project exceeds the required parking, and Ramunno plans to add turn lanes into the site from Casho Mill Road. According to traffic standards, the mixed-use complex will draw less traffic than the current building would if it were fully leased, Rhodunda said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency recently released new floodplain maps that show the Casho Mill Road site in the 100-year flood zone, so the site will be graded to raise it 18 inches to get it out of the floodway.

Planning commissioners Jen Wallace and Alan Silverman both praised the developer for including one-bedroom and studio apartments.

“There is a need for that in Newark, and I think it will attract a different kind of tenant,” Wallace said. “It possibly is still going to attract students because there’s a high demand for that, but it’s definitely more attractive to young professionals and families just starting out. There’s definitely a lack of this kind of rental in Newark.”

However, Silverman criticized the look of the new building as “very dark and foreboding.”

“Everything around it is light and open and airy and green space, and here’s this darkish building sitting on the corner. That’s just a personal preference and an observation,” he said.

The date for council consideration has not yet been announced. In order to proceed, the project needs a comprehensive development plan amendment, a major subdivision and a special-use permit for grading in a floodplain.

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