Garden Street Lofts
As the story goes, when developer Lawrence Bijou petitioned the Hoboken zoning board about variances to transform a 1919 coconut processing plant on 14th and Garden Sts. into a LEED-certified green building with a zinc-clad addition hanging over the top of the existing structure, they looked confused.
“Why are you doing all this?” one zoning official asked, making it clear that Hoboken had never seen anything like it.
Bijou, a veteran of New York City real estate who moved to New Jersey in 2003 after deciding to make Hoboken the recipient of his vision for green building, made a quick joke, and then said, “Because I have to.”
What he meant, what every developer dead serious about changing the way we live means, is that this is the only way to build if we want to protect our own health and the health of our environment.
What Bijou didn’t have to do, but did anyway, was source Ipe wood from Bolivia, bamboo floors from China, find the exact kind of cobblestone to refurbish the street out front, completely restore the coconut plant’s exterior to its original beige brick coloring, and hire one of New York City’s top architecture firms to design the building inside and out.
“By now, we should all know that green is the future of building,” says Bijou, who walks prospective buyers around the building himself. “My goal is to actually do it. This is my first project of this magnitude and I wanted the best.”
While I’ve heard that from most developers, I haven’t heard it confirmed by most architects. Gregg Pasquarelli of Sharples, Holden and Pasquarelli (SHoP Architects) actually took the job because of Bijou’s vision and integrity.
“Every time we came up with something, Larry [Bijou] asked if it could be done better,” says Pasquarelli. “We designed a similar building called the Porterhouse in the Meatpacking District. Repeating styles was not the direction we wanted to go in as a firm. But Larry’s commitment to sustainability and great design made this project different.”
Bijou, sitting in the construction trailer across the street from his building, wears sweaters, jeans and construction boots. He’s as honest a person as you could meet. When asked about the Val Cucina custom-made eco-friendly kitchens, Dornbracht faucets imported from Germany, Miele dishwashers, and the air-filtration system pumping clean air into each unit, he half-grimaces.
“There’s a downside to doing anything for the first time and wanting it to be really good,” he says. “I just let these architects go, and they just went. I was writing check after check for higher- end product after higher-end product.”
The result is New Jersey’s first LEED-certified silver condominium and already the recipient of a national green award. It’s also one of Hoboken’s most interesting structures. As you approach the 29-unit boutique development from Washington St. to the east, the pale zinc outer shell of the building appears to grab the brick structure in a bite or pinch. Small brown square openings, lined in Ipe wood, peer at you like eyes. These are apartment terraces. Architect Pasquarelli calls them “cocoons.” Wrapped in dark wood, they feel like hunting lodges in the city.
Inside, the apartments in the 42,888-square-foot five-story original building are lofts, with each floor having a one-bedroom, two-bedroom, and three-bedroom. Linked by hallways and the same elevators to the older building, the apartments in the seven-story 35,054-square-foot newer structure are oversized two-bedrooms. Two duplex penthouses on the upper floors have giant terraces with corner hot tubs.
“If these apartments were in Tribeca, they would be four times the price,” says Irene Perello, a longtime Hoboken agent with Hudson Place Realty, who has the exclusive on Garden Street Lofts. “We have 1,140-square-foot one-bedrooms for $675,000. I’d put this quality up against any Manhattan project.”
If the building has a knock on it, it’s that its back abuts an above-ground parking facility. Buyers don’t mind, says Perello, as back-of-building units sold quickly.
Closings in the building began last month. Vince Visceglia and Caroline Russo spent the second night in the building with their 20-month-old son. They looked all over Hoboken, including brownstones, row houses and larger condominiums, before deciding on Garden Street Lofts.
“Green wasn’t a consideration before we saw this,” says Russo. “Now, it’s part of our lives. The final decision was based on design and finishes, though. Everything feels top-of-the-line.”
Her husband, who had his heart set on living in the suburbs, says the couple’s decision to stay in Hoboken became clear as they understood more about living green.
“We can’t protect our son from everything bad that’s in the air,” says Russo, “but here we created a safe haven that is a cutting-edge non-toxic environment.”
Today, in front of the building, Hoboken city workers repair cobblestone streets using stone Bijou purchased so the new street matched the old. Inside, technicians from Del-Sano Contracting Corp., a Union, N.J.-based general contracting company, put finishing touches on the lobby and 8,100-square-foot retail space. Bijou Properties, helmed by Bijou with help from Dave Gaber, still seeks a tenant for the space.
“It’s big enough for an Apple store,” says Gaber, a recent NYU-real estate master’s graduate. “If Williamsburg can have one, why shouldn’t we?”
Bijou is just getting started in Hoboken. He refurbished a commercial building across the street from Garden Street Lofts, leasing retail to a New York Sports Club, a bank and a pharmacy. He also owns a lot across the street, waiting on financing before building a high-performance green mini-tower with microturbines to ease electrical output, solar panels and 400-car fully-robotic gargage, another New Jersey first.
“We’re working to put a charter school in the tower and generate our own electricity,” he says. “I came to Hoboken because of its proximity to New York, the better views, and the fact everyone who lives here loves this city.”
Acquiring land is what Bijou Properties does. Over a one-year period, it acquired more than 10 warehouse properties along Hoboken’s 15th and 16th Sts. Initially wanting to develop these blocks into restoration projects, it sold the land to a national developer. Armed with capital, it completed Garden Street Lofts and bought waterfront property on the Hoboken side of the Hudson.
“Originally, I just wanted to restore old buildings and add character to these streets,” says Bijou. “Hoboken is a young city with very intelligent, future-minded people. An investment in green is an investment in their future. They know that and so do we.”
For information on Garden Street Lofts, go to
www.gardenstreetlofts.com or call (201) 222-9122.