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Holmdel’s consultant calls for Bell Labs demolition; McMansions, Golf Course

March 4, 2009

Received today: the recently issued consultant’s report commissioned by the Holmdel Township Committee on the future of the Bell Labs property.  REVA Partners were engaged by the town government, and have proposed a series of recommendations that will “enhance the Holmdel Community as a whole and add to the Township’s tax base.”

photo credit: Ezra Stoller

photo credit: Ezra Stoller

Ignoring completely the international significance of the Eer0 Saarinen-designed Bell Labs building and the Sasaki-designed landscape, the recommendations nowhere indicate knowledge or review of the Bell Labs charrette findings (see previous posts, and downloadable Charrette Report).  Instead, the consultant states that the building, “by current construction standards is considered inadequate” and should be demolished.

Calling for “the property (to be) developed in an environmentally friendly manner fitting the character of the community,” the consultant recommends that the Township create and adopt a Redevelopment Plan that calls for development of:

  • Private 18 Hole Golf Course
  • Privately owned homes buffering the golf course on 4-5 acres of property approximately $2-3 Million in price.
  • 150 Age Restricted (50 & Older) detached homes
  • A State of the Art Equestrian Center
  • Two-Three Story municipally occupied buildings that encompass the Township offices, Library, Police Department and potentially the Fire Department and EMS.
  • World Class Community Center with an indoor pool, Senior Center, basketball courts, tennis courts and a revolving stage that could be used indoor or outdoor. When the stage faces outdoors it turns into an Amphitheater for concerts or plays in the park.
  • 100,000-150,000 square feet of Professional/Medical Offices.
  • Ancillary retail within the area of the municipal complex and community center.
  • Movie Studio – this would create jobs for Holmdel residents, tie into Holmdel’s Theater program, providing a setting for movies to be filmed on and an educational opportunity for Holmdel residents/students.

“There are several charming characteristics to this property,” says the report, “one being the two ponds that are located on either side of the “Ring Road”. One of the ponds is inhabited by bass fish, while the other one has a white bridge crossing it, providing a wonderful setting for weddings or to watch the sunset. Both ponds complement the large tracks of wooded areas and acres of open land located on the remainder of the site, adding to the peaceful nature of the property and tying into the character of Holmdel. While at the southern most portion of the property, there are several former baseball fields that provide a park-like and picturesque setting.”

The recommendations suggest the town consider applying for New Jersey Smart Growth grants, and also explore outright purchase of the property using Green Acres and/or state Economic Development Authority funding.

Here’s the holmdel-lucent-redevelopment-report-01-26-9.  Let the reader understand.

13 Comments leave one →
  1. March 5, 2009 7:42 am

    Hard to believe this was commissioned by the Township Committee. It seems to be a document that would have been prepared by a private investor seeking apprivals.

    Their tactics are transparent: don’t mention Eero Saarinen, Hideo Sasaki, Bell, sustainable/green approaches.
    Do mention lead paint and asbestos up front to sake them in their boots.

    I wish I knew the complete story behind this becase it is an astonishingly weak report. What was the cost to the taxpayers of Holdmel Township? I’d like to know so that I could use it as a basis to determine the value of April 2008’s charrette.

  2. NJ Preservation Advocate permalink
    March 5, 2009 8:38 am

    This is so unbelievable that it’s humerous. There are no facts or statistics in this report, no analysis of the community’s need or want for the prescribed redevelopment, and no input from anyone but those indicated at the beginning of the report. In addition, there is no indication of how the township proopses to finanace these overblown “improvements.” Is this a development “proposal” or the opinions of a few individuals regarding what they’d like to see on the Bell Labs site?

    From a preservation perspective, this report disregards Modern architecture and landscape architecture by completely failing to acknowledge the property’s significance, history and everything that has gone into the attempt to encourage rehabilitation, including the Bell Labs Charette. This is a site of nationally-recognized importance created by an internationally-recognized architect and landscape architect: the release of this report without so much as a mention of such, particularly after the awareness that the preservation and architectural community has worked to foster in Holmdel and throughout the area over the past several years, is insulting to the public’s intelligence.

    Even in thinking of those not in favor of preservation per say, as someone who attended the most recent presentation by Somerset development and heard the community voice their continued concerns, this plan makes no sense to me. Not only does it not respond to the side of the debate fighting for preservation and rehabilitation, it also does not answer any of the challenges or concerns about proposed rehabilitation voiced by the people of Holmdel. In fact, it worsens the causes for the community’s concerns. The people have expressed concern regarding the addition of school children to the area, the potential challenges and expenses of constructing infrastructure to accommodate rehabilitation, and increased vehicular traffic and congestion, all of which rehabilitation of the site could incur if not done appropriately. Million-dollar homes on a golf course will undoubtedly bring children. Venues such as a “world-class equestrian center” and a “movie studio” would create jobs, but would thereby undoubtedly encourage families with children to move to the area. And as for infrastructure, proposals for rehabilitation at least maintain the current sewage lines and roads serving the main building- this plan proposes an entirely new development, which would mandate an entirely new system. And traffic? Just wait for the first show at the proposed indoor/outdoor arena! This proposal is not only an affront to the preservation community, but also represents blatant disregard, in writing, for the Holmdel residents that the township government is supposed to represent.

    Finally, this plan’s author claims to support “environmentally-friendly” development of the site. I must ask, what is “environmentally-friendly” about the waste and land filling of a perfectly sound building and all the materials in it? What is “environmentally-friendly” about a golf course? What is “environmentally-friendly” about the obliteration of the open space and one-of-a-kind landscape with which this site graces Holmdel, and would continue to provide, if rehabilitated appropriately?

    This document literally makes no sense from any angle, and it’s hard to believe that Holmdel’s leaders actually allowed, not to mention, financed, the publication of this document.

  3. Cecelia Manning Tazelaar permalink
    March 5, 2009 11:35 am

    A report like this does not get produced without the complicity of the client. Clearly, Holmdel does not want to preserve the building, and their hired guns are backing them. How frustrating for all the good people who put so much time and effort into the charette. A situation like this underscores the need for more historic preservation folk to run for elected office.

    – Ceia

  4. Carl Elefante FAIA permalink
    March 5, 2009 2:07 pm

    The proposed demolition of the Holmdel Bell Laboratory is a wasteful act of vandalism from both a preservation and sustainability perspective and should not be permitted.

    It is important to begin with a full appreciation of what could be lost should demolition occur. Bell’s Holmdel lab is a major work by one of America’s greatest architects. The Holmdel building and site are truly iconic. The image Bell created of the ex-urban corporate campus where the congestion and choas of the central city could be escaped so that America’s best and brightest minds could imagine a better world changed where and how we build for generations. Holmdel is not just any corporate building located anywhere. It is one of the most influential buildings of its era.

    Throwing away such a massive and substantially-built structure is a lose-lose proposition. Not only does it destroy our past, it discards thousands of tons of material resources, and the energy resources used to produce them, that still have the capacity for providing benefit for decades to come. Faced with a struggling economy and daunting environmental challenges, can we really afford to behave so wastefully?

    Nothing but limited vision stands in the way of finding an adaptive approach to the Holmdel building and site that is both financial rewarding and historically and environmentally responsible. Preserving and adapting Saarinen’s iconic and beautiful building is a challenge that the best preservation architects around the country would jump at, including me! There are many precedents for knitting together new development within historically and culturally significant landscapes that protect the value of existing resources while also creating new economic opportunities.

    I grew up not far from Holmdel. Its image was burned into my memory in early childhood. Over four decades, I have learned a great deal about the limitations of campuses like Holmdel and the challenges of making suburban communities sustainble. However, it would be inexcusable to destroy Saarinen’s brilliant vision of an idealic future. I believe it to be as criminal as the demolition of New York’s Pennsylvania Station in 1965.

  5. Carlos Rodrigues PP / AICP permalink
    March 8, 2009 1:20 pm

    From a practical standpoint, this “report” assumes that the property qualifies as “an area in need of redevelopment” under the NJ statutes. That is extremely unlikely. It also assumes that Lucent would not legally challenge such a designation, were the town to find a planner foolish enough to stake their reputation on such a dubious finding. I’m not sure I understand where the elected officials are going with this, but they seem terribly ill-advised. The good news is that the building is not at risk anytime soon. The demolition costs are so astronomical in this real estate environment there is no chance of that happening.

  6. March 12, 2009 10:28 am

    Demolition of the 2 million square foot Ball Labs building would not only destroy an internationally significant landmark, both for its architecture and its historic importance, but it would

    • trash 3,280,000,000,000 BTUs (that’s 3 trillion) of embodied energy, that is the total energy spent in the construction of the building, from the manufacture of materials to their delivery to construction, and
    • consume 21,000,000,000 BTU’s of energy to demolish it and cart away the debris to the Holmdel landfill.

    That’s about 28,704,348 gallons of gas.

  7. March 13, 2009 11:08 am

    The Independent ran an article on the REVA Partners report on March 5 that includes some interesting commentary.

  8. Thomas Scarano permalink
    March 22, 2009 7:04 pm

    The building is only one piece of the puzzle.The current proposal fom the developer, Somerset Development, would create a mini city in the heart of Holmdel. This would be unacceptable and thankfully the Republican majority of the Township Committee has the welfare of Holmdel residents in mind and not the preservation people with no clue. The charrette was a meaningless exercise by arrogant people.

  9. rob permalink
    March 26, 2009 3:42 pm

    Wow. Since when does political party have anything to do with responsible, sustainable development or preservation of an internationally significant historic site and landscape? And how does the three days of volunteer work of 40 architects, planners and other professionals to explore environmentally responsible redevelopment of a revered landmark constitute “arrogance?” (Multi-million dollar houses, equestrian center and private golf course might just be a tad more elitist, methinks.)

    More press:

  10. bill rapp permalink
    July 3, 2009 1:45 pm

    lucent bldg is ideal for college, land could be utilized for expansion as college grows.

    • July 3, 2009 6:36 pm

      Indeed it could. That is one of the recommendations for re-use found in the Bell Labs Charrette report


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