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Bucks builder to finish Frenchtown condominiums

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A Doylestown home builder has acquired Frenchtown’s River Mills development in Frenchtown, N.J., which has been stalled for a couple of years, and he wants to finish it “as soon as possible.”

On Jan. 16 George Kiriakidi and his team of professionals achieved unanimous but conditional planning-board approval of their revised site plan for the property that extends from Bridge Street beside the Frenchtown Inn north to Third Street. He predicted that the work will take about 18 months.

Given that two of the six finished townhomes remain unsold, with price tags of $1.1 million and $639,900, Kiriakidi is looking to keep costs down to make the homes easier to sell.

In 2011, George Michael received approval for six buildings containing 20 townhome condos, and a four-story building on Bridge Street that would have retail at street level, office space on the second floor and seven apartments on the upper two stories. All his buildings would be made of brick.

Here’s what Kiriakidi aims to do: He will use a composite called Hardieplank instead of brick on two of his condo buildings, and on the sides and back of his Bridge Street building. The facade of his Bridge Street buildings and the two condo buildings that will overlook the riverside trail will be done with “thin bricks.” These are actual kiln-fired bricks, are applied with mortar and look like conventional brick. But they are only three-quarters of an inch thick.

They cost less than full bricks and can be laid more quickly. A section of brick wall was exhibited at the meeting. It was also noted that these bricks take up less space, leaving more room in the wall for insulation.

Hardieplank, according to the builder’s architect Ralph Fey, will age like wood – “not like stressed-out plastic.” One condo building would be “evening blue” and its fraternal twin would be “aged pewter.”

Kiriakidi said that Michael had found no takers for his office space, so he will put three apartments on the second floor of the Bridge Street building – with regret because office space costs less to build. That building will have old-style detail in the brickwork, and have the slightly asymmetrical appearance of being two adjoining buildings. The aim is to make it a suitable companion to its brick neighbors – the 1839 Frenchtown Inn and the 1897 Odd Fellows building.

Delighting in its various design features, the board’s architect Chris Pickell called the facade “a gift to Frenchtown.” He asked that the doors on the storefronts have the heavier look of wood, instead of minimal aluminum.

The developer wants to subdivide the property to made a separate lot of the Bridge Street property and parking area behind it. But that would happen later after lots of new computations are made and variances sought.

The two buildings near the trail will have an old-style industrial look with flat roofs and large windows. They had been OK’d for three stories, but Kiriakidi was given the flexibility of going with two stories – unless all three buyers in one building opt for something taller.

The placement of the second-story decks on two of the buildings is an item of controversy. If they face west, the river view would be blocked by the industrial-styled buildings except for two of the eight. So the builder wants them to face the rest of the town.

But neighbors on that side objected. Bob Haver of Harrison Street said he can hear people coming out of the Frenchtown Inn. Sound carries, and any social gathering on the decks would be annoyingly loud, he said. Henry Patterson of Lower Second Street felt that his privacy would be violated.

The board’s landscape architect Brian Bosenberg suggested that a row of tall trees could screen the deck users and their neighbors from each other. The board empowered Bosenberg and Pickell to work out the details with the builder.

Barbara Bristow, a River Mills resident, voiced several concerns about the two condo buildings that would be in a row with hers. “I know we need to bring the prices down but how many compromises do we need to make?” she asked.

Bristow also said the Hardieplank is “unattractive” and she wanted brick at least on the sides of the buildings. She also wanted both buildings to be the same color.

Pickell said variety among the buildings is in the Frenchtown mode, which is also why he likes the idea that one of the industrial-style buildings might be taller than the other.

Bristow said it’s unrealistic to expect the new buildings to blend in with the rest of Frenchtown because it’s a development, but “at least make it consistent.”

She was critical of the fake shutters on the third-story windows of the two Hardieplank buildings. But Fey said they will help differentiate between the stories and are traditional outside bedrooms.

One issue upon which Bristow will probably prevail is on the color of one of the buildings. She does not like the blue, and she said after “caucusing” with her neighbors at the meeting, neither do they. The color was the least of Kiriakidi’s concerns; he was amenable to some other hue.

All the buildings are in one kind of floodplain or another, and all will be built to minimize consequences of inundation.

Although enthusiasm varied for some of the plan revisions, all who spoke at the meeting were eager to see the project completed.


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