LINDEN, NJ - The decision to convert a large portion of the NJ Transit/QuickChek parking lot on Wood Avenue into a new apartment complex was passed during the City Council meeting on Tuesday.
Based on comments from Council members and the Mayor, the driving force behind this idea was to ultimately move Linden forward.
Mayor Derek Armstead looks to neighboring cities to model Linden’s growth plan after.
“Take Rahway or Elizabeth, for instance, they’re building,” Armstead said. “This [Wood Avenue] is the downtown area near the train station—it’s the crown jewel of Linden. If we’re going to ever build Linden up then we have to bring people here.”
It’s noticeable to residents that Wood Avenue has many of the same types of businesses in close range; barber shops and nail salons. Armstead wants to move from this to having bustling restaurants.
“...You won’t have successful restaurants without people,” Armstead said. “That’s why you’ve got to bring people into the downtown area.”
Councilwoman Hickey was on the fence about this approach. She mentioned that while Rahway might have a lot of residential units, they also had built up a thriving cultural district with a performing arts center, and a very strong train station first.
“Lately it seems we are plopping developments all over the place, " Hickey said. "We are putting the cart before the horse.”
Hickey continued to say that Linden has trouble doing the little things such as keeping our streets clean in the downtown area and putting limits on how many of the same types of businesses are allowed in one area, so jumping to build residential units without a solid well-thought-out plan might not be the best move.
Councilman John Francis Roman agreed with Hickey's comments.
“It’s not as easy as ‘we will build, and they will come," Roman said. He pointed out how that did not work with Meridia Lifestyles, the luxury apartment buildings on 103 S Wood Avenue, which is not at full capacity.
“With only 1000 to 1500 sq. ft. of retail space, which is what we have on Wood Avenue, you’re going to get a lot of the same storefronts." Roman said. "This is because that’s what fits there; pizza parlors, beauty shops, and liquor stores." Roman further advised that as the current resolution calls for 13,000 and 17,000 sq. ft. of retail space, and it should be increased to at least 22,000 sq. ft. so that a workable restaurant can fit.
Councilman Rhashonna Cosby emphasized that the rents for these new building should be affordable in order to not only bring people to Linden, but have them stay.
“A one bedroom here would start at $1,600," Cosby said. "In other neighborhoods, apartments set at $1,700 are either two or three bedrooms. As rent increases the following year, residents need to be able to sustain that.
Cosby added, “it’s our responsibility as a council to be conscious of affordability. It's best to wait and try to add an amendment to the agreement in a way that would benefit the residents."
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