To the Editor:
On November 14, a bomb fell on Chatham Borough. At a meeting of our Borough Council, we got our first look at the future of our downtown Post Office Plaza - as envisioned by a big redeveloper, an affiliate of the powerful Kushner empire. It was not a pretty picture.
Kushner’s dream for our downtown is a nightmare: a massive, densely populated five-story, 230-unit rental-only apartment and retail complex that would:
- put hundreds more vehicles on already dangerously congested streets;
- be subsidized by a 30-year property tax break;
- dominate a 5.4-acre tract just off Main Street, behind the Post Office, all the way from S. Passaic Avenue to Bowers Lane, towering over the train tracks;
- include a multi-level, enclosed parking garage, mostly reserved for the new renters;
- move our safer, easy access, open-air public parking to the cellar of that big enclosed garage, apparently accessible to pedestrians only by an alley;
- make townspeople compete for parking with apartment visitors;
- include a high wall between the new complex and the stores on Main Street, limiting access, hindering deliveries and hurting business;
- include new stores that would cannibalize Chatham businesses;
- sacrifice invaluable Borough public spaces, including parking lots, to the redeveloper without apparent benefit to residents or business owners;
- have no apartments designated for seniors.
Incredible? See for yourself: Borough Council Meeting 11-14-19
At that meeting, the Kushner team proudly presented that nightmare as a slam dunk for Chatham. Most residents who witnessed the team’s show did not seem to agree. Most rejected significant elements of the design.
Almost every speaker took issue with some aspect of the parking garage, from its sheer-size to the fact that it would be fully-enclosed.
“I hate indoor parking. Most women do,” said Tricia Finley of Woodland Avenue, who also took issue with the short front yards and masonry stoops highlighted in the design. “That’s not Chatham, that’s Brooklyn…It would be citifying our small town.”
“We don’t want to give up all the benefits just in order to have something that, you know, doesn’t really enhance Main Street at all,” said Dr. Rozella Clyde, a member of the Borough’s Green Team.
“I’m stunned that we’re thinking about a five-story building there …even four stories,” said Brian Barrett, a 30-something resident of Fuller Avenue.
Several residents expressed serious concerns about the whole project, at the meeting of November 14 as well as the meeting of November 25, 2019; see Borough Council Meeting of 11-25-19
“I encourage you to stop this whole redevelopment the way its going and just and look at what we really need…” said Jack Drew of Inwood Avenue.
The comments elicited few clear answers and demonstrated no sign of the level of consensus necessary to make such a public project work.
Now the Council is trying to reassure us by noting that the troubling Kushner proposal is only a first draft. That is NOT good enough.
The proposal is so far out of step with Chatham Borough – and after more than two years in the making shows so little understanding for the wishes of residents – that it is inconceivable that this redeveloper could ever come up with something acceptable to most residents, much less justify the long-term costs, which they have yet to reveal.
The honest, elegant solution? Let the redeveloper's contract with the Borough lapse - which it will do automatically on January 8 unless the expiring Council votes to extend it. An extension would stick the newly elected 2020 Mayor and Council with this whole mess and serve only to absolve both the current and incoming Council of responsibility when the full impact of this project comes to light.
Let the new Council take a fresh, unbiased look at what’s best for our community.
Thomas K. Belding
Meg M. Belding
John E. Eyre
David J. Lloyd, Esq
Mary K. Royer, Esq