Real Estate

Cranford Planning Board Hears Redevelopment Study for North Avenue East

f65c0004ae7aa92d3d32_DSCN2566.JPG
Cranford residents and business owners addressed the planning board with numerous concerns about the report. Credits: Leah Scalzadonna
7b814c7b6cc985bab3d5_DSCN2565.JPG
Cranford residents and business owners addressed the planning board with numerous concerns about the report. Credits: Leah Scalzadonna
afa0b409c26adb312747_DSCN2572.JPG
Cranford residents and business owners addressed the planning board with numerous concerns about the report. Credits: Leah Scalzadonna
f65c0004ae7aa92d3d32_DSCN2566.JPG

CRANFORD, NJ – Furious residents and business owners filled the municipal chambers on Wednesday evening as the Cranford Planning Board heard a presentation from Harbor Consultants regarding the redevelopment of a portion of North Avenue East.

The redevelopment evaluation spans from Bar Americana to the Riverside Inn and includes the Cranford Fire House, Marino Seafood and more. Some of the included buildings and one parking lot are municipally owned. Others, like Swan Dry Cleaners, have been closed for years.

The study, posted on the township website on Monday, sparked strong protests on social media by including local businesses, particularly the Riverside.

Sign Up for E-News

“The commissioners specifically wanted Block 195, Lot 10 (the Riverside Inn) excluded from the study area,” Mayor Thomas Hannen Jr. said before the presentation began. “Unfortunately, an oversight resulted in it being included. I take responsibility as mayor for not going over each block and lot number to make sure that was not included. At some point in time, if the owner would like to be included for whatever advantages it may provide, they may reach out to either myself or Deputy Mayor Ann Dooley and we’ll be happy to include them.”

Hannen also asked that residents carefully review the study and provide feedback.

“Please allow us to go over this, give us your input,” he continued. “This is about your downtown. We’re looking to enhance that area so businesses like the Riverside and Chinese restaurants can be enhanced and enhance our downtown. Your input in this process will be very important.”

The study was presented by Harbor Consultant’s Michael Mistretta, who stressed that this is a draft study dating back to 1985.

“There’s documents dating back to 1985 that speak to a redevelopment of our downtown,” he said. “Our study piggybacks on 33 years of planning efforts that the township has spent hundreds and thousands of dollars on as to what our vision is for our downtown area.”

He cited reports stating a need for higher residential development, structured parking, affordable housing and repairs for flood damage from Hurricane Irene.

“You have a buildup of forces over the years that have led to tonight,” Mistretta said. “It’s all designed to meet as much as possible of the goals that we’ve been talking about as a community for over 30 years.”

Mistretta also questioned the exclusion of the Riverside, saying the township needs to look into property lines, titles, etc.

“If one got redeveloped, what’s the impact on the other?” Mistretta asked. “That particularly affects Bar Americana, the three properties in the middle and the Riverside.”

However, Hannen and Dooley repeatedly emphasized that the Riverside was not intended to be in the report.

“All five members of the township committee sat in that room and said 'not the Riverside,'” Dooley said.

Others questioned why any of the operating businesses were included in the report at all. Business owners from Marino’s and Chapman Bros. addressed the board, expressing anger and disbelief that they were not notified of this report before it was executed and only learned of it this week.

“What does happen to us?” Michael Tears, co-owner of Marino’s, asked the board. “What do you want us to do? You’re going to buy us out?”

“We’re looking for you as a business owner to give us feedback on this plan,” Hannen responded. “Nobody’s looking to buy you out, nobody’s looking to close you down. But we need feedback. This is the area that you have chosen to make your livelihood. Help us make that neighborhood better so more people want to come into your restaurant. If you just leave it the way it is, you’ll continue to experience the business level that you have. If there’s a way that we can improve this, you’ll be making more money, as well as the other businesses in the area.”

“Let’s say you redevelop and make a much better building,” Tears rebutted. “You redevelop and everything’s great. What now? Whoever owns that now will raise our rent so much that we’ll go out of business. We’ve been here since 1945. I don’t think anyone on the board was living in 1945. But you guys want to just sell out, who cares? How are we going to work? I don’t understand what’s wrong with the building now.”

Judy Swick, co-owner of Chapman Bros., echoed Tears’ concerns and said the fact that business owners were not notified of the report is “shady.”

Dooley agreed that the business owners not being notified was wrong, claiming it is an “embarrassment.”

“I will agree with every single person who said that it’s the first time that they found out as a property owner that this was happening,” Dooley said. “That’s an embarrassment.  I do know that our DMC [Downtown Management Corporation] wanted to go speak to the business owners as a first step and that did not happen, because while this was still in draft, people wanted it up on the website before it went to final. And that’s just how it happened. It was not a hiccup, it’s an embarrassment, and if I’m ever involved in anything like this again, I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen. I apologize to everyone in this room who has an ownership in this room, but let’s focus on what this is tonight, which is a simple discussion to see whether it should go past this report.”

Ralph Brunette, owner of 25 North Avenue East, was represented by attorney Rob Simon. Simon told the board he is surprised by the language in the report and that it is inconsistent with the law to designate the area as a “condemnation area in need of redevelopment.”

“We will vigorously and vehemently oppose any redevelopment designation for not only Mr. Brunette’s property, but this entire area,” Simons said. “It does not meet the statutory criteria. Certainly, if it comes to that, we will be prepared at the appropriate time with appropriate testimony and expert witnesses in support of our position.”

Other questions grew more contentious, accusing the planning board of conducting this process without putting the appropriate steps on meeting agendas and accusing Dooley of accepting $1,000 in campaign funding from Harbor Consultants and awarding them a no-bid contract after the election.

According to the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission, Harbor Consultants donated to both parties running for election to the township committee in 2016.

“The Democratic Committee gets that money, I do not get that money,” Dooley said. “Don’t know about it, never met Mike Mistretta before this year.”

Members of the audience began to trickle out as the time neared 10 p.m., three hours after the meeting began. According to Hannen, the next step is for the DMC to review the report, engage with the business owners, and determine whether it should go forward.

After the DMC completes those steps, the report will go back to the planning board, which will make a recommendation to the township committee, which will then make a decision.

“We won’t talk about it anymore until the DMC has an opportunity to review it and give the planning board some suggestions,” Hannen said. “I’m sure they’ll have a sub-committee come back to the planning board in a public meeting and tell us what they like, what they don’t like and so forth.”

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Cranford

Fallout Continues from Lawsuit Against Mountainside; Police Chief on Administrative Leave

May 21, 2018

MOUNTAINSIDE, NJ – Police Chief Allan Attanasio is the latest member of the police department to suffer repercussions from a complaint filed against the borough on May 11.  Attanasio, who is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit, was “placed on administrative leave,” on Thursday by Borough Administrator and former Police Chief James Debbie, said  Lt. Joseph ...

Lawson-Muhammad Apologizes For 'Irrational Response' To Police Altercation; School Board President Supports Her

May 18, 2018

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ -  A day after video surfaced of her altercation with a South Orange police officer -- in which she used profanity, threatened to go to the village president and called the police chief “a skinhead cop” -- South Orange Maplewood School Board member Stephanie Lawson-Muhammad issued an apology in which she called her behavior “uncharacteristic” and ...

Kids Night Out at Emma's Brick Oven

May 21, 2018

Emma's Brick Oven in Cranford is excited to announce Kid's Night Out on June 5th from 5:30 to 7:30! We will have special guests and face painting available for the kids to spend time with their friends and family. Come out and enjoy the fun!

 

 

Cranford Police Blotter: Disorderly Conduct Arrest & More

May 16, 2018

The information provided does not represent the total scope of police activity. Individuals charged as a result of police investigations are merely an accusation. All defendants should be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

1. 05/08/2018 4:10 p.m.

Myrtle Street and Baltimore Avenue

Arrested: Keyne Dasilva, 21, South Amboy

Arrested by: Ptl. Christopher Gross

Charges: Possession ...

Upcoming Events

Wed, May 23, 7:00 PM

The Cranford Hotel (sponsored by Calvary Lutheran Church), Cranford

Beer & Bible

Religions And Spirituality

Fri, June 1, 8:00 AM

Royce Brook Golf Club, Hillsborough Township

Liam's Room 5th Annual Charity Golf Outing

Giving Back Sports

Carousel_image_1da61d9690df0a4b2374_264c0972082c640e3c33_20180411_093814

Fri, June 1, 5:00 PM

Cranford Elks, Cranford

Spaghetti Dinner and Tricky Tray to Benefit Relay ...

Food & Drink

'Turning Off the Morning News' brings comic twist

‘Turning Off the Morning News’ tackles today’s issues with a comic twist

By Liz Keill

PRINCETON, N J – Despite the late night comics, no one quite captures the insanity of the political/social status world like Christopher Durang.

His latest play, “Turning off the Morning News” hit the ground running.  John Pankow as Jimmy addresses the audience, ...

'To Kill a Mockingbird' Sustains Timeless Appeal

SUMMIT, NJ – The Summit Playhouse provides a stellar production of a much loved classic, “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

The Harper Lee novel, later a Gregory Peck film and now a stage production, retains all the warmth, intensity and integrity that made it such an appealing hit in the 1960s. And there will be a new production on Broadway in December with a script by Aaron Sorkin ...

'The Sting' with Harry Connick Jr. Slithers and Shakes at Paper Mill

MILLBURN, NJ – In a premiere production of “The Sting,” Harry Connick Jr. commands the Paper Mill Playhouse stage.

Based on the sensational Paul Newman/Robert Redford film in 1973, the 1930s plot centers on a con game and gambling, sometimes on a train between New York and Chicago.  Scott Joplin’s music is intertwined with the show, especially “The ...

Mayor Charles Lombardo about Petro/Casale Cleanup

May 14, 2018

To my fellow Garwood residents:

While a resident has recently raised concerns about air quality at the Petro/Casale cleanup site, I assure you the developer has complied with all state and federal regulations and there are no air quality issues.  I understand the concerns about this matter, however, they need to be addressed by licensed professionals who are qualified to answer them, not ...