A rusting, 1950s-era vintage Dodge sits on a weed strewn lot on the northeast corner of Broadway and Gouverneur Street in Newark’s Lower Broadway neighborhood, just north of the city’s downtown.
It’s a typical underutilized lot similar to many others scattered around the city and ripe for redevelopment. Family Dollar Store thought it would be a perfect location for their next retail outlet.
"We want to build a business here," said Todd Gannet, vice president of sales at the Boniakowski Commercial Group, which is seeking to develop the site on behalf of the North Carolina-based Family Dollar. "And in doing so, we want to help the community."
But a stream of neighbors, including members of the Broad Street Block Association, have banded together in opposition to the proposed project, which would be located in the heart of the Lower Broadway neighborhood.
“This should be the core of this neighborhood. The core of this neighborhood should not be a Family Dollar," said neighborhood resident Sergio Rodrigues during public comments at Monday night's Central Planning Board at City Hall.
"Newark will not be a great city plus or minus one more Family Dollar,” Rodrigues said. “And if we carve out our central commercial districts, that will be the opposite of making Newark great. Newark needs ratables, but we also need places to live. This is the worst possible project for the site."
The planning board sided with residents Monday, rejecting the proposed store outright.
Michael Piromalli, an attorney from the Bloomfield-based firm Gaccione Pomaco who represented Boniakowski Commercial Group, asked the board for an adjournment to consider possible changes to the project in light of the concerns expressed by citizens and the board, citing legal precedent and the suggested requirements provided by case law that would lead to an appeal if the board voted against the proposed Family Dollar chain store project.
But Wayne Richardson, chairman of the Newark Central Planning Board, issued a message to Family Dollar just before the board voted against the proposed project : keep the change.
"You have the right to appeal, or to sue. But this board won't be threatened," said Richardson, who also serves as an Essex County freeholder. "I don't see how this application is going anywhere. We're going to vote on this application tonight, and we're going to let the board decide what they're going to do. I don't need [the city] counsel's opinion. I've made up my opinion."
While residents say they see a need to redevelop the property, they said Family Dollar was not the right fit for the neighborhood.
"It's easy for people to say, 'Let's put this here, when they don't live here," said Brenda Riely, a security guard in the Newark school system, who lives on Broadway directly across from the site. "We live here by four churches and a synagogue, and we respect their worshiping areas. People have to come first. We know the problems that Newark is going through. We're just trying to keep this neighborhood good and safe, and we want you to know that we're watching out for each other."
Emily Manz, a businesswoman and neighborhood activist who also lives on Broadway directly across from the proposed site, questioned the transparency of the project, including the variances required by the proposed chain store.
"This would be a hardship for the communities that worship around us, not just on weekends but throughout the week when there are different programs and activities for neighborhood groups, as well as social services," said Manz, a member of Ahavas Sholom synagogue at 145 Broadway.
Destiny Arocho, 17, another Broadway resident, expressed a concern based on a well-known real estate adage: location, location, location.
"I have just one question: what's the point of having two Family Dollars within a few blocks of each other?" asked Arocho, who expressed concerns about a proposed 20-car parking lot at the site as she referred to a nearby Family Dollar store located at 62 Broadway, two blocks from the site. "It's just going to create a lot of mayhem and a lot of traffic in front of my house."