PATERSON, NJ – Folks in the neighborhood knew there were problems at 16 Van Houten Street. They saw the young men hanging outside the house all the time. They watched the outsiders coming and coming. They say they had complained about apparent drug activity.
“One man in my building said, ‘I’m just waiting for a drive-by,’” recalled Van Houten resident Judy Bady. “Three days after that, it happened.’’
The July 13 shoot-out at 16 Van Houten Street left one man dead and two others wounded. And it prompted Bady, a Democratic Committeewoman, to organize a First Ward community meeting Monday night at the Phoenix Mills Artist Housing Complex Courtyard to discuss the “violence, drug dealing, prostitution” and other quality-of-life problems in the neighborhood.
More than 25 people attended the meeting. Among them was a man who said he saw the shooting from his apartment. “I immediately dialed 911, and just did my best to duck for cover,” said the man. [PatersonPress.com is not using his name because he was a witness to a murder in which the killers remain at large.]
The man said his main concerns were “senior safety, no security guards, cameras only on the first floor of his building, lots of loud music, and just a general lack of respect in the building.’’
“People got killed on our block, we can’t have this,’’ said Tony Scally, a co-chairmain of the neighborhood watch group. “One of our top priorities should be to find a representative from the police department that we all trust.”
Scally, who has been living on Van Houten Street for 25 years, said “this is the worst I’ve ever seen it.”
Crime wasn’t the only problem on 1st Ward residents’ minds during the meeting. Among the other issues discussed were truck traffic on Van Houten and Ellison streets, parking shortages at Lot 15, and quality of life issues stemming from D’Classico Restaurant and Lounge.
In reference to D’Classico, a few residents said they had attended Alcoholic Beverage Control meetings to complain about loud music at the bar. They also raised questions about the status of business’ entertainment license.
At public parking lot 15, they said there have been problems with break-ins. Also, they said, there’s been a shortage of spaces because people without proper permits have been parking there.
As for the truck traffic, they said, the big rigs had been rerouted through their neighborhood during the construction of the Center City Mall. But after the opening of the mall, First Ward residents said, the trucks have continued to use residential streets.
City Council President Anthony Davis, who represents the First Ward, attended the end of the meeting. “I just want to reiterate that I am not the police, and in dangerous situations they need to be called,” Davis said of the crime issue. “But I am still going to do everything in my power to help.”
Davis mostly talked about how he would work on fixing the inconvenient and sometimes dangerous situation with buses and trucks being rerouted down Van Houten Street throughout all hours of the night.
Bady and other folks at the meeting said Mayor Jeffrey Jones has been unresponsive to their concerns. Bady said she sent Jones two letters last August listing 25 problems in the First Ward.
It took until June before a handful of the complaints were addressed with “more crosswalks, repainting curbs, and blinking street crossing signs,” Bady said.
Bady and about 12 other neighborhood attended Tuesday night’s city council meeting as well.
“We feel like we live in a demilitarized zone,’’ Bady told the city council. At the council session, Davis told Bady he would arrange a meeting with community police and parking officials.
“There is heavy prostitution, there is heavy drugs, there is heavy violence in our neighborhood,’’ the Rev. Daryl Alexander told the city council. “We want something done and we want something done now.’’
“We are losing our youths, we are losing our businesses,’’ Alexander added, saying he can’t take his daughter to nearby Lou Costello Park because of the many discarded needles there.