CRANFORD, NJ — Despite the success of last year's pedestrian plaza on Eastman Street, there is no guarantee of its return.
The uncertainty stems from the need for state approval for street closures within 50 feet of a state highway, in this case North Avenue (Route 28). But Cranford isn't giving up without a fight.
At Tuesday's Township Committee meeting, a resolution asking Gov. Phil Murphy for NJDOT approval to close a portion of the street was passed, along with an ordinance designating that portion of Eastman Street as a temporary pedestrian plaza. On Wednesday Mayor Kathleen Miller Prunty and Deputy Mayor Brian Andrews joined local business owners and town residents to continue their plea to the Governor.
“Our argument is that while (North Avenue) is technically a state highway, it functions as a local road,” said Mayor Miller Prunty. “There are crossroads. There are traffic signals. We have stores lining the street. There are residents that live above them. So this is very much a local road.”
Vinny Savinelli, owner of Vinny's Pizza and Pasta on Eastman Street, said his business not only thrived, but was able to hire additional workers thanks to the temporary plaza.
“The closure last year really increased our business,” said Savinelli. “It also allowed us to hire six extra employees to work during the pandemic. It brought people out to gather safely. We were able to provide live music and entertainment. The other businesses on the street also thrived. I spoke to a hairdresser (next door) and she said she gained 12 new clients that didn't even know she was here. It was fantastic.”
Deputy Mayor Andrews added that Special Improvement Districts are allowed to designate areas as pedestrian plazas, and the ordinance passed on Tuesday gives Cranford that right for Eastman Street.
“We're the best downtown in New Jersey, but we still have COVID restrictions, and we need more outdoor space,” said Andrews. “This was like the reopening for me last year. There were bands out here and people were gathering. It was beautiful, but now the state is saying you can't do that, there are these rules.”
“Our hope is that the governor will hear us and recognize that this is exactly what he's been telling people to do to take greater advantage of outdoor space,” he added. “Approve it, and we can get going tomorrow.”
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