Third story to rise from ashes

Boarded-up windows and a charred facade could be transformed into a renovated three-story building along East Cherry Street by April. The Planning Board unanimously gave minor site plan approval Tuesday night for the former wig and beauty supply store that went up in flames in the summer of 2005.

The plan adds a third floor to the existing building, which would be set back to allow for a balcony, and also maintain the existing scale and proportion along East Cherry Street, said Michael Nelson, architect for Dornoch Rahway. It minimizes the impact of the addition, and gives more of a two-story look from street level, he added. Dornoch has two other projects downtown: The Savoy and The Westbury.

The first floor would have 1,402 square feet of retail, with another 2,863 square feet for three residential units on the second and third floors. A variance was necessary because zoning regulations require six parking spaces (1.8 per unit). The Rahway Parking Authority, which held ownership of the building until a plan was presented, will sell the property and as part of the sales agreement will designate the necessary parking spaces.

The second floor will have two 700-square-foot, studio-type apartments with “very open floor plans.” The remaining roughly 1,400+ square feet on the third floor will feature a two-bedroom, two-bath unit. All three units are expected to be for purchase, not rentals.

Planning Board potpourri

An upscale, sit-down Chinese restaurant is being eyed for Main Street. The Planning Board last month approved a zoning overlay that would allow the Sound-A-Rama building (1483 Main St.) to subdivide. Sound-A-Rama would use half the space and Main Street Barber Shop (1495 Main St.) would move into the other half while the Chinese restaurant would slide into the barber shop’s current location.
“It’s not a done deal,”
Director of Building, Engineering, Planning and Economic Development Lenore Slothower told the Planning Board, but it prompted the zoning move as the building owner is looking at possibly bringing in the Chinese restaurant.

Also approved for a zoning overlay last month was a tattoo shop at 209 W. Main St., among the storefronts as it approaches Irving Street. Nearby will be a Portuguese barbeque takeout joint (10 seats) at 205 W. Main St. that the Planning Board gave minor site plan approval to in September. The zoning overlays eventually will require final approval from City Council.
I was out of town for the holiday last week, but the Zoning Board of Adjustment was expected to take up a few applications at its meeting, including possibly one for the burned out former beauty supply store on East Cherry Street and site plan approval for 1500 Main St. (the corner of East Cherry), among others.

Citizen justice

I heard this report on NPR the other day detailing how the police department in Naperville, Ill., a suburb about 30 minutes west of Chicago, loans out a radar gun to citizens in one neighborhood, allowing them to track the speed of cars on their streets. They don’t necessarily issue tickets but they do collect information that cops then compile and even send out warnings.
Naperville is substantially bigger than Rahway (Pop. 130,000 v. 27,000), but speeding seems to be an issue in neigborhoods everywhere, particularly in downtowns that aim to attract shoppers/pedestrians. The NPR report reminded me of Rahway’s downtown; Arts District Park would be a perfect spot to set up shop with a radar gun. Making Irving and Main streets two-way likely would slow down traffic some. I remember being at a presentation by Project for Public Spaces several years ago. A fascinating group, they said there are little (read: cheap) things that can be done to slow down traffic, such as making the street appear more narrow to the driver (i.e., painting a shoulder on a wide street). But please, none of those awful “bump-outs,” all they do is eat up parking spaces.
Pedestrian-friendly streets are like parking when it comes to downtowns. Some (Summit, Hoboken) constantly grapple with providing adequate parking because there’s so much traffic. Others that are still rebuilding wish they had that problem, as they try to draw more people and traffic downtown.

Eighty Eights is 86ed

Eighty Eights, the live jazz restaurant at Main and Lewis streets, is on the way out, and apparently a Cuban-type restaurant is on the way in. A liquor license transfer was approved last week, from Eighty Eights to Cubanu. Typically, a liquor license transfer is completed as part of a sale of the entire business.

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Luciano’s set to open

Luciano’s, which from the outside has looked like it was ready for business quite some time ago, is expected to officially open in January.
The 250-seat Italian restaurant at the corner of Main and Monroe streets will host some parties during the remainder of this year.

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Up or down?

Is it good news or bad news? Intercontinental Hotels Group (IHG), the firm that will run Rahway’s new hotel (most of which actually will be condos — floors 5-15, 222 units) announced that profits plunged 60 percent in the third quarter. Not only was that expected, but operating profit was up 22 percent. If you’re not one of those zany finance types and you’re thinking, “Profits are down, yet up…huh?” Not to worry, it’s good news.
The Windsor, U.K.-based hotel group operates Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza as well as Hotel Indigo, which is the brand coming to Rahway. I think I’m more curious whether Rahway will be added to the list of exotic locales where you can find a Hotel Indigo (Atlanta, Boston, Buffalo…Buffalo?). It would be a good match with the Rahway Center Partnership‘s “Paris, Rome, Rahway” T-shirts.
The 102-room hotel is expected to open in the spring, but Director of Building, Engineering, Planning and Economic Development Lenore Slothower said during a Planning Board meeting last week that the building has a “list of snags” and hopes to “pick up the pace with some code requirements.”

Change of direction

Most downtown businesses prefer two-way traffic along Irving and Main streets, according to a survey of merchants by the Police Department. Executive Director Peter Pelissier reported at Monday night’s Redevelopment Agency meeting that 24 of 39 businesses surveyed (61.5 percent) favored two-way streets. The 15 tallied as not in favor of two-way traffic included those who were unsure, he added, while 11 were not even aware of the plan. Some merchants had concerns, including parking.
Pelissier said a circulation plan would show what parking spaces might be eliminated with two-way traffic. He would like to meet with the Police Department’s Traffic Division and city engineers to confirm the eliminations before meeting with merchants about the plan and ultimately the City Council.
The City Council approved a $360,000 bond ordinance Oct. 9 for “downtown street loop modifications,” namely signalization in the new direction at several intersections on Irving and Main streets. Changing street patterns will come via designation from council later, Pelisser said at that meeting.
The bond ordinance does not address the realignment of Fulton and Irving streets (at East Milton Avenue), Pelisser said, and would take months to implement, by May or early summer next year. The Fire Department’s main concern was along Main Street as it curves toward Irving behind the Union County Arts Center, he said, and several feet on the UCAC side of the street could be used to address the issue.

Let’s get started

The business of blogging is booming in places like Brooklyn, where dozens of sites cover specific neighborhoods within the borough, focusing on small parochial areas. And that’s despite New York City’s numerous media outlets, probably because there’s plenty of news that doesn’t make it all the way up to TV, radio or other big media. Call it “hyper-local” coverage.

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