Auto body shop plans expansion

The Planned Board finalized preliminary and final major site plan approval Tuesday night for an expansion of Quality Auto Body at 810 New Brunswick Ave. (Block 282, Lot 1.021).

A 22,000-square-foot, 26-bay facility would rise to complement the current facility across the street at 811 New Brunswick Ave. The business, which has been in Rahway since 1978 and handles high-end cars like Ashton Martins, will leave space on Elston Avenue once the lease expires.

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I’ll be running a 5K on Saturday morning at Rahway River Park with some friends. We didn’t whip up any Rahway Rising team shirts in time so you’ll just have to recognize us by my devastatingly handsome good looks (or just look for the guy getting dragged across the finish line). We can all celebrate the one-year anniversary of the blog — thanks to all for reading and helping out in various ways the past year!

Permanent pedestrian-only possibilities?

Something for y’all to chew on while I work on a few posts I’ve been meeting to get to. I was in Denver last week for the first time and it reminded me of one of my favorite urban planning concepts: the pedestrian-only street (something about the feeling of sticking it to the man by legally jay-walking? The marriage of sidewalk and street sans curb?)

The 16th Street Mall in downtown Denver is chockful of restaurants, shopping, movies, etc. The only vehicles are buses that can take you from one end to the other. It’s not quite as offbeat as Burlington, Vt.’s Church Street Marketplace but it is a flurry of activity day and night. There also was the Summer Streets experiment in Manhattan this past August as well as a recent push in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to make the main drag there (Bedford Avenue) pedestrian-only.

By no means am I comparing Rahway to any of those cities. For one, Denver’s mall is 16 blocks long — though it is only 1.25 miles, not much longer than the stretch of Irving Street. But these are major metropolises that also draw on a big tourist population. The closest thing I can think of in New Jersey is Cape May’s Washington Street Mall, which is credited with “rescuing” that downtown in the early ’70s.

On with my point for discussion: How about making East Cherry Street pedestrian-only? It’s closed for some downtown events but would making it permanent be an improvement (I only say East Cherry because it seems like it’d make the most sense of any downtown street)?

I’m not sure that “pedestrianisation” is necessary for East Cherry Street as it’s not exactly dominated by vehicles and you’d lose parking spaces at a time when they seem to be at a premium. There would be an issue of adequate access to Lot B behind The Waiting Room, where a parking deck is planned, and hopefully future residential development. But ped-only areas also generate foot traffic, a primary goal of Rahway’s redevelopment. What do you think, would it help or hurt local merchants?

Regardless, it’s just food for thought. In the meantime, here’s another interesting New York Times story about various concepts to draw people out into the streets.

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5/8/12 UPDATE: I came across this recent piece from Atlantic Cities, “The Uncertain Legacy of America’s Pedestrian Malls,” which is a good read — and check out all the comments!

Work under way on Essex Street park

The new park along Essex Street near Riverwalk is taking shape, with work having begun several weeks ago. Installation of fitness stations began last week (although you can’t see them in the photo above). The City Council approved a $1-million bond ordinance for park improvements back in March.

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This has nothing to do with anything but, is it just me or does anyone else think of the guy from The Shield whenever “Joe the Plumber” has been in the news lately?

Nine units OK’d for former Koza’s site

Ten months after denying a plan for 12 units, the Zoning Board of Adjustment on Monday night paved the way for nine condominium apartments at the site of Koza’s Bar (197 W. Scott Ave./Block 231, Lot 16).

Continue reading Nine units OK’d for former Koza’s site

How about Newman films at the arts center?

On my way home last week, I drove past the Union County Performing Arts Center where a big crowd of middle-aged women congregated, waiting to see “Menopause: The Musical Out Loud.” It reminded me of the huge crowds that were at the arts center one weekend this summer for an Indian movie.

I drove by Friday night and the arts center was dark. The combination of a dormant arts center on a Friday night and the passing of Paul Newman in recent weeks got me thinking: why not screen a few of his classic films, the kind that almost have to be seen regardless of age or movie interests, like Cool Hand Luke and The Hustler. It’d be timely marketing and it would seem there might be some interest since his passing, not only from those who typically visit the arts center for the likes of Connie Francis, but also some “youngsters” who might be intrigued to see his early work and check out UCPAC.

Of course, with programming planned so far in advance (usually a year for live events), I figured it can’t be done too quickly, but I sent an email to arts center director Sandy Erwin anyway. She seemed enthused and talked about restarting a film series in January when their equipment is ready. Not as timely as in the weeks after Newman’s death, but you figure all the year-end magazines will remind people of his along with other celebrities’ passing in 2008.

I’ve seen classics like Citizen Kane and Easy Rider — so-called “important” films — at the arts center and it’s an enormously better opportunity than watching a DVD at home or catching an edited version on a Sunday afternoon on Channel 11. It hasn’t seemed to be a big draw at least judging by the attendance when I’ve been there for old movies. The arts center has offered double features and timely film weekends around Halloween and Christmas in the past. For an idea of what RR readers would like to see at the arts center, we did a completely unscientific poll back in January.

What do you think? Would you pay $5, $10, even $20 to catch a few Newman films at UCPAC? Hmm, I think the RR poll might make a return to the blog.

By the way, the arts center celebrates its 80th anniversary this month with its first annual gala. Meanwhile, another old-time theater reopens this month in Montclair with Counting Crows, so there’s more competition coming.

Sleep Inn out, Candlewood Suites in

A long-planned hotel near the corner of Route 1 and East Milton Avenue looks like it will go through another round of changes.

The 4.4-acre site (667 E. Milton Ave./Block 338, Lot 3) already was approved for a Sleep Inn several years ago but the property changed hands earlier this year and now the plan is to bring in Candlewood Suites, an extended stay brand of Holiday Inn. The Redevelopment Agency was presented with the new concept earlier this month and owners are expected to file an application with the Planning Board as soon as possible.

The site was acquired several months ago for $2.35 million. Owners hope to break ground as soon as next spring, with construction anticipated for 10 to 12 months, taking it into the spring of 2010.

Plans still show an L-shaped building at the corner of Lennington Street with the same footprint, but the structure is four stories instead of three, with a maximum of 93 rooms. The mix of studios and one-bedrooms can be modified, such as combining two studios to create a one-bedroom.

An indoor pool and convenience store also were added to the original design, which had 72 rooms in three stories. Extended stay units also have kitchens and most clients stay an average of two to three weeks. A 8,000-square-foot restaurant is still planned but is not dependent on the hotel construction, and vice versa. The restaurant would abut the neighboring Best Western on Paterson Street with its parking lot at the corner of East Milton and Paterson Street.

The hotel site would have 90 parking spaces while the restaurant site would accommodate 42, for a total of 132. By city ordinance, an 8,000-square-foot restaurant requires one parking space for every three seats, which would meet the requirement for a 120-seat facility (40 seats).

The owners also operate the Horizon Inn on Route 1 in Avenel and told the Redevelopment Agency they already have approval for $7 million financing from Unity Bank. They would have a 10-year agreement with Candlewood which would be renewed based on performance.

Corner lot adds parking spaces downtown

As many as 20 parking spaces may be added downtown in the coming weeks. The property that housed a construction trailer for the Park Square project will become a surface lot for the Parking Authority. The trailer is expected to be removed today with resurfacing scheduled next week. About 16 to 20 parking spaces could be accommodated on the site, according to Parking Authority Executive Director Donald Andersen. Six of the spaces will be by permit and the rest metered.

The Parking Authority last week agreed to purchase the lot on the corner of Elizabeth Avenue and Main Street (1606 Elizabeth Ave./Block 158, Lot 3) from the Redevelopment Agency for $250,000. The agency had an appraisal for $215,000 but there were some costs associated with demolition and acquisition, according to Redevelopment Director and City Administrator Peter Pelissier.

The Redevelopment Agency acquired the 0.1331-acre parcel for $125,000 in July 2001, according to PropertyShark.com.