Former Koza’s Bar comes down this week

Demolition of Koza’s Bar started on Monday, two years after an initial proposal to build 12 units at the site was rejected.

The developer returned to the Zoning Board in October 2008 with a revised plan for nine units in a two-story structure at the West Scott Avenue site, which is about 0.88 acres. Final site plan approval was granted early this year and demolition was expected in the spring.

At that time, the developer hoped to put them on the market for about $350,000 but did not rule out renting the condos until the real estate market improves. The three-bedroom units will be about 1,600 square feet.

Thanks to reader Christine who tipped me off via the Rahway Rising Facebook page when demolition began on Monday.

Carriage City settlement still not executed

Carriage City Properties (CCP) still has not finalized or executed the settlement agreement with the Redevelopment Agency, attorney Frank Regan told commissioners during their meeting earlier this month. The Redevelopment Agency approved a settlement at its meeting in May. (For details on the agreement, see this earlier post.) A representative of Carriage City Properties had no comment.

Continue reading Carriage City settlement still not executed

Home2 Suites instead of Candlewood Suites

For at least the third time in about five years, a new hotel brand is line for the corner of East Milton Avenue near Lennington Street and Routes 1/9. Home2 Suites by Hilton will replace Candlewood Suites, a Holiday Inn brand, as the extended stay hotel planned for the site. The Planning Board on Tuesday night approved an amendment to a previous preliminary and final site plan that was granted in the spring.

Home2 Suites by Hilton is a mid-tier, extended stay brand by Hilton hotels, launched in January 2008. A representative of Hilton told the Planning Board that Home2 Suites is a higher-end brand than previously was approved and has higher rates and deeper market penetration. About 55 have been approved nationwide and another 50 are expected in the next year if the economy gets better, he said.

There were few changes to the site plan that gained approval in March, according to Christopher Armstrong, attorney for applicant Family Hospitality Inc. The primary difference is an indoor pool, a requirement of Hilton, he added. The previous site plan called for a 93-unit, four-story structure and prior to that the plan was to build a Sleep Inn.

While the Planning Board approved the plans Tuesday night, city planning officials still must approve specifics, including exterior colors and materials, among other things.

Board to consider concept plans presented for amphitheater and black box theater

A committee of the Arts District Advisory Board will review concept plans for projects at the Hamilton Laundry and Bell Building sites. City Engineer James Housten will present plans this week in preparation for developing cost estimates on the two projects.

Housten told Redevelopment Agency commissioners at their meeting this month that a report is expected shortly on the monitoring wells currently on the Hamilton Laundry site. Soil from some areas likely will need to be moved, he added.

Bids to demolish the home adjacent to the Hamilton Laundry site should be introduced at the January City Council meeting and approved in February, he said.

The Bell Building (photo above) might actually catch up and pass the Hamilton Laundry project depending on environmental remediation, Housten said, adding that environmental issues already taken care of at the Bell Building site.

A 1,000-seat amphitheater at the former Hamilton Laundry site is expected to break ground next year while a black box theater and performing arts space is planned for the Bell Building. The Hamilton Laundry project is among eight sites in Rahway eligible for state funding as a Brownfield Development Area.

Wheatena developers meet with city

Developers of the project proposed at the former Wheatena factory at Elizabeth and West Grand avenues are scheduled to meet with city officials this week.

Continue reading Wheatena developers meet with city

Catching up on some reading

I’m a little late with this but in case you missed last Sunday’s Ledger, here’s their story about Union County home sales in the first half of 2009. It was a county-by-county breakdown of a larger project, “N.J. real estate bust hits urban home sales the hardest.”

Compared to the first half of 2008, “prices dipped 8 percent” in Union County, with only Elizabeth, Fanwood and Springfield seeing more home sales during the first half of this year compared to the same time in 2008. Berkeley Heights (0%) and Scotch Plains (7%) were the lone towns to see median home prices remain the same or rise over last year, and nine towns saw double-digit declines. Only Summit (2%) was up last year over 2005 median prices.

For Rahway, the analysis indicated a median price of $267,000 this year, compared to $307,500 last year (-13%) and $281,000 in 2005 (-5%). Those figures were still good enough to rank Rahway among the top third among the 21 Union County towns in both years, matching Clark and Mountainside in 2008.

The number of home sales was down 18 percent in Rahway for the first half of this year, which was about the ninth lowest rate within the county.

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I also came across this New York Times piece yesterday. It talked about “municipal governments and arts groups pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into larger, flashier exhibit spaces and performance halls,” believing it was “the answer to what ailed cities everywhere — a way to lure tourists and economic development — and a potential boon to cultural institutions.”

The specific projects mentioned are of a much larger scale and in some cases very different, but it did bring to mind the $6-million expansion and acquisition of the local arts center by Union County, which also was pushed in part by the idea of spurring economic development earlier this decade.

The most provocative quote came from a senior fellow at the University of Chicago studying these projects: “These were situations in which ‘nobody actually asked: Is there a need here? If they build it, will they come?'”

City’s assessed value up $25 million

The city’s assessed value rose by $25.3 million this year, up about 1.67 percent to $1.546 billion. That translates into roughly $1.2 million in property tax revenue. The bulk of the increase came from Carriage City Plaza Properties (CCP), assessed at around $19 million, and paying $978,000 in property taxes.

[12/12 update: Got an email from a rep at Silcon saying the Carriage City Plaza project is responsible for the entire additional $1.2 million in property tax revenue; $978,000 from Carriage City Properties + property taxes paid by individual unit owners. Trying to get some clarification from the city tax office, probably come Monday].

[12/15 CLARIFICATION: According to the city tax office, Carriage City Properties and the individual condo units — both sold and unsold — were assessed at a combined $24,146,600 ($5,414,500 for sold units + $18,732,100 for CCP portions and unsold units) and paid property taxes of approximately $1,182,941.94 ($265,256.36 sold units + $917,685.58 CCP and unsold units.]

During a discussion on the municipal budget at last month’s City Council meeting, and a question about potential future revenues, City Administrator and Redevelopment Director Peter Pelissier told the council two significant projects should provide future revenue. The city tax assessor is in the process of adding the assessment for Park Square, which begins its Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) this year, he said, and Renaissance at Rahway, which is scheduled to be completed in about 12 months.

City taxes are expected to remain about the same thanks in part to $1.6 million in sewer utility surplus plugged in as revenue. The $41.3-million municipal budget is up about 4.5 percent, with the amount raised from taxes up 3.5 percent, to $29.7 million. The average assessed home ($133,000) paid about $2,276 in municipal property taxes last year, and Chief Financial Officer Frank Ruggiero expects roughly the same amount next year. He described a recent nj.com story about the budget wildly inaccurate and residents can expect tax bills for the first two quarters to be similar to the last two quarters.

A public hearing and final approval on the budget is scheduled for Monday during the City Council’s regular meeting.