‘Shipping containers’ explored for artist housing

Seven artists picked to live in shipping containers behind the Arts Guild? It could make for an interesting season of MTV’s The Real World, but it’s also an idea being explored as one avenue to bring affordable housing to the city for artists.

In a presentation before the Redevelopment Agency last week, representatives of Global Building Modules (GBM) Design Consortium outlined several different preliminary schemes that would site seven modules in the area behind the Arts Guild at Irving Street and Seminary Avenue. The units would be laid out in a way to include shared green space and concert lawn or some type of performance space with a capacity of 50 to 70 people.

Based on shipping containers, the modules are manufactured overseas and buildings can be constructed in a fraction of the time and cost of traditional construction, according to GBM. Transportation costs also are considerably lower since there is no need for special escorts or permits.

Modules retain only the dimensions of shipping containers (roughly 40 x 8, or about 1,280 square feet) and are designed with the aim of zero net energy use, reducing the carbon footprint that comes with traditional construction. The exterior envelope of the structure is wrapped with insulation, windows can be placed anywhere and facade materials can vary. Modules can be organized in different ways, with varying room dimensions. They also are reusable and can be unbolted and reconfigured, or added to another building.

GBM said it has an ongoing relationship with New York University for high-rise housing in Greenwich Village, where modules also can minimize neighborhood impact during construction. As many as a dozen modules can be installed by crane within two days and facades could be seen within three months. They also pointed to projects at 11 Great Jones St. and 135 Crosby St. in Manhattan.

David Wallace of GBM reminded the Redevelopment Agency that the presentation was strictly provisional, “putting ideas out there that are works in progress; they’re not fixed ideas on our part.” Future discussions will focus on programs, the connection to the Arts Guild, music versus art studio space, performance space configurations, LEED goals and energy performance, he said.

The environmental impact of green building has caught the attention of major foundations, according to Mayor James Kennedy, who has sought to include affordable housing for artists to sustain the arts as part the overall redevelopment plan for the city. “Four years ago you couldn’t find a developer who’d do this type of project,” he said, confident that the industry will blossom in the coming years.

Kennedy said the design phase is likely to take many months while the use of Zipcars also will be examined. About seven selected artists, perhaps three performing artists and four visual artists, would act as caretakers of the installation, he said. The Guild site is small enough to test ideas for larger projects, such as the former Elizabethtown Gas building, which could be home to 30 to 70 units of artist housing in the future, Kennedy said. The mayor often talks about retaining artists who come to inexpensive neighborhoods only to get priced out by gentrification.

City Administrator and Redevelopment Director Peter Pelissier said the proposal is still very preliminary and there will be further presentations regarding the economics and costs and how the city can address artist housing.

Kataluma Chai closes up shop

Kataluma Chai Company closed as of Sunday, lasting less than a year at its Main Street location. The coffeehouse opened in October 2009 at 1470 Main St., subleasing about 650 square feet from the neighboring Niece’s Pieces, at the corner of Main and Lewis streets.

An announcement was posted in the windows of Kataluma Chai on Sunday (click image below to enlarge):

Dear Customers,
We regret to inform you that Kataluma Chai officially closed its doors on Sunday, September 26th. We appreciate all of the support you have given us over the past year. It has been our pleasure to serve you, and as an new business in downtown Rahway, we thank you for your warm welcome. We hope that you will continue to support local businesses during these tough economic times. Thank you again for your support.

Kataluma Chai Owners

Poll results: Favorite breakfast place

You wake up late on a Saturday morning and you don’t feel like making breakfast. Where do you go? Everyone’s got their favorites in Rahway, and five places in particular fared well in our latest poll.

Galaxy Diner & Cafe and Big Belly Deli jumped out to an early lead in the first days of the poll, before Big Al’s Luncheonette (formerly Carmine’s) saw a spike in votes, getting most of its votes in the third day, and came out of nowhere to take over the top spot and held on. Ming’s Luncheonette and Mr. Apple Pie rounded out the top five.

In all, 124 “ballots” were cast, with just about half of them cast within the first four days that the poll was posted. Thanks to everyone for taking the time to vote, but remember it’s by no means any kind of scientific poll. I’m open to suggestions for a future poll question; maybe we’ll bring back the “Favorite pizza place” poll, which hasn’t appeared in quite awhile.

If anyone knows what the 5 “other” votes might be, feel free to use the comments. Also, if you ever visit one of the places, let us know what you think in the comments section. I know there are still a few of these that I haven’t been to yet. Enjoy!

“What’s your favorite place for breakfast?”
Big Al’s Luncheonette, 21% (27/124 votes)
Galaxy Diner & Cafe, 17% (22/124)
Big Belly Deli, 15% (19/124)
Mr. Apple Pie, 12% (15/124)
Ming’s Luncheonette, 12% (15/124)
Yuno Bagel, 5% (7/124)
Bianca’s Deli, 4% (5/124)
Dunkin’ Donuts, 4% (5/124)
Other 4% (5/124)
Ted & Fran’s Rahway Grill, 2% (3/124)
InTheMix Cafe, 0% (0/124)

Lot B parking project coming soon

A story in The Star-Ledger/nj.com earlier this month included a couple of tidbits about two downtown projects:

* The plan to add about 100 parking spaces to the existing 65 at Lot B could break ground this month and be ready by October. Dornoch at one point had planned to build The Westbury, a mixed-use, 152-unit residential structure with accompanying parking deck.

While that project is on hold, the Rahway Parking Authority will lease the lot from Dornoch for $1 a year in exchange for property taxes being waived, according to interim RPA director Leonard Bier. The lease is for two years, with an option for a third, but could remain for as long as five years, according to City Administrator and Redevelopment Director Peter Pelissier.

Dornoch bought up several Main Street parcels about four years ago that now make up the site. Collectively, the property taxes on the sites were about $25,000 — when occupied by buildings — according to records at PropertyShark.com. Taxes are likely to be considerably lower because the structures have since been demolished.

Pelissier said there is demand for parking and if the Parking Authority can lease each of the 100 spaces at $65 per month, it would more than make up for the property taxes that the city would split with the county and school district. (At $65 per month, 100 spaces would generate $78,000 annually). The Parking Authority sometimes sends money back to the city at the end of the year, he added, in some cases as much as $75,000.

* Glen Fishman of Dornoch said financing is still tough to come by but even if construction financing could be secured for The Savoy, “it would take three to six months before we remobilize.” A July 2009 Ledger story quoted Fishman saying work should begin on The Savoy within a month.

Council introduces $130K SID budget

The City Council on Monday night introduced a $130,000 budget for the Special Improvement District (SID) budget, which now funds the Rahway Arts District. A public hearing on the SID budget will be held during the governing body’s Oct. 5 meeting.

The City Council this past spring shifted the taxes collected through the Special Improvement District from the Rahway Center Partnership to the Arts District.

Created in the early 1990s, the SID taxes some 165 downtown commercial properties an additional roughly 7 percent on top of the usual tax bill. The average tax for a SID property works out to about $790.

Among the highest taxpayers to the SID are:
* Carriage City Properties, 1423 Irving St., $10,792
* RSI Bank, 1500 Irving St., $9,556
* SDI Technologies, 1299 Main St., $7,191
* Rahway Office Center c/o Basad Realty Management, $6,146
* Raw Realty, 123 E. Milton Ave., $3,977


Not at all redevelopment related, but I know some who read this blog also watch “The Amazing Race”. This season, which premieres Sept. 26, will feature a Rahway resident among the contestants.

Ice cream shop gets OK, plans for spring 2012

The Zoning Board of Adjustment unanimously approved an application Tuesday night that paves the way to demolish a former tavern and construct an ice cream shop..

Jimmy Biniaris, owner of Piece of Cake Frozen Specialties, told the board he plans to open the ice cream shop by spring 2012. Half of the store would include 13 freezer doors to store items for pick up from his manufacturing facility across the street, with the other half serving as an ice cream shop, he said. All production would remain at the facility across the street at 62 W. Inman Ave., which serves hotels and banquet facilities but also is “retail legal.” Three neighbors spoke in favor of the application.

A few aspects of the application mentioned last night were slightly different from what was reported here last month: there will be no indoor seating area, only a service counter area, and there were 11 parking spaces proposed (not nine as previously reported) but 12 are still required, making a variance necessary. Other variances sought were a use “d” variance for a nonconforming use and bulk “c” variances for front yard setback and maximum impervious coverage.

Decker’s Tavern operated for 66 years at the corner of Jaques and West Inman avenues until it closed in 2006 and also was a nonconforming use. Planner Nicholas Sottoes argued that the site is at the edge of the R-2 zone, is more influenced by an adjacent industrial zone, and the proposed residential-retail combination is more consistent with the two-family homes in the area.

Board members had some questions about street parking and traffic. Decker’s had but eight parking spaces while 20 spaces were required considering it had seating for 20 and about 15 bar stools, according to Sottoes, who added that four street parking spaces (one on Jaques, three on West Inman) could be used as well.

Craig Peregry, a planner hired by the applicant, seemed to allay board member concerns about a potential for increased traffic at the four-way stop intersection and street parking. Current volume at the intersection is very low, and low speed, with about 200 vehicles per hour, he said. Trip generation projections at peak hours — weekday evening and Saturday midday — indicated about 14 in and out of the site per hour while the state considers a “significant increase” to be 100+ trips per hour. “The traffic impact is a wash versus the previous use,” Peregry said.

More details about the application, which includes an apartment on the second floor, can be found in this previous post.

Police center to take over Beverage Shop

A police community assistance center is in the works for the former Beverage Shop building on East Cherry Street. The city purchased the property from the Rahway Center Partnership (RCP) this past spring.

“This project is absolutely about involving the community in helping us take what is currently an underutilized and neglected structure and restoring life back into it,” said Police Chief John Rodger, for however long the building is available to use, whether a year or five years.

He hopes to have the exterior “looking like something” by November with the building functional after the new year. The plan for the nearly 2,000-square-foot interior includes a reception area, work area, large conference room or classrooms where programs could be run and a few smaller conference rooms for meetings and counseling needs. “The floor plan is evolving and we will know better as the cleanup continues,” Rodger said.

Routine patrols will be able to complete many aspects of police reporting that currently occurs at police headquarters and non-patrol staff will be assigned to do a portion of their work week there. The center is intended to be a place for “positive police activities,” said Rodger, though he declined to call it a substation. He expects the Juvenile Bureau will be there often as “it’s the perfect place for meeting with parents and children away from the traditional police environment.”

Other uses might include neighborhood watch and business watch groups, child seat inspections and installations, community relations functions, bicycle registration and youth academy, among others. The chief anticipates staffing the location from about 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. while patrol staff will be able to — and encouraged — to use the facility around the clock.

Ideally, Rodger would like to replace the facade with something more modern, similar to Park Square or Dornoch’s renovations on a Main Street property. It all depends on cost, according to Rodger, since the project must be done as economically as possible though it’s still unclear at this point how much it might cost. The department has applied to use some forfeiture funds, which can be used under specific rules, and Rodger said some local businesses already have pledged support, including RSI Bank. “We will be looking toward other business leaders to donate or provide in-kind services to complete this project,” he said.

Star-Ledger/nj.com story
Home News-Tribune/mycentraljersey.com story
Original RPD press release