Irene leaves her mark

Few places in Rahway were spared from Hurricane/Tropical Storm Irene this past week. The heaving banks of the Rahway River and Milton Lake spilled out onto streets, leaving the Veterans Field underwater, felling trees along St. Georges Avenue and elsewhere.

Former Mayor James Kennedy, now executive director of the Arts District, thought the Hamilton Stage for the Performing Arts, now under construction, “fared well” (photo above). The 4 inches of water on the platform “more than likely would not have had the opportunity to enter the building if it were all closed in,” he said via email. “I’m not concerned about the water here. The houses to the left, facing the building, really need to be removed; but the building will be fine,” Kennedy said.


The plan is to eventually acquire the remaining homes and create parking for Hamilton Stage and the adjacent amphitheater (photo left). Due to the rising costs of the arts projects, however, interim parking will take the space of the amphitheater for the time being.

Having grown up on the corner of River Road and Church Street, Kennedy said he’d never seen a storm this bad but is confident that more mitigation will occur upstream in the future.

For more images of flooding throughout Rahway, see our Facebook page, where we’ve shared quite a few compilations from readers. Thanks to everyone who shared their great photos!

Hamilton Stage taking shape

The future Hamilton Stage for the Performing Arts (a.k.a., the former Bell Building) has been taking shape, with the steel structure extending further toward the sidewalk in recent weeks. The 220-seat black box theater and performing arts space is scheduled to open next summer (here’s a floor plan).

For a peek at what it looked like when work first started this spring, check out this previous post.

The deadline for requests for proposals (RFPs) to become an artistic affiliate of the Hamilton Stage has been pushed back eight weeks, to Oct. 12.

RFPs were posted (.pdf) on the Arts District website this summer, and originally were to be received by Aug. 17. About 20 companies had expressed interest by June.

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The Rahway Arts District is sponsoring an “I ‘Art Rahway” giveaway. Tell them why you ‘Art Rahway (follow the link), and you’ll be entered to win a T-shirt signed by musician Nicole Adkins, who performed here this summer. Winners will be announced at the Oct. 6 First Thursday.

Routes 1/9 red light cameras in effect

Two years after getting state approval, the city has installed red light traffic cameras on Routes 1&9 and East Milton Avenue.

The cameras went into effect Aug. 11 after a warning phase in July. Construction is supposed to start this week on cameras at St. Georges and Maple avenues, according to Police Chief John Rodger.

A survey by the Police Department at the time state approval was sought indicated as many as 60 violations per hour at Routes 1/9-East Milton Avenue, or almost 200 a day.

8/24 UPDATE: Based on 3,000 violations per month, Rahway would receive $1.6 million in revenue each year from paid violations, according to Rodger. Originally, both intersections combined were projected at 3,200 violations per month but he said Route 1 is far exceeding initial estimates and may do 3,000 monthly on its own. Some drop-off would be expected as people get acclimated, he said. Projections for the next applications the city will submit are close to 200 per day and 150 per day, respectively, though Rodger declined identify those until they are approved.

The $55 fine is split between the county and city, which receives another $18.50 for court fees (for a total $46). An additional $55 goes to the State Highway Trust Fund, according to Rodger, and the Safe Corridor violation (along Routes 1&9) is $140.

The vendor, which is responsible for equipment, software and notification costs, will receive monthly fees of $18,200 for East Milton and $17,000 for Maple, with the city and county splitting the total $35,200 monthly fee ($422,000 annually).

Council rejects mayor’s request for two staff

The City Council on Monday night rebuffed Mayor Rick Proctor’s move to add two positions to his office, a proposal that wasn’t supported by his own business administrator.

The mayor had sought a full-time executive secretary with a salary range of $45,000-$55,000 and a part-time chief of staff with a salary of $45,000. The two positions were removed from the salary ordinance (which sets the range for a variety of titles within the city) during the governing body’s pre-meeting conference and later voted unanimously to introduce the measure at its regular meeting. A public hearing and final approval will be held during the council’s Sept. 12 regular meeting.

City Administrator and Redevelopment Director Peter Pelissier told council members Monday night that he was not in favor of the two positions “in light of the fact that we’re trying to control taxes and spending.” He did not understand the need for a chief of staff, though he “understood somewhat” the secretary’s position, adding that the mayor could be accommodate with existing staff. “It’s not in our best interest to move a secretary from another department to the mayor’s office,” Pelissier said.

If $100,000 is added to the city budget, Pelissier said it would be better spent hiring firefighters and making promotions, as has been debated in the past, though there’s a question whether even that is sustainable. Last month, representatives of Firemen’s Mutual Benevolent Association (FMBA) Local 33 appeared before the City Council to increase staffing levels. Several council members expressed a desire to hire two firefighters over two administrative posts.

Whether there is $100,000 available in the budget remains to be seen, as planning on the 2012 budget moves ahead this fall. City Attorney Louis Rainone reminded council members that the ordinance merely authorizes the city to pay these salaries. Whether there are funds available, that decision comes when the budget is deliberated.

The executive secretary post has been vacant for five or six years and Proctor said the previous mayor at one time or another had a chief of staff or executive secretary during his tenure. A chief of staff is a more of a policy aide and with all that’s going on with economic development and the Arts District, “there’s a lot to get a handle on,” he said, adding that there have been a few items he hasn’t been able to implement since taking office. Existing staff could be moved from another office to fill the executive secretary post, so it’s not necessarily adding a position but just result in some bumping, he said.

The chief of staff would be new but Proctor said he has the duty to spend money responsibly, and as needs of the city evolve, he must respond appropriately. A chief of staff would help to move the city forward more effectively. The position more focused on policy development and planning while a city administrator handles day-to-day operations and assists in the planning the budget and other business functions.

There were no objections raised, according to Proctor, when he discussed it with the administrator on Friday. He was “very disappointed that City Council members did not seek additional information” on the positions before removing them from the ordinance. “It felt like the whole thing was a little orchestrated,” Proctor said in a telephone interview Tuesday. The mayor said he’s been evaluating city operations and has attempted to change the “business as usual attitude,” but when he tries to implement changes, he gets “a lot of pushback.”

Second Ward Councilman Michael Cox asked what impact there might be if the measure was tabled. Pelissier said most management employees are expecting a 2-percent salary increase (unless it’s been adjusted for specific reasons), and if the ordinance were table, approval would not come until October, with payment retroactive to July.

The motion to remove the positions and vote on the ordinance was made by 6th Ward Councilman Samson Steinman and seconded by 5th Ward Councilwoman Jennifer Wenson-Maier. The ordinance was introduced unanimously. The ordinance set a rate of $65,000 for the mayor; $110,000-$163,344 for the city administrator, and $8,043 for council members ($9,676 for council president). The council’s rate represents an increase from $7,740 ($303, or 4 percent).

During the public portion of the meeting, representatives of FMBA Local 33 lobbied for hiring three firefighters and promoting two others.

Proctor said the need exists and he will continue to press to improve outreach, and though he wasn’t sure what form it would take, he would continue to push for the position. “Hopefully with the business administrator and City Council’s cooperation.”

In general, it’s uncommon for an administration to disagree so publicly, especially when they’re all from the same party (in this case, Democrats). Even for the City Council, it’s been rare to see members break from the administration or voice much dissent on most issues in recent years.

Asked how he would describe his relationship with the city administrator, Proctor said: “Developing.” Proctor took office in January, reappointing Pelissier to another four-year term following many years as administrator to former Mayor James Kennedy, who did not seek re-election last year.

Council moves forward on Water’s Edge project

The City Council last night introduced an ordinance (O-26-11) to amend the Lower Main Street Urban Renewal Plan for the Meridia Water’s Edge project.

The Planning Board is expected to take up the matter later this month (Aug. 30) and provide a recommendation to the City Council before the governing body holds a public hearing and final vote on the ordinance next month (Sept. 12). The Planning Board then would consider a site plan, as early as its September meeting (Sept. 27).

Can you find the rainbow?

Capodagli Property Company of Pompton Plains has proposed 108 units on the 0.75-acre property (Block 305, Lot 5.04) adjacent to Rahway Public Library, Center Circle sports complex and Rahway Plaza Apartments. Capodagli last week presented the Redevelopment Agency with a revised project 108 units compared with the 116 units presented in the spring. The five-story, 108-unit proposal includes 52 two-bedroom units and 56 one-bedrooms compared with a 20/96 split in the earlier version. Since the plan currently only includes 90 parking spaces, some arrangement would be necessary for the project to use upward of 18 spaces in adjacent parking lots.

About six years ago, a day care center was proposed in the area (.pdf) at Block 305/Lot 5.03 (.pdf). The majority of the City Hall Plaza complex and adjacent lots at one time was planned as the Town Center project, a massive mix of residential, retail and parking (circa 2007).

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The latest from NJ Transit on the center stair repairs at the Train Station: Closed through September 2011. It really doesn’t even look like much work has been done of late, so I think I can speak for a majority of you when I say: WTF?!?!

The advisory comes on the the heels of another one earlier this week that repairs to the elevator on the westbound side “are scheduled to continue through September.”

Water’s Edge proposal dropped to 108 units

The Redevelopment Agency last night approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Meridia Water’s Edge, LLC, to develop a 108-unit rental complex on a three-quarter acre site adjacent to Rahway Public Library and the Center Circle sports complex on Main Street. (A revised rendering is in this Google document; once I can convert it into a .jpg, it’ll be added to this post).

Pompton Plains-based Capodagli Property Company initially proposed 116 units in a presentation to the agency in April, with 91 parking spaces. The number of spaces remain the same as in the original plan and an arrangement to use some 12 to 18 spaces in nearby municipal lots would have to be pursued.

The original plan called for 96 one-bedroom and 20 two-bedroom units; the revised plan presented last night includes 52 two-bedroom units and 56 one-bedrooms (42 of which will also have an office, some 50 square feet larger overall). Two-bedroom units would be 816 square feet. The plans note that a “market study will determine actual unit mix, sizes, placement and phases of development.”

George Capodagli told commissioners that he has a “firm commitment” from a bank and wants to close on the property soon. The Redevelopment Agency last month designated Capodagli as redeveloper, agreeing to sell the parcel for $1 million. The developer will be responsible for the cost of removing soil that’s been on the site from library construction earlier in the decade.

At closing, $500,000 will be due to the Redevelopment Agency and the second $500,000 of the sale price will be due upon the final Certificate of Occupancy (CO). The cost of soil removal will be credited toward the developer’s second payment but City Administrator and Redevelopment Director Peter Pelissier expects the agency should still yield at least half of that payment. The city’s engineers will oversee and monitor the soil removal estimates and process, and Capodgali said his firm will do the work at cost.

Next, the City Council must approve amendments to the redevelopment plan, to be introduced next week and approved next month. The Planning Board also will be presented with plans later this month for recommendation to City Council before it considers site plan approval, likely at its September meeting.

There was some discussion about the project being within a flood plain. Commissioner Timothy Nash asked how residents would get into the building should the area be two to three feet under water. Capodagli said they likely would not have access to the building and the management company would have to make provisions for that and to disclose that in lease agreements. The back of the project would abut the levee, next to the property line with Rahway Plaza Apartments — toward the back of the library parking lot — while the front entrance would face the Center Circle complex (forming a sort of triangle that’s flatted at the top, which would be the front entrance. Got it? Working on uploading/scanning designs).

Officials were confident though that the area has not flooded since the levee was built along the Rahway River. Nash recalled Tropical Storm Floyd in September 1999 — which destroyed the former library where Berzinec Park is today — as  the worst flooding situation and the site did not flood then.

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Interesting story from NPR last month (“How A Park Helped One Town Weather The Recession”) about Greenville, S.C., and its development efforts, which included a $13-million, 20-acre downtown park and public garden created in 2004. Within two years, it’s estimated that $100 million in private investment occurred around the park. Sounds like a success story akin to New York City’s new High Line Park, which is looking to be replicated elsewhere. But there’s more to it – obviously – than just the park. It’s worth the quick read/listen.

A deli for a deli

Another deli has arrived on East Cherry Street to fill a space vacated just a few months ago by another deli.

GK’s Big Belly Deli shut down in March amid charges that the owner was illegally hunting deer.

It was just a few weeks ago that a “Coming Soon” sign appeared in the window at 78 E. Cherry St., and now there’s a new, permanent for D&R’s Gourmet Deli and Catering.

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The Star-Ledger’s Munchmobile stopped in Rahway again, this time at The Waiting Room (just a few dooors down from the new deli).

The garlic pork chops that were “the juiciest of the day” and the “right mix of saltiness and properly cooked,” according to the Munchers. The baby lamb chop were even better: “So tender,” and the seasoning was “remarkable” and “dynamite.” The Room’s most popular dish is the Buffalo shrimp and Buffalo wings but the Munchers said it was the voodoo chili, “with bubbling-over cheese and plenty of meat,” that deserves to be more famous than those wings.

The link includes video of owner Chris Wenson (2:42 in length)  explaining some of the renovations to the former McCrory’s building before they moved into it in 2006 and an outdoor patio in the back that’s planned for next year (which was approved two years ago by the Planning Board).