Four years after the idea of a hair salon was rejected for the site, an Irving Street storefront gained approval Tuesday night to become art gallery and events space.
The Planning Board Tuesday night unanimously (8-0) approved a minor site plan for 1645-47 Irving St., the old Hobby Shop, where two storefronts had been vacant since being renovated by Elizabeth-based Silcon Inc., which constructed Carriage City Plaza. The Redevelopment Agency in 2008 rejected a proposal for a hair salon, citing a city ordinance that prohibits personal service businesses within 1,000 feet of each other.
The first floor spaces will be combined into one approximately 3,200 square feet and the four one-bedroom, second-floor apartments will remain.
A corporate event planner for more than a decade, Nikki Ahmetaj has been looking for a space in Rahway for almost four years and has had to turn away about 18 events since January due to the lack of a venue.
The gallery, Tabula Rasa, would be open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., but closed for private events. Ahmetaj said her events typically draw 65 to 100 people.
Corporate events would be held during the week while weekends would host birthday or engagement parties. She also plans a monthly gallery opening for local, up-and-coming artists and other arts-related events. The gallery might host three events weekly at first while a three-year plan envisions as many as six per week, with potential day and evening events on the weekends. No live music would be played and alcohol would be served during some events when appropriate permits were approved. Ahmetaj said she’s hoping for a soft opening by December.
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The impact of the proposal on off-street parking required Planning Board approval. Parking would be handled by a valet company, Parking Systems, which testified that they’re in negotiations to lease space in a RSI Bank lot down the street or possibly the Lewis Street parking deck. Ahmetaj said she’s also exploring the possibility of leasing the former St. Mark’s Church parking lot (about 60 spaces in all), between Hamilton Street and Seminary Avenue.
Former mayor and former Rahway Arts District Executive Director James Kennedy testified on the applicant’s behalf suggesting that the new Hamilton Street parking lot, which has upward of 160 spaces, will be used as flex space in the evenings, which could be a possibility on occasion. Matt Vecchione of Parking Systems testified that he typically assigns one valet for every 25 people while about 75 percent of people typically use the valet service. A condition of the Planning Board’s approval included use of a valet service for events of more than 30 people.
In addition to Kennedy, Ahmetaj’s planner testified to the enhancement the arts-related, local business would bring to the Rahway Arts District.
Ahmetaj said she’ll be leasing the property. The site changed hands in December 2010 for $400,000, from Clinton-based AJB Residential Realty Enterprises to 1645 Irving St., LLC in Scotch Plains. Assessed at $258,000, the site (Block 161, Lot 17) has a property tax bill of about $16,000, according to property records.