RR readers love their parks

Readers spoke loud and clear in the latest poll. With almost three-quarters of the 57 votes solidly getting behind one choice, it’s probably the highest percentage in any of the recent polls. It wasn’t even close from the start. The total number of votes also fell just short of our highest yet (58), some two polls ago.

The question was sparked by plans for a park along Essex Street, near the Riverwalk development.

“How important is green/open space in your vision of downtown Rahway?”
Fewer condos, more parks — 14 percent, (8/57)
We don’t need Central Park but balance development with open space — 73 percent, (42/57)
If it doesn’t pay taxes, don’t bother — 12 percent, (7/57)

I’m always open to suggestions for upcoming polls so feel free to email or comment. Check out the new poll, at right.

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The city’s Web site has a map of the traffic changes planned for downtown this spring. Last I heard, the changes were aiming for around the same time as the Irving-Fulton realignment, which was ahead of schedule for April 1 (Tuesday).

Town Center plans in flux?

The Town Center project planned for the City Hall area might change developers and ultimately could be considered for an office complex.

Diversified Communities and DeBartolo Development are not together anymore, City Administrator/Redevelopment Director Peter Pelissier said during last month’s Redevelopment Agency meeting, adding that the DeBartolo firm believes the original concept plan should be reviewed given the retail market. Two phone calls to Debartolo were not returned.

Rahway Redevelopment Commissioner Timothy Nash suggested putting out a Request For Prosposals (RFP) to see who else might be interested.

“If worse comes to worse,” an office complex could be considered, Pelissier said, but has declined to elaborate.

Richard Weissman of Diversified Communities — developers of nearby Riverwalk — declined to comment because he was “in the middle of resolution of issues.” Asked for a timeline of when resolution might occur, Weissman said in an email: “It has many moving parts, including in big part the market conditions.”

Diversified Communities made a presentation to City Council in February 2007, proposing a mixed-use project of 175,000 square feet of retail, a 125-room hotel, 375 units of housing (1/3 for sale, 2/3 rentals), along with parking decks totaling 1,300 spaces. Diversified, developers of Riverwalk, was named redeveloper last March and purchased the property from the Redevelopment Agency last summer for $725,000. In October, it signed a deal to with DeBartolo.

‘She’s a brick…’

You’re probably still rubbing your eyes after yesterday’s heavy, wonkish post so it might be best to get back to some more tangible redevelopment items. As you can see from the photo above, the Elm Avenue side of the Park Square project is moving along, with brick work completed and scaffolding removed. The photo at right was from a little over two weeks ago.
On the opposite corner (Elizabeth Avenue and Main Street), you can see they’ve started digging a big hole. Although I didn’t snap a photo, the guess here is that it’s the early stages of the second phase, plans for which were recently submitted to the city.

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USA Today had a piece this week about boutique-style hotels, such as Hotel Indigo, and their foray into the suburbs (though I’m not sure who would consider Hoboken the suburbs — Manhattanites, I suppose?). While it didn’t mention Hotel Indigo at SkyView in Rahway, it did cite a few other examples of Hotel Indigos planned outside Boston and Indianapolis.

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SkyView at Carriage City Plaza will have an open house this Saturday and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., according to their Web site.

Spreading the tax burden

I’ve been meaning to post about this for a few weeks but it’s gone through a number of drafts trying to avoid getting bogged down in a lot of numbers. There haven’t been many meetings the last couple of weeks, so now is as good a time as any.

During the budget process this year, city officials boasted about the increase in “net valuation taxable.” That’s basically the value of the entire city when it comes to taxing property and it rose $10 million, or about 0.67 percent, to $1.517 billion. The bulk of the $10-million hike was attributed to several projects. City officials provided this breakdown of main additions to the tax rolls for 2007, with the following improvement values added to existing land assessments:

Riverwalk [32 units] $4,930,800
Best Western Motel (Route 1), $2,149,600
Mini-U-Storage [partial assessment], $1,223,600
Quick Chek (Route 1), $523,000
Sterling Place [three homes] $477,100
Luciano’s [14 apts, partial assessment], $199,300
Subtotal $9,503,400

Those figures are strictly for building improvements and don’t include the separate land assessments. The partial assessments are just that, as they weren’t completely done at the time assessments were made. What’s it all mean for taxpayers? Well, the idea is to keep the valuation going up so there’s more places from which to collect taxes.

For instance, when completed, Riverwalk is expected to be assessed at more than $14 million. Under the 2008 budget, with a municipal tax rate of $1.713 per $100 of assessed value, that would have equaled about $250,000 in municipal property taxes. [Don’t forget, there’s also the county tax rate (about a 1/4) and school board tax rate (1/2) that make up the total property taxes.]

Does that mean taxes go down for everyone else? Ideally perhaps, but this year’s increase was eaten up within the municipal budget. Tax Assessor Bill Marbach estimated that without the $10-million rise in the assessed values, the tax rate might have gone up about 3 cents rather than remaining the same this year. For an average assessed home in Rahway ($133,000), a 3-cent hike in the tax rate would have meant $40 [$0.03 x ($133,000/100) = $39.9 — got that?]. For a home assessed at $500,000, the effect would be closer to $150 [$0.03 x ($500,000/100) = $150].

New developments and properties will add to the tax rolls but won’t they also in theory put more pressure on services, like the Police Department? When I posed that question to City Administrator/Redevelopment Director Peter Pelissier earlier this year, he said he doesn’t expect to hire more cops, but instead use the existing squad more efficiently.

Four new police officers were sworn in earlier this year, replacing retiring officers, with another expected this summer that will bring the police force to its full complement of 80. The city last summer approved a new seven-year contract (through June 2013) with PBA Local 31, which represents Rahway police officers.

Under the agreement, officers are scheduled to receive 4-percent annual pay hikes, but new hires also will begin to contribute to health benefits, be enrolled in a Point Of Service health plan, and no longer receive longevity pay. The clothing allowance was raised to $1,000. The starting salary as of July 2007 was $33,280 and by 2012 will be $40,490.

It better do my laundry and wash my car too

I’m no coffee dork — can I be if I only drink it black? — I just want a decent coffeehouse downtown. An $11,000 coffee machine might be a bit much though, don’t you think? Come to think of it, that’s more than I paid for my sweet ride.

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Did you know Rahway ranks 16th among the stations in the NJ Transit system with 3,014 average weekday boardings (not including transfers)? Just a bit of trivia I was interested in the last time I spoke with NJ Transit. A spokesman also mentioned that the Department of Community Affairs approved the lease for a new tenant at the Moca Motion space; now the DCA must OK building permits before the tenant can hire contractors, etc.

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We’re in our fifth month of existence but it’s only been about two months since we started tracking readership with Google Analytics, among others. Last week we surpassed 4,000 visits to the blog (we get almost 100 each weekday) and now have more than 50 readers who subscribe by email. It’s all through word of mouth and mostly stumbling upon us through Internet searches (trust me, I don’t have that many friends and family). Thanks to everyone who’s been interested in this little hobby of mine and to everyone who’s offered their input, suggestions or questions over the last few months.

Ampitheater designs to be revealed

The conceptual design of a 1,000-seat ampitheater on Hamilton Street could come before the Redevelopment Agency next month.

City Administrator/Redevelopment Director Peter Pelissier said he would request the city engineer to make a presentation on the status of the ampitheater. The Arts District Advisory Board has been working with an architect on ampitheatre concepts. The agency is next scheduled to meet April 9.

State approval for the demolition of the Hamilton Laundry building (below) could come as early as this month with actual demolition by summer’s end. The Arts District Advisory Board will work to complete the design for construction to begin next spring and be completed next summer. Funding then would be sought to retrofit the Bell Building (above), so by summer 2010 it’s ready to go for a black box theater. There also would be plans to create loft housing for artists and residents affilated with the arts district programs.

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For those who are commuters, it was a pretty good week for news. It looks like NJ Transit will be one of the few places not raising prices this year while it becomes the first transit system in the Northeast to start using Google Transit. But it can’t all be good news, at least for those who travel toward Trenton.

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A couple of mentions this past week of “The Wrestler” filming in Rahway; one story about filming at the hospital, and another on shooting at a local bar in Roselle Park.

More losses for builder

Hovnanian Enterprises — the parent company of Matzel & Mumford, developers of the Wheatena site on Elizabeth and Grand avenues — reported more bad news from the last quarter.

The Rahway Redevelopment Agency last year accepted a revised concept for the former oatmeal factory site adjacent to the railroad tracks and Rahway River Park. Instead of the 264 condominium flats and 36 townhouses, M&M plans 130 townhouse units with clubhouse amenities. (The image above is from the city’s Web site).

Negotiations with the largest property owner have been going on for an extended period of time, according to Redevelopment Agency attorney Frank Regan, with the sticking point being environment issues. “The environmental issues are not nearly as bad as all had expected,” he said at last week’s RRA meeting, so some concessions are being sought from the property owners.

City Administrator/Redevelopment Director Peter Pelissier mentioned at a previous RRA meeting that the project could be done in phases, starting with the parking lots.

Park approved for Essex Street

The City Council approved a $1.05-million bond ordinance Monday night for park improvements near Riverwalk along Essex Street.

That makes for a good lead-in to our new poll question this month (to the right): How important is green/open space in your vision of downtown Rahway?
— Fewer condos, more parks.
— We don’t need Central Park, but balance new development with open space.
— If it doesn’t help pay taxes, don’t bother with it.

A blog about all things redevelopment

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