On tap for 2008: Park Square, Sky View

Nothing Earth-shattering in the mayor’s State of the City address last night. The new year should bring with it the completion of Park Square and Sky View at Carriage City Plaza, which includes a Hotel Indigo. Mayor James Kennedy pledged that downtown redevelopment efforts would continue to see progress this year, despite a downturn in the national economy as a result of the subprime mortgage crisis.
The largest portion of the mayor’s nine-minute remarks focused on a new billing method for sewage. He expects the city’s assessment from the Rahway Valley Sewerage Authority (RVSA) to increase from $3.6 million in Fiscal Year 2007 to $6.1 million in FY 2010, or almost 70 percent in the next three years.
Speaking of the subprime mortgage mess, what effect has it had on Rahway’s plans? I happened to pose that question to City Administrator and Redevelopment Director Peter Pelissier just last month, after reading about Asbury Park’s problems, and one Hoboken developer switching condo projects to rentals because of the housing market.
Pelissier said the city hasn’t been adversely affected by the real estate market — in terms of redevelopment — and rattled off an update on a number of projects:
* Park Square (rentals) has made plans to take out permits for the second building, which will face Main Street.
* Dornoch I (Main and Monroe streets) has taken out permits for The Savoy (36 units for purchase with 7,000 square feet of retail).
* Station Place (Five stories, with 80 units and 132 parking spaces, on Campbell Street between Elm and Cherry, for purchase) is still in the process of acquiring properties and relocating the main tenant, A&M Tool Co.
* Wheatena (Elizabeth and West Grand avenues) has requested assistance on the acquisition of properties for its 200-unit project (for purchase).
* Renaissance at Rahway, 72 units with underground parking, also requested assistance of the Redevelopment Agency to acquire the remaining three properties necessary to control the site (Triangle Inn area on Monroe Street). Five of the eight properties necessary are under contract.
* The Town Center project in the City Hall area is still being discussed, and the potential developer is negotiating with retailers as well as the property owners on the site. “As you can imagine this project is complex and will take some time to coordinate all the components of a project this size,” Pelissier said.
If a developer wanted to convert a condo project to rentals, as in some towns, the developer would have to come before the Redevelopment Agency again for approval, he said.
“Each week developers contact the mayor or myself inquiring as to the possibilities of developing in Rahway,” Pelissier said. “Also take a look around the downtown area, properties are being improved in the Arts District as well as throughout the downtown. This points out the small investor continues to believe in the future of Rahway as well as the larger developers.”
The mayor also mentioned that City Council has authorized demolition of the Hamilton Laundry site. I’ll have an update and potential timeline on that later this week.

Downtown Options, Part Two

With my coffee shop rant out of the way, welcome to Part II on the most recent poll results, which had grocery/specialty food store garnering 44 percent of the vote, ahead of brewpub/bar/restaurant, 32 percent, and coffeehouse/bagel shop, 20 percent.

Continue reading Downtown Options, Part Two

To 26…and beyond!

Happy New Year! 2008 is off like a rocket as it’s been another record-breaking week for Rahway Rising. Everyone here (read: me) is thrilled and just trying to keep up. The blog poll has reached new heights yet again, a marked 25-percent increase in the number of votes cast from the last poll, jumping from 20 to 25 (Assuming everyone voted once and did not stuff the virtual ballot box, which wouldn’t be hard to do, but would impugn one’s voting integrity). On to the results…

“What would you like to see downtown?”
Grocery/specialty food store 44% (11/25)
Brewpub-style bar/restaurant 32% (8/25)
Coffeehouse/bagel shop 20% (5/25)
Other 4% (1/25)
Clothing 0% (0/25)

While none of the options garnered a majority, surprisingly (at least to me), there appeared a clear winner in grocery/specialty food store, a decisive 12 percent more than brewpub-style bar/restaurant. Poll results also might indicate that I was running low on options after that. The showing from “Clothing” was embarrassing, and might very well be banned from any future polls indefinitely, and “Other” was there in hopes that readers might get a little crazy with the comments section and go outside the box. To be fair, I think everyone’s got their fill of the Gap or comparable options at nearby malls or neighboring downtowns.

As for grocery/specialty food store, I know there’ s no room for a giant supermarket downtown, but there’s been talk of a Trader Joe’s-type store for the proposed Town Center project at City Hall. There are a few bodegas or glorified convenience stores, but apparently poll readers want another option when it comes to groceries.

Coffeehouse/bagel shop had a more than respectable 20-percent contingent, but judging from my conversations with people who live or are familiar with downtown, I expected it to challenge brewpub for the top spot. If there’s one takeaway in those discussions, it’s that a coffeehouse/bagel shop/coffee shop/cafe should be a gold mine downtown, or Rahway at least should be able to support more options. Never mind that you can’t find a decent bagel anywhere near downtown.

A coffeehouse might also address another complaint/concern common about downtown: there are just not many options when you’re out getting your Sunday paper. Is it that there isn’t enough foot traffic to support such an enterprise, or is it that the option isn’t there, and thus, foot traffic doesn’t follow (a.k.a., The old chicken or the egg)? If recent experience is any indication, perhaps it’s that the foot traffic isn’t here yet.

Moca Motion Cafe, in the train station, is a prime location but has been vacant for months (or is it already a year?). NJ Transit holds the lease on the space, which is perhaps too big if it’s only going to be a commuter coffee joint as opposed to a lounge/cafe. Reggie’s Roast (Main Street, at the end of East Cherry), was new, clean and pretty, but no one was ever in there (and it was more of a wholesale operation anyway, with the city pushing for the retail aspect). American Jubilee (89 E. Cherry, now an art gallery) was an absolute delight. More of a bakery/dessert place, it had the cozy vibe that many coffeehouses aim for (and brownies to die for), but one reason might have been that it could barely seat a dozen people. Both have been gone a few years already. Personally, I think the best coffee place was the old Eat To the Beat Cafe when it was on the corner of East Cherry and Irving (where The Lofts are), before it moved further in on East Cherry and changed its name to Beat Cafe (where A Taste of Portugal bakery and cafe is now). Taste is a good start, but with hundreds of new residences — and more coming — one would think downtown could support more options. What do you think?

Now that I’ve got my coffeehouse rant, there’s not much room for my brewpub/restaurant rant. I’ll save it for another time; stay tuned later in the week for Part II on the poll results.

Flat fee for sewer bills; budget to be adopted

The good news: Municipal taxes for the average Rahway home are going down $2 compared to last year, from $2,278 to $2,276. The bad news: sewer charges historically included in municipal taxes are not included in that figure for 2008. More good news: The average assessed home ($133,000) paid about $391 in taxes to cover sewer charges last year, but under a new sewer utility, will pay a flat $245 annual sewer fee, separate from property taxes.

The city’s $44.3 million budget for 2007-08 is up $1.2 million from the previous year, almost 3 percent, while the tax levy is up 0.6 percent. In addition to splitting out sewer fees, the city collected more than $2 million in water and sewer connection fees from new development, the city’s taxable assessed value rose $10 million, and $1 million was returned as Rahway’s share of surplus from the sewer authority. The redevelopment plan “is starting to work now, and as projects come on line that $10 million will increase,” said City Administrator/Redevelopment Director Peter Pelissier. A public hearing and final approval of the city budget is scheduled Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. in the Emergency Management Room at City Hall.

The City Council approved the creation of a sewer utility during a special meeting Thursday night. Historically, the Rahway Valley Sewerage Authority bills the city, which acts as a conduit and lumps a town’s assessment into the municipal tax bill. Annual sewer fees for various properties would be as follows, under the new sewer utility:

Single-family home, $245
Two-family home, $392
Three- or four-family home, $392 + $147 per unit
Condominium, $196
Nonprofit/Apartment/Government, $125 + $2.64 per 1,000 gallons
Commercial/industrial, $355 + $3.96 per 1,000 gallons
Industrial/Merck, $355 + $5.28 per 1,000 gallons

The annual sewer fee would not change for at least five years, said Pelissier, the city’s representative to the RVSA, adding that the only costs in creating a utility would be billing, which are expected to be about $50,000 a year. No new positions would be created. City Attorney Louis Rainone described the utility as merely an accounting mechanism.

Residential properties currently are charged for sewerage based on the value of their home, not on what’s being used. “A utility will make it more equitable,” said Dieter Lerch, the city’s auditor who presented the proposal to City Council last month. Residential properties currently cover about 62 percent of the city’s RVSA bill, according to officials, but are only responsible for 50 percent of the assessment, thus subsidizing commercial and light industrial properties.

RVSA member communities Woodbridge and Clark both created a sewer utility to handle sewerage assessments and Kenilworth also is considering establishing a utility in the wake of rising RVSA assessments the last several years as a result of a $250-million upgrade to increase capacity at the Rahway plant. “Had RVSA not increased its rates, Pelissier said, the city probably wouldn’t be doing this. “It’s not a gimmick, it’s the cost of sewers,” he said, and the costs are staggering, whether included in the tax bill or not, and are borne by property taxpayers.

Housing decked at tavern site

The Zoning Board of Adjustment last month rejected an application to build two bi-level duplexes on the site of Decker’s Tavern, at the corner of Jaques and East Inman avenues. The liquor license was sold earlier this year.

Continue reading Housing decked at tavern site

Surveying the future

In case you’ve somehow missed all the signs around downtown, check out the survey that the Rahway Center Partnership is conducting. As it says on the site, “Participate in the future of downtown Rahway.” The survey only takes about 12 minutes to complete and you’ll notice a direct link in the Local Links section, to the right.
In the spirit of the Rahway survey, check out the latest poll question.
As for the last poll, it was overwhelming in favor of video surveillance as long as it makes the area safer, with 15 of 20 votes (75 percent), compared to just three against (15 percent), and two (10 percent) who said it doesn’t matter to them.
Thanks to all who voted, and set a new Rahway Rising poll record, with 20 votes cast!…compared to 14 in the inaugural poll last month.

Irving-Fulton realignment

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Intersection improvements at Irving Street and East Milton Avenue are expected to begin next month, and wrap up by April, the same time the hotel is scheduled to open. Improvements will include the realignment of Irving and Fulton streets, as well as signalization. The winning bid came in at about $875,000, which the City Council on Monday night officially accepted from Rahway-based Berto Construction.
For the realignm
ent, Irving Street will be shifted west slightly, taking a portion of Train Station Plaza — City Administrator/Redevelopment Director Peter Pelissier estimated “up to the first planter.”
alization also could be coming to the five corners intersection on the other end of Irving Street, where it crosses Main and Hamilton streets and Central Avenue. The city engineer has been asked to determine the costs of signalization, Pelisser said, which could come later this spring or summer.

A blog about all things redevelopment

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