Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Downtown Station South project revised

One of the city’s most ambitious redevelopment proposals has resurfaced after numerous revisions to a study of the 23-block area involved.

At the Sept. 26, 2005 City Council meeting, Planning Director William Nierstedt introduced the revised study and asked the council to look at it for a couple of weeks before possibly declaring the area in need of redevelopment and asking the Office of Economic Development to prepare a redevelopment plan.

Nierstedt stressed that the requested council approval was only an interim step and he did not expect a redevelopment plan to be in place before next summer.

The Downtown Station South proposed redevelopment area is a 50-acre site roughly bounded by Second Street, Watchung Avenue, Central Avenue and Seventh Street.

Mayor Albert T. McWilliams told the City Council on April 11 that he envisioned $300,000 condos and townhouses replacing dilapidated structures in the study site. The blocks around the main train station could become a transit village catering to commuters and featuring pedestrian-friendly shopping and entertainment, consultants said.

The Downtown Station South study was the subject of two public hearings last spring where residents asked for corrections of Hillier Architecture’s survey of the blocks south of the main train station on North Avenue.

At the spring hearings, residents griped that the consultants had not taken into account several interim land use approvals in the designated area and had misidentified some of the properties.

On Monday, Hillier representative Emily Young gave a presentation correcting the status of certain properties, although the overall recommendation remains the same.

The redevelopment area includes the former A&P Plaza at Park Avenue and Seventh Street and the Park Hotel, which the study describes as an illegal boarding house.

The final recommendation excluded a few properties, but still covers 18 blocks.

The study uncovered numerous auto-related businesses, a prohibited use in the central business district, Young said.

Nierstedt said Monday that before any plan is proposed, all merchants and property owners in the area will have their say in a “development plan that starts from the bottom up.’

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: Redevelopment, planning