Monday, May 14, 2007

Marino's Plan Faces Changes

Wednesday’s City Council meeting included five resolutions regarding redevelopment. All five had been added at Monday’s agenda session with minimal explanation of what they meant, although Councilman Cory Storch elicited fuller descriptions from Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson.

One referred to a “first amendment” to the redevelopment plan for the Marino’s tract. Wlliamson said it was to “cure a slight problem.” After Storch asked for more information, Williamson said the resolution asked the Planning Board “to go back in time and take care of housekeeping matters.” He explained that a significant piece of property was excluded in the plan and that Brown’s Funeral Home would be included in the plan.

Storch noted that design standards were also changed.

While this edified the public to a degree, I wrote down my conclusion: “They want the whole block.”

I had obtained the text of the resolution but it was so densely written in redevelopment jargon that it was of little help to clarify for the average person what was going on.

Ex: “Realization of goals and objectives within the redevelopment plan, now in place for six years, have yet to be achieved. From consultation with the private sector, the City recognizes there is a distinct possibility that the realistic redevelopment potential of the area can be enhanced through consolidation and resubdivision as necessary of all parcels within the block, necessitating acquisition via the exercise of eminent domain, or in the alternative, negotiated settlement.”

The attached map shows the whole block, bounded by the Raritan Valley Line, West Front Street, Plainfield Avenue and Waynewood Park, up for property acquisition.

The design changes state what is being proposed but not what the original standards are. So I will have to go to the Planning Division office and look at the file. It appears that parking standards are being relaxed. The maximum lot coverage is being increased to 90 percent, but the resolution does not say what it was before.

The Marino’s tract is the one where officials have been hoping to put a supermarket. The firm that received conditional designation as developer in August is AST Development Corp. of Lavallette, which also built the Park-Madison office building. Like the North Avenue developer Landmark, AST received 90 days in August and two subsequent 60-day extensions to allow time for an agreement to be forged. Landmark’s agreement was approved Wednesday.

All this just goes to show how hard it is to follow the action on redevelopment. Walk-on items with vague explanations must be pursued by interpreting the language and then checking the file at City Hall. It’s all public information, it just doesn’t inform the public without a little digging and lining up of facts to get the picture.

The outcome may be great, a supermarket finally coming to the West End after a process that started with a study in 2000. But it would be good to know more, in plain English, about these changes to the plan.

--Bernice Paglia


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