Tuesday, May 22, 2007

More Time for Two Developers

The City Council will vote Wednesday on extending conditional designations for two developers who first won endorsement in August 2006.

The meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

AST Development Corp. will get 60 more days to work out a redevelopment agreement for the Marino’s tract on West Front Street, where the city hopes to have a major chain supermarket as the anchor of the former car dealership site.

Capodagli Property Company needs 60 more days to work on issues of contamination on the former Cozzoli Machinery Company site, officials said. The site is part of the East Third/Richmond redevelopment tract and is where the five-phase project for condo development is projected to start.

Both extensions will expire on July 22.

Without getting into details of the agreement, Councilman Cory Storch noted that AST had several unresolved issues in the company’s role as developer of the downtown Park-Madison building development, such as the disposition of an historic street clock.

The new county office building also needs dead shrubbery replaced.

City officials said the extension will allow for questions to be answered.

Redevelopment issues in general dominated Monday’s council meeting.

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs said the administration is putting together an economic development/redevelopment forum in June, with a date to be announced.

Storch said he applauded the partnership, but reminded the mayor that the council, not the administration, has the power to approve redevelopment.

Resident Maria Pellum in turn applauded the call for community involvement, but also asked for an exploration of what people want in the way of redevelopment, possibly led by a land use professional.

Storch, the council liaison to the Planning Board, said the board had several concerns, including the need to look at the whole rail corridor for balance in planning the city’s future.

If the plan is not balanced, he said, the plans may be skewed toward residential development when in fact the real advantage might be commercial development that would produce jobs.

Storch said the Planning Board wanted special consideration for three structures in the expanded North Avenue redevelopment zone. They are the historic PNC Bank, the former Elks building at 116 Watchung Ave. and the Sutphen House on West Second Street on the PNC parking lot.

He said another consideration was that all new buildings meet LEED standards for energy use.

The owner of a Park Avenue business in the North Avenue expansion plan said he has plans to build on top of the one-story building.

Alluding to eminent domain cases elsewhere, Tikal owner Gabriel Aguila said he didn’t want to see a situation where the police come and drag the owner away.

Storch said business owners in the path of redevelopment have the right of first refusal, but have to prove they have the wherewithal to carry out their plans.

--Bernice Paglia


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