Cranford businesses mull counsel for redevelopment plan

Photo Courtesy of Harbor Consultants draft report
Aerial photograph of the Cranford downtown redevelopment study area from the corner of Alden Street, lower left, looking north eastward along North Avenue East.

CRANFORD, NJ — Downtown business and property owners outraged by a recently unveiled township-commissioned study that recommends declaring a large area on the north side of the train station as a “condemnation area in need of redevelopment” are joining forces.
Several of the business owners included in the study area — which includes 18 properties along North Avenue east of Alden Street — planned to meet with attorney Joseph Grather prior to the Tuesday, Jan. 23 Cranford Township Committee meeting, according to Riverside Inn owner Peter Jacobs.

“We are all in this together,” Jacobs said in a Jan. 19 phone interview. His establishment is affectionately known to its patrons as “The Dive.”
Grather, who specializes in property law and eminent domain at the Morristown firm McKirdy, Riskin, Olson & DellaPelle, confirmed he “will meet with the property owners on whether they want to retain” him.

However, Mayor Tom Hannen apologetically announced that The Dive, located at the corner of North and Centennial avenues along the Rahway River at the edge of the proposed redevelopment zone, was never supposed to have been included in the study, which was disclosed to the public at the Jan. 10 Cranford Planning Board meeting.

“When the resolution for the township committee was originally adopted last April, the commissioners specifically wanted block 195, lot 10, The Dive, excluded from the study area,” Hannen said at the planning board meeting. “Unfortunately, an oversight resulted in it being included.”
However, Jacobs disagrees with the study.

“I’m in 100 percent,” Jacobs told LocalSource.
Just by proposing to label the area as condemned, property values in the zone has now decreased, Jacobs said.
“It is all a bunch of backstabbing,” he added.

LocalSource reached out to township Administrator Terrence Wall for comment, but he did not respond prior to press time this week
Ralph Brunette, who owns a hair and nail salon at 25 North Ave. East, had his attorney, Robert Simon of the Pennsylvania-based firm Herald Law, attend the Jan. 10 planning board meeting, and Simon spoke out during the public comment section.

The attorney told LocalSource in a Jan. 19 phone interview that the “redevelopment law is very clear in stating what criteria needs to be met, and we do not believe that the criteria can be met for this proposed redevelopment area.”

The Dive and Ralph Brunette Hair designs are among several establishments on the north and south sides of North Avenue included in a draft study presented to the planning board by Michael Mistretta of Harbor Consultants, a local engineering firm.

No formal action was taken by the board at the Jan. 10 meeting, which was purely for informational purposes, Hannen told LocalSource on Jan. 11.
The study investigated two blocks for a possible designation as “in need of redevelopment.” The area is bounded by Alden Street, North Union Avenue to the northwest, Springfield Avenue to the northeast and the NJ Transit Raritan Valley Rail Line to the south, comprising of approximately 3.95 acres; 58 percent of the properties are currently owned by the township.

The study cost the township more than $6,000, according to Harbor Consultant invoices obtained by the LocalSource.
Other businesses in the study include: Carmen’s Foreign Car Repair, Bar Americana, Posh Salon, Chapman Bros. Plumbing, Heating and Air Conditioning, Goodman Realty, Puff and Stuff, Deco Salon, Hunan Wok, Marino’s Seafood and Restaurant, Cranford Hair Salon, Island Tans.

The Downtown Management Corporation held a private meeting with all of the business owners named in the study on Wednesday, Jan. 17, after the owners of Marino’s Seafood and Restaurant and Chapman Brothers Plumbing expressed frustration that they and other business owners had not been notified of the study before the Jan. 10 planning board meeting.

Cranford Township Committee Commissioner and DMC Liaison Jean-Albert Maisonneuve, DMC Director Kathleen Prunty and DMC Chairman Anthony Durante organized what they described as an informal, private meeting. There was no presentation, and it was not an official gathering, Prunty told LocalSource in a Jan. 18 phone interview.

“Someone should have done this before,” Prunty said, adding that the meeting was set up for the owners to ask questions.
She added that attendees sat around the table and let the business owners speak their minds.

“We knew going into the meeting, people were not happy, and we sat with them for an hour and a half trying to provide as much information to their questions as we could,” Prunty said.

The published agenda for the Jan. 23 Cranford Township Committee meeting included the introduction of a resolution to amend the study. Although what was in the amendment was not specified, Hannen has said it would include removing the Riverside Inn property from the study.