Bar owner proposes apartments at Cranford train station

Photos by Liv Meier
The owner of Bar Americana, on the north side of the Cranford train station, is proposing to add two stories of apartments and a rooftop saloon.

CRANFORD, NJ — The owner of Bar Americana, which sits adjacent to the north side of the Cranford train station, is asking township officials for permission to add two stories of apartments and allow a rooftop dining and lounge area.

Hector Alvarez testified before the local Planning Board on April 8 that he wants to create a “New York City-style” rooftop bar and add four, two-bedroom apartments above the establishment he has been operating since 2003.

Alvarez told the board that he got the idea for the project after the township initially included his property as one of 18 in the 4-acre downtown area that it was considering declaring “in need of redevelopment.” The plan, introduced in January 2018, was eventually dropped after many of the business owners included voiced anger at the idea. But Alvarez told the board it sparked his idea for an addition.
“It’s more of an upscale and relaxed environment,” Alvarez said of the rooftop dining section. “It’s nothing like what we have now. It’ll be more sophisticated.”

The rooftop would be separated into three areas — a completely covered bar area and two lounge areas, one with a retractable roof and one completely open that will be used as weather permits.

Bar Americana is located in the Downtown Core District, where three stories is the maximum permitted height. With the covered portion of the rooftop bar, the business would technically be considered as having four stories.

One of the other variances requested is for parking, since eight parking spots would be required, although Bar Americana currently has none. Alvarez said there is municipal parking at the front and rear of the property.

Corey Chase, Alvarez’s traffic engineer, told the board that there isn’t a way to add parking on site, pointing out that the property is located adjacent to the train station on North Avenue, with stops for the 113 NJ Transit bus into and out of New York.

“It’s inherently beneficial to providing that residential component because that’s what these apartments are going to cater to, they are going to cater to the person who utilizes mass transit as their primary means for commuting,” Chase said.

“We’re seeing a rise in transportation network companies — Uber and Lyft — which have really made a change in how residential parking is perceived in that it’s more feasible for someone not to have a car, where five or 10 years ago, everyone had a vehicle,” he added.
Theodora Boyadjis, the architect for the proposed plan, told the board that soundproof materials will be used in the construction of the residential units.

The only parking near Bar Americana is municipal parking, on the street and in lots adjacent to the train station.

“The second and third floors will be metal studs with soundproofing in between and also the type of sheet rock that we would be finishing with will also be soundproof,” she said.

Boyadjis also said residents will have special key cards to activate the elevator and entry to the second floor, and that an employee will be in the elevator at all times to monitor bar patrons. The residential portion of the addition would include a lounge area, small fitness center and bicycle storage.

Chase also told the board that four residential units would generate a minimal amount of traffic and that the availability of parking in the area increases after 6 p.m., benefitting the rooftop bar, which would open at 3 p.m. on weekdays.

“There’s more than adequate parking in the area to accommodate the rooftop area,” he said.
The DC zone does not require parking for businesses like restaurants and bars, so the application only requires a variance for residential parking, attorney Jon DeMasi said at the meeting. Alvarez said he’s been discussing implementing a shared parking agreement with another local business, although nothing has been finalized yet. He has also looked into Boxcar, an application that allows people to reserve parking spaces in downtown Cranford online.

The meeting lasted almost three hours, so additional witnesses did not have time to testify for Alvarez, therefore the application will be continued to the May 20 regular meeting. At that time, members of the public will have the opportunity to make statements and ask questions about the application.

According to the township’s proposed revised master plan, additional residential units are desirable in the downtown area.