Residents react to Clark downtown district proposal

CLARK, NJ — On May 16, an ordinance to create a Downtown Village District was proposed at a Clark Township Council meeting. The Downtown Village District will be along the Westfield Avenue corridor. It will impact 77 property owners along Westfield Avenue, from Brant Avenue to Madison Hill Road.

A yearly assessment over and above the businesses’ property taxes will be used for improvement and maintenance within the district. According to Business Administrator John Laezza, the assessment will range from $600 to $5,500 depending on the value of the property. The village district will bring in $96,849 annually.

Improvements along Westfield Avenue have long been a topic of discussion in the township. In March 2015, Dean Russo, owner of Personally Yours Gift Baskets, formed the Westfield Avenue Improvement Advisory Committee and held a public meeting to rally support and launch a conversation with township leaders.
“I’m really excited to see who supports this ordinance,” Vice President Council Member Angel Albanese told LocalSource. “Personally I think it’s a fantastic way to improve the area and improve local business. It should really be rejuvenating.
At this week’s council meeting everyone will have a chance to speak about it. It’s a small amount of the relative investment of the town that will be spent on improvements to the area.

“We are concerned about every tax dollar spent,” added Albanese. “We are the lowest in all of New Jersey in terms of tax increases in the past years and we stick to a tight budget which isn’t easy. I’m very proud of the people that budget our money so carefully each year. We’ve struggled over the years with these properties and developers need to make use of these properties, such as the one across from the Exxon station. No one wants to see a fenced off area. They wanted to put a car wash there initially, but I don’t think the town wants that either.”

“We are holding a town meeting on the sixth to hear what everyone has to say about it,” Council Member Alvin Barr told LocalSource. “I think it’s a great idea, and once we explain it, I think most people will agree. If the majority of people think it’s a good idea, I will vote for it. If only half want it, I will vote against it. I’m unsure about which way I will vote until I get to hear from the people at the meeting.”

“We as a council must do something to make the downtown our focal point,” Council Member Bill Smith told LocalSource, “In past years, other things have taken priority over it such as Clark Commons, but now we have a chance to take into account what local business owners want. I think the town as a whole will benefit from this ordinance. If it’s something the people want, I will vote in favor of it, The old A&P is the highest assessed property. The money will be spent on maintaining the downtown so that we can install new lights, sidewalks and flowerpots. It will bring the area to life, increasing the advertising that takes place in this area. And although we hate to increase taxes, the money has to come from somewhere. The businesses will be able to contribute over $96,000 if we pass this ordinance. We will leave the decision in the hands of the business owners as to whether they want to turn this is into a flourishing downtown area.”

Business owners have expressed varied opinions on the matter. Gerald Betekapof, of O’Johnnie’s was in favor of it. He even addressed the eyesore of the old A&P in town.

“I think this would be great for the town,” said Betekapof. “I would even be willing to pay additional tax dollars for it but I also think the town needs to contribute too. The burden shouldn’t be solely on business owners. The old A&P is a real eyesore that needs to be taken over and condemned. It could be transformed into a parking area for the downtown. I also think we need painted crosswalks to slow down cars.”

Harvin Freedman, of Freedman Accounting, expressed his disinterest in passing the ordinance. He doesn’t feel it’s fair for business owners to have to pay additional tax dollars so that the town can have a business village district. He believes this is unfair.

“I’m uninterested in passing this ordinance,” said Freedman.
Finally, Walid Gaballas, of JMK Gas Corporation, expressed neither an interest or disinterest in the ordinance. He is a relatively new business owner, with only two months in his position. He didn’t feel strongly one way or another about the ordinance.

“I think it’s an okay idea,” said Gaballas. “I’m unfamiliar with all the details so I’m unsure about it. I would have to get more information before confirming my opinion on the matter.”