Rail-line property in Kenilworth considered for greenway project

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KENILWORTH, NJ — The defunct Rahway Valley Railroad, which the New Jersey Department of Transportation has been unable to afford to rebuild since 2010, runs through numerous towns, many of which would love to be able to do something with the former rail area. As part of this property is in her borough, Kenilworth Mayor Linda Karlovitch has some ideas herself.

“What may possibly happen is that the county may, ultimately, take the property and eminent domain,” Karlovitch said on Friday, May 14. “With the infrastructure money, we’re hoping to be able to convert a lot of these rail lines into trails — bike trails, recreation trails. We have an abandoned rail line coming through Kenilworth, and the idea is to tie in the communities with the business district. You could jump on your bike, potentially, and get to Westfield or Cranford. There’s an advocacy group in Union County called Rails to Trails, and we’re collaborating together to make this happen.

“The NJDOT owns the actual property, but there’s been a lot of companies that have been using it as a junkyard,” she continued. “For me, it’s cleaning up the area, as well as creating recreation space for the community.”

Though there is no time frame for the project right now, Karlovitch mentioned the enormous push behind it and how excited she is about this effort.

“We want to turn it into a recreation space,” Karlovitch said. “This specific line also ties in to the East Coast Greenway. Ultimately, people will be able to jump on this trail, on the Boulevard, and end up in Cranford at Nomahegan Park, which would be really nice, and it’s also overlooking the golf course, which is quite beautiful. We don’t have a lot of recreation space in Kenilworth, so this would be a really welcome addition.”

The mayor said a rail trail would help boost the economy, improve property values, create recreation space and create a positive atmosphere for health and wellness and economic and environmental well-being in the community. She stressed that the town is not looking to purchase the land. Instead, they would be working with county officials to create this.

“I’m in the very beginning phase of working with this advocacy group to create this,” said Karlovitch. “There are two trails continuing onto the south side of Kenilworth into Roselle Park, and we’ve walked both trails to see what’s there.”

Taking part in walking the trails along with the mayor were the Parks and Community Renewal Director Ron Zuber, Kenilworth Planning Board President Rich Picerno, Union County Department of Public Works Director Michael Brennan, Kenilworth DPW Superintendent Mike Calixto, some residents from Roselle Park and Kenilworth, Roselle Park residents and Rails to Trails Union County advocates Michael Dury and Jay Robaina, and Kenilworth residents and Rails to Trails Union County advocates Louis DeMondo and Steve Dunn.

“It’s very advantageous to the county, because it’s right off a county road. It also borders county property and runs into the East Coast Greenway. It’s really advantageous for this specific part of this railroad to be turned into a bike trail/walking trail. A lot of towns are interested, and I think that this abandoned railroad property was sort of inherited by all of these communities. Someone came up with this great idea to turn this into trails, and it’s sort of taken on a life of its own. There’s a whole lot of really positive energy behind making this happen,” she said.

Karlovitch said the next course of action would be to send notices to the businesses that have been squatting on this property to clean up their garbage and vacate the premises. She said the town would be working with the county and hopefully get infrastructure money and get some bike trails paved.

According to borough attorney Frank Capece, who is a contributor to this newspaper, businesses that have been using the property will have 10 days to clean up their garbage. If, at the end of that period, the area has not been cleaned, the Department of Public Works will take care of it and bill them for its time. The fee would be applied to the perpetrator’s tax bill.

“The person who enforces our property code will proceed to these properties this week. They will be given a notification that they are in violation of the borough’s maintenance code, because they’re storing junk on the property,” Capece said on Monday, May 17. “We will then proceed to give them a certain period of time to clean it up. If they fail to do so, we will proceed with enforcement in the municipal court. We’ve been appreciative of the cooperation of the County Counsel’s Office, and we fully expect their cooperation.”

Though the garbage-filled area currently doesn’t look very pleasant, Karlovitch continues to focus on the positives of this venture.

“Recreation is one of the main reasons why people choose where they want to live, and, outside of the schools, it’s just connecting communities in parks and businesses,” Karlovitch said. “The trail would provide safe bicycle and pedestrian access; people could ride their bike to go to eat dinner and go to the gym. There are so many positives to this.”

Jay Robaina, co-founder of the advocacy group Rails to Trails Union County, said the rail line they are focused on utilizing is the stretch that runs from Westfield Avenue and Valley Road in Roselle Park to Michigan Avenue at Black Brook Park in Kenilworth. The entire corridor runs from Roselle Park to Summit.

“The Rahway Valley line served Roselle Park, Kenilworth, Union, Springfield, Summit and Maplewood,” said Robaina on Friday, May 14. “The Rahway Valley Rail Trail, when completed, would provide residents and visitors with open space and safe connection to local businesses and parks while linking directly to the East Coast Greenway, the 9/11 memorial trail and Olmsted greenways. This greenway would offer safe connectivity to our local businesses, public transportation and neighboring communities, while reducing roadway traffic and parking congestion.”

It would also promote healthy living, protect the environment, support economic renewal and growth, and preserve the history of the Rahway Valley line, which helped shape so many of the Union County communities, he continued, adding that towns with trails see a boost in spending at local businesses and benefit from increased desirability and greater property values. Trails also make communities more attractive places to live and influence business location and relocation decisions. With nearly half of all car trips being less than three miles, families benefit by cutting fuel costs through shifting short car trips to walking and bicycle trips.

“Neighboring communities surrounding Kenilworth with growing downtowns and situated near major highways and transit will flourish,” Robaina said. “For example, with Metuchen and their Middlesex Greenway, in 2019, more than 75 new businesses not only brought dozens of new jobs to their borough, they also have helped to stabilize property taxes. When you create safe and accessible bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, you build interconnectivity and create a culture that is more people focused, instead of vehicle-centric. It makes the neighborhoods they are in healthy, prosperous, sustainable and resilient.”

Photos Courtesy of Steven Dunn, Jay Robaina and Linda Karlovitch