LETTER TO THE EDITORS: Rutherford Planning Board Approves Holman Properties for Redevelopment
Updated: Feb 29, 2020
The following was sent to TIR from "Concerned Residents of Lincoln Ave" as an editorial piece.
The views and opinions expressed by the authors are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of This Is Rutherford. TIR welcomes coherent opinions relevant to Rutherford.
Rutherford Planning Board Approves Holman Properties for Redevelopment
On February 20, 2020, the Rutherford Planning Board unanimously approved the report prepared by Neglia Engineering to deem all of the Holman properties as an area in need of redevelopment. Approval was granted despite vigorous objections from 17 citizens who spoke at least once during the Planning Board meeting.
The Holman properties include 151 Park Avenue, 153 Park Avenue, 153 Park Avenue-Rear, 155 Park Avenue, 8 Highland Cross, and two properties zoned for residential use: 42 Lincoln Avenue and 50 Lincoln Avenue. Lincoln Avenue is a picturesque, tree-lined residential street that leads straight to Lincoln Park, the site for many popular Rutherford events.
In September of last year, the mayor and council authorized Neglia Engineering to conduct a site survey and deliver a report about its suitability for redevelopment. You can read the full Neglia report here.
At the Planning Board meeting, Neglia spokesman Anthony Kurus described visiting the main Holman business building on Park Avenue, during which he saw an outdated freight elevator, signs of roof leakage, and poor lighting. He noted that he got “a sore throat” from dust and felt that the interior was like being in a “time warp” or “something out of a horror movie.” (All quotations are taken from the audio recording of the meeting.) Citizens questioned this rather unscientific evaluation and asked whether air quality or traffic studies had been done; one resident pointed out that other buildings in Rutherford fulfill similar criteria, being old and dusty, with unused spaces and crumbling bricks—including Borough Hall itself.
Residents took issue with several claims made in the written Neglia report, including misleading and false information pertaining to 42 Lincoln Ave. The report says, falsely, that 42 Lincoln Avenue is not being maintained as a single-family home—when in fact, it has a family with children living in it. Also, although photos were provided for the frontage of all the other Holman properties to justify their inclusion in the proposed redevelopment area, the Neglia report included only a photo of the back side of 42 Lincoln Avenue. The back side is a driveway that is used as a commercial parking area, in violation of town ordinances and despite repeated complaints from neighbors.
The Neglia report also justified including 50 Lincoln Avenue, a vacant lot, in the redevelopment area because of its poorly maintained condition and presence of an “accessory structure” consisting of an old garage, in violation of ordinances. Citizens pointed out that the owner has failed to maintain the property for decades, including when the former house was still standing, and despite repeated complaints about the property since 2001. After the house was demolished in 2017, the property owner chose not to sell the plot despite receiving purchase offers, thus making its need for redevelopment essentially a foregone conclusion.
At the Planning Board meeting, the Neglia spokesman did not try to claim that 42 Lincoln Avenue is not a single-family home. In fact, he admitted that “the lot itself doesn’t meet statutory criteria” for needing redevelopment. However, he said that all the Holman lots “function together as one” and it simply “wouldn’t make sense” to exclude the two residential properties from the redevelopment area because the plots are contiguous with the older structures. He cited NJ legal code as support for this conclusion.
Citizens reasoned that while inclusion of the residential properties “makes sense” for a developer, other issues should be weighed, such as the impact on Lincoln Avenue, which is lined with large old homes. One resident noted the prominent location of the plots directly across from the Lincoln Park bandshell and called the Neglia proposal a “nail in the heart of the town” due to redevelopment laws that were probably written in the 1800s. One commenter noted that single-family homes in Rutherford are highly desirable on the market, and the R-1 zone does not need redevelopment in order to thrive. Citizens were simply asking the Planning Board to consider leaving the residential properties out of the redevelopment area, which could exist without them. Now that these residential properties are included, the R-1 zoning no longer applies.
While the Planning Board chairman emphasized that no development plans yet exist, residents assume that high-density housing will be constructed, in part because Neglia is the firm behind the controversial 8-story Agnew Place development. Many of the protests focused on the trend in Rutherford in recent years toward overdevelopment, with one citizen lamenting that “we keep giving Rutherford away” for areas including Agnew Place, the Parker, Union Avenue, Meadow Road, and the Williams Center. Residents are not opposed to improving certain buildings or vacant areas, including some of the Holman properties, but they believe that Rutherford’s infrastructure—not to mention its beauty--cannot accommodate large new buildings with multiple housing units. They also question the advisability of PILOT projects (payment in lieu of taxes), which benefit builders but not residents.
Protesters mentioned other concerns. At least one person mentioned the value of historic buildings among the Holman properties. Business owners cited the thriving small businesses renting in the Holman properties, such as Top That! Donuts, Park Floral Designs, and Sweet Avenue Bakeshop, which would all suffer from the proposed redevelopment. One resident reminded the Planning Board that there was precedent in Rutherford’s history for turning down proposed redevelopment projects. The Planning Board stated that the Neglia plan is advantageous because it allows them to maintain control over the fate of the Holman properties, but a resident pointed out that the town already has control—through its ordinances. More than one commenter stated that the report’s conclusions were in the interest of the developer, while residents cannot get their voices heard. At minimum, residents argued, we should not rush into yet another redevelopment project without conducting impact studies to determine the effects of projects already built.
The Planning Board will be sending their recommendation to the Mayor and Council who will vote on it. Going forward, concerned citizens should check Town Council Agendas for when the vote will happen. Residents can present their opinions at any Town Council meeting which are held on every second and fourth Monday at 6:30 pm at town hall. Citizens can also email council members with their concerns.
- Concerned Residents of Lincoln Ave (www.savelincolnave.com)