Friday, May 09, 2008

Will they never learn?

Administration and Council Majority Favor Fantasy Development Over Preservation
Trenton City Council voted 5-1 last night to approve changes to the redevelopment plan for the area around the train station that could see two large, historic houses razed to make way for a proposed 25 story building. (Read the Times article here.)

Citing the potential for jobs and the need to develop the area "now," City Officials tossed aside the fact that the buildings sit in an historic district which, one would presume, should offer some protection from the bulldozer.

More disturbing is the fact that these changes to the redevelopment plan seem to favor the designated developer over the rights of the current property owners. We fully expect another eminent domain case to arise out of this.

Trenton's officials just haven't gotten the message yet that we should not always bend the existing rules to fit the developers. Instead, the developers should make their plans according to existing planning, zoning, and historic guidelines. They were all drafted and adopted for particular reasons and were not compiled on a whim.

The last several years have given us examples of the wrongheaded decisions made by Council majorities, as well as those of the Planning and Zoning Boards. And what have we gotten for the trouble:

The Leewood Group was granted development rights to a large section of the city's South Ward for one year with no "proposed plan" on the table. But suddenly drawings appeared of a razed and rebuilt neighborhood much to the chagrin of the homeowners in the area. This lead to a very heated and protracted battle that fortunately scuttled the project in favor of a more preservation minded approach. Meanwhile the proposed Historic District designation for a part of the same area has been held up because city officials won't sign off on it.

Hovnanian's plans for the Champale site, initially heralded and approved by officials and the public alike, turned into a nightmare when the redevelopment area was changed to include privately held properties. This lead to an ugly eminent domain fight that has yet to be completely resolved. People's lives and properties are in limbo and Hovnanian (with the aid of members of the Palmer Administration) is trying to salvage something out of the plan.

Full Spectrum's Town Center project set for a block bounded by E. State and E. Hanover between Montgomery and Stockton has yet to see a shovel hit the ground. This too would entail the acquisition of privately held properties and thus has owners and occupants on edge waiting to see what will happen.

And let's not forget the ridiculous Taco Bell/Long John Silver's soon to open in an improbable location on S. Broad Street that should never have been approved. (And,yes,the court's obviously disagree with that position. But that doesn't make the approval a better decision).

So while all these grand plans are afloat and City Officials bend over backwards to please the developers, we have empty buildings galore that could and should be renovated (where needed) and utilized.

There are still plenty of units available in the Broad Street Bank Building for those looking for downtown living space.

Former Senator Toricelli's projects downtown are still largely vacant for those looking for commercial space. (And we hear his proposal to build a new building at Front and Warren across from the Golden Swan is dead...after he stole the property out from under another buyer with the city's help!)

The Sussman family's Nexus Properties is sitting on a manner of properties downtown...not the least of with is the gorgeous but deteriorating Trenton Savings Fund Society building on E. State Street.

And what about the former "DMV" building on S. Montgomery that sits, empty, waiting for tenants?

These are but a few examples. There are plenty more.

Let's stop tearing down the great old buildings and constructing new monstrosities that are unneeded.

Let's use what we have to the fullest first.

Aren't we supposed to be a "green" city?


Chrissy said...

I was beginning to have faith that a new, sensible majority was emerging within council, but am so disappointed to read how the vote went last night. I'm hoping Jim Coston will blog about the reasons behind his vote. Perhaps it will shed some light on why council approved the change. I'd like to think maybe there's something we're missing, some point escaping us. Unfortunately, history shows us that this city's officials are often totally, totally off the mark. "I have a dream for Trenton" too, and it's simply that our city officials stop hosing the people who live here.

Anonymous said...

So what's the problem with the Taco Bell?

Old Mill Hill said...

The problem is not the Taco Bell per se, but the fact that as many understood it, the redevelopment plan for the area did not include or anticipate franchise fast food outlets.

That said when any thinking person looks at the traffic patterns around that parcel, drive through fast food restaurants are not what spring to mind.

This is an attempt to grab a quick buck that is probably going to fail and we…the citizens of Trenton will be left with an eyesore that has negligible positive community impact.

Or are we being too tough for your sensibilities?

Guy on the canal said...

Well said O "mysterious, wise, and elderly" One..(quoting the Trenton Makes blog who has aptly chistened you ) I think to stop the idiocy will require a real counter proposal rather than just pointing the alternatives out. How hard is it to find out what parcels are available ( city owned or derelict) in that area that would fit the footprint of the development? Much harder for the folks on Council dismiss things if there is something substantive presented to them... Well at least some of them.. others ..forget it.,,,,

Capital 3 said...

Since the previous blog, I DID send word to Jim Coston not to raze said houses. However, he voted FOR the plan and posted to his blog a very appologetic-sounding explaination. I'm divided on this now.

I was not really aware this was part of a grand plan to turn the Trenton rail station into a commuter village. Yes, such measures have been held up in West Windsor and Hamilton. It was flat out rejected in Bordentown. However, Trenton has a long history of being the way-station between New York and Philadelphia. Trenton grew and beat out Bordentown as a transit center simply because Trenton had ferries and Bordentown didn't. There doesn't seem to be so much wrong with a commuter village in Trenton. In fact, Trenton as a whole is a sort of commuter village already.

This does not mean we should raze historic buildings. In many municipalities they weight whether buildings have significant historic character. Obviously Trenton at some point thought these two houses did. In my message to Jim Coston, I suggested the vacant houses the Walnut extension, the 'other' dilapidated historic house on Greenwood (across from the Jewish home & behind the Walnut garage), as well at the vacant lot at the corner of Clinton & State. Why are they razing houses instead of using these lots? Are they using these lots already? Perhaps they're just not free with the information. Not good, if you want me to vote on it.

So, I believe the city CAN explore a commuter village, but explore it somewhere else. What's happening lately with the Roebling complex?

Old Mill Hill said...

As for the Roebling complex...

...well, we're supposed to be getting the new grocery store any day now. They've put a lot of money and work into the expanded space in the Roebling Market.

So that's good.

The part of the property that was earmarked for the Manex development is in limbo.

That's not good.

The partof the property designated for the new school is, I believe, in limbo due to the funding crisis of the State and the Schools Development Authority.

Not good.

As for the former U.S.Steel Wire Rope plant (along Hamilton Ave, opposite the arena)...we're still waiting for John Elkington and his Performa people to work their magic and build the idiotic multi-club/restaurant/residential development on that site.

Good that it hasn't happened yet, but bad that we ever got "in bed" with that crook to begin with (thank you Mr. Prunetti and the MCIA).

A new developer has been named for the former Polizzi Meats site at the corner of S. Clinton and Hamilton.

A previous developer was interested, but the County's plans for reconfiguring that intersection caused delays and would have cramped that design.

So...there you have it. Two positives, two negatives and an either/or.

Wow! Its hard to believe there is so little going on when there is so much potential.