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?