Friday, July 27, 2007

Eminent Domain - Ledger- Fords merchants alarmed by Woodbridge plan

Published in the Star-Ledger, Friday, July 27, 2007

A town's 'visioning' has citizens seeing red

Woodbridge officials try to assuage fears

Star-Ledger Staff

Woodbridge officials tried last night to assure anxious property owners in the Fords and Hopelawn sections that planned improvements in their area would help them.

But some residents were alarmed their properties may be taken for public parking or redevelopment as part of the township's "visioning" process, which seeks to bring more business to the New Brunswick Avenue commercial corridor.

"I am worried about what's going on," said John Hansen, owner of Fords Service Center on New Brunswick Avenue. "My property is my retirement. It's my 401k."

Mayor John McCormac and a few council members tried to allay people's concerns, saying the process would be a collaborative one.

"We're here to help existing businesses," Councilman Richard Dalina said.

After the meeting, which was held to unveil a preliminary plan to jump-start the revitalization process, many audience members re mained skeptical and still had questions about the township's intentions.

The plan suggests more parking along New Brunswick Avenue; po tential redevelopment sites; revival of the local improvement district board; hiring a marketing manager for the area; tax abatements; and facade upgrades, McCormac said.

Other suggestions are to put in signs welcoming people to New Brunswick Avenue and to extend the nearby Middlesex County Greenway, a planned trail that traces an old rail line.

In anticipation of more parking, the town mailed letters to 22 property owners on New Brunswick Avenue and expressed interest in buying their land at "fair-market value."

But the letters, which were mailed at the beginning of the month, sparked speculation and fear about what they might really mean. The letters targeted specific properties that had ample room for cars, township officials said.

Many people at the meeting came because of the letters.

McCormac said if people are not interested in selling, then the town will walk away.

But the assurances did not allay Hansen's fears. Not only did he say he got a letter, but he also found out last night that his lot is being considered for redevelopment.

"I'm not happy because it is actually targeted," he said.

David Karney, owner of Dave's Auto and Towing on New Brunswick Avenue, thought the town was going the wrong way: Before addressing parking, it should bring in more businesses.

The meeting last night was the second "visioning" session for the area this year. In April, merchants and residents met and overwhelmingly said they needed more parking along New Brunswick Avenue, McCormac said.

New Brunswick Avenue in Fords and Hopelawn is a strip of auto shops, mom and pop businesses and several empty storefronts and lots.

Fords is not the only area Woodbridge officials are looking at to improve. They have been gather ing input for Oak Tree Road, which extends through Iselin. Other areas slated for study include the downtown Woodbridge area, the Keasbey waterfront and Inman Avenue in Colonia.

Sharon Adarlo may be reached at (732) 404-8081 or at

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Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.