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Large Turnout for Special Meeting Regarding Rezoning

1/29/18 Special Council Meeting

City Planner Annie Hindenlang gives a presentation at the 1/29/18 special meeting. *Photo by Katherine Massopust

PERTH AMBOY – Annie Hindenlang who currently works for the Redevelopment Agency as a Residential Planner began the Meeting with a presentation on the proposed rezoning of sections of Perth Amboy. She stated that this comes from the Office of Economic and Community Development where she was a planner back in 2012. The public was provided a copy of the proposed plan which included the zones that may be affected. She gave a brief overview of how this plan came to fruition. She stated that this has been in the works since 2012 and that the need for rezoning was stressed after Superstorm Sandy. She emphasized the need to reinvent the downtown area and what the City needed to do to accomplish that goal.

Hindenlang stated “We are a growing community. 30% of the population of Perth Amboy has increased and there’s an overcrowding of older single-family units. Over the years, there’s less than half of a housing increase. This is designed to benefit those already here. We did an initial analysis of codes and how we can take the people’s concerns and direct them to the downtown area and see what we needed to do for housing and infrastructure issues. We made flexibility for artists.”

She explained when people went to look up certain zoning codes, they were difficult to understand, “We made it simple and in plain language. We’re not taking anyone’s property. There’s a demand for new shopping options. The project kicked off in June 2015. We talked to thousands of residents who said the same thing. A lot of our codes are archaic. A lot of towns have outdated codes. Downtowns are becoming important again and people want to live there. We asked how can a property owner increase their rent? We wanted to make codes user friendly, preserve existing character, and look at the best stuff we have. We’re not looking to close businesses. We are not looking to occupy or take any properties. This does not create any eminent domain. It will not involve any forced loss of your property. We want to help property owners invest in what they have. If you look around, there are a lot of empty stores with facades and upper stories not being used or taken care of. We want to stabilize the downtown. Presently, there is a lot of turnover. We need to bring more residents to the downtown, and to stabilize and bring activity and additional funding to the downtown. We want to control where the growth is. We looked at the availability of parking. The plan provides to utilize the existing decks. We plan to build a 4 story 800 space parking deck at the train station parking lot. Downtown businesses require 5 parking spaces. We want to allow businesses to expand and allow +4 parking spaces. We want to allow businesses to grow and provide flexibility. We want to allow hotels to come in, a craft district and we want the existing buildings to put a roof garden on top.”

Council President Bill Petrick asked Hindenlang, “What do you envision?”

“No plans – it’s to increase flexibility.”

Petrick also asked about the federal requirements for any future buildings to be built in the Waterfront Area.”

Hindenlang explained that this was due to FEMA Regulations after Superstorm Sandy.

Acting Fire Chief Ed Mullen came up to say a few words, “This plan will alleviate illegal housing. Some of the buildings have vacant floors above that are not up to code.” He mentioned streets south of Fayette and Market Street. “If you have more off-street parking, it will help emergency vehicles get down those streets.”

Max, a 23-year-old City Employee from Office of Economic and Community Development, Perth Amboy Resident and Millennial spoke next. “I’m fresh out of college and I’m looking for a place to get coffee, groceries, and have dinner. It’s the Millennial dream. I hear a lot of negativity about population growth. Perth Amboy is a growing city.”

William Kurzenburger of the Office of Economic and Community Development spoke next, “The chief concerns are of increased population density. Density is upon us whether we like it or not. We can have it crowded in small buildings or living in dignity in better apartments. 40% of the population is under 25. They can’t afford houses and need affordable apartments close to transit hubs, recreation, dining, etc.”

Director of the BID Junel Hutchinson spoke next, “After speaking to business owners, they are concerned about closing their busineses due to competition with large corporations like Wal-Mart. They’re concerned about losing their part of business due to the rezoning. We’re here to help new businesses. Many people do business with their cell phones.”

Rezoning Chart
*Photo by Paul W. Wang

Police Chief Roman McKeon spoke on issues of public safety. He explained the plans for a police substation annex which will be included the downtown parking deck design. He stated it will help with public safety and it will bring the Police Department closer to the community. “Officers will be downtown on Smith Street with bicycles and scooters.”

Mayor Wilda Diaz spoke next. “I’m glad everyone came out to hear this presentation. We understand the need for repairs to the train station. That work is going to begin at the end of 2019. There was never any intent to displace any of your businesses. or taking your property with eminent domain. Instead of having empty businesses, there can be housing for young people. When we do a census, we look at it. There’s so many young professionals. When they go to school, they leave. We asked ourselves how can we turn around and support the business community? We can attract that purchasing power. We want to bring other shops to the Waterfront. We thought about the parking and we need more parking. We have an Advisory Committee to help revitalize the Waterfront. We want to bring small quaint shops to the Waterfront. We have a plan for the City in the future. Thank you to the team for all the hard work you do.”

Annie Hindenlang then added, “It’s not just for Millennials. It’s for older people looking for places to rent. Divorcee Dads have a large market. The apartments will start at (approximately) $1000/month.”

During the public portion, Resident and Businesswoman Wilma Matey spoke first. “We don’t need more housing. Fix what we have to make it better.”

Resident Linda Ferrera spoke next, “What’s going to happen? We’re not all Millennials. Who picks the businesses that come into town? All we have are bars, nail salons – a lot of nothing! We want viable stores to shop. My daughter is a Millennial. She doesn’t rent in the town. Where are these kids going to go?”

Waterfront Area Resident Lisa Jones spoke next, “We could use little coffee shops. In summer, the parking gets quite saturated. Sometimes I have to park in St. Peters. I’ve not lived in Perth Amboy all my life. Millennials are getting married and having children and moving out of apartments and into homes.”

Sharon Hubberman spoke next. “What would be included in the rezoning? What about the shared parking? There was no presentation on that. We already have 60,000 residents. Why are they not patronizing the businesses? There are no grandfather clauses to protect existing businesses. What about additional parking, zoning, and the schools are overcrowded. We’re already building 2 schools now.”

The next speaker was Sergio Diaz, “I keep hearing about more people and children coming in. We have to make sure we have proper housing for those when graduate from school. We need to provide the essentials to help new businesses that want to come in. We have 11,000 kids in school. We want better businesses. This plan enhances our dowtown. There are very few buildings we can build on downtown. We will never be a population of 30,000 again. We have responsible kids and they are not criminals. Why the rush to commercialize the Waterfront? Leave politics aside. It’s time for our downtown to be attractive.”

Resident Caroline Pozycki-Torres spoke next. “It’s an aggressive residential parking plan to allow us to retain our quality of life.”

Quanto Torres spoke next. “I agree what you are doing. It will attract college educated professionals.”

Proposed Parking Deck *Photo by Paul W. Wang

Resident Linda Cruz came up to speak next, “The Five Corners Building is now residential. We do have illegal housing. All people who own buildings are not from Perth Amboy. They don’t care. I believe in public education. Five years ago, a rep said Perth Amboy is on the cutting edge of everything. We could have been a Charleston. Our Waterfront is immaculate. Let’s work to fix what we have. I’m born and raised in this town. We need to talk about reality, not about what’s happening in another town.”

Richard Dunn, Senior Vice President of Paramount Assets came up to speak. “I’m pleased to see this Administration is working together with everybody’s best interest. Right now, Perth Amboy is falling behind  in redevelopment behind other towns. I’m here to support the rezoning. It would be in the best interest of the town. It will do wonders for the City and the residents. Perth Amboy is going forward. We have our finger on the pulse of the community. We have a lot of buildings in Perth Amboy that can be used. We are working to bring in a nationally known tenant to Perth Amboy. You bring us all revenue. I live in Middlesex County off of Rte. 9. At this point, the City is moving in the right direction. Paramount Assets is here for the community.”

Council President Bill Petrick then asked, “What would Paramount need from the governing body to address ?

Dunn answered, “Get regulations out of the way. Most municipalities are rezoning. You want to rejuvenate the population.”

Resident Stanely Sierakowski spoke next, “How many dilapidated buildings does Paramount have? That’s where the money is. Rentals not for $800 – $1000 (a month) but $1,500 – $2,200 (a month). In New Brunswick, there’s a different kind of clientele. Perth Amboy isn’t going anywhere unless two things are done. New Brunswick has Rutgers and Johnson & Johnson and they have a long-term deal. We can get Rutgers University to have an annex here, instead of warehouses where your children are going to work. No matter what they say here, the law is on their side with eminent domain. Look at the City website. They’re going to offer you money for your property going for $300,000 and flexibility rebuilding. Read the fine print.”

Virginia Lugo spoke next, “I’m not opposed to a business district, but where is a more appropriate place (for rezoning) where it will not encroach the people living in the area? If the Water Street/Smith Street lower level is built up 25 feet, it will cover my house in darkness. If you were to build anywhere, what about the sewer/water/electric? As far as Millennials – look at the City. What about the rest of the City that looks like holy hell. I’ve put through many studies, many years that have not gone anywhere. The last thing they (the City) did was doing those planters (on Smith Street). The Mayor has done nothing since 2008 since she got elected. Please have a number of meetings before making a decision. I think you should really go down the line.”

Business Owner Benito Torres asked the Council, “Has a study been done on the current parking capacity both at the Waterfront and the Downtown district? What date was the study done and by whom? Has a study been done on the increased parking demand for the proposed rezoning? Has the Council seen these studies?”

Council President Petrick answered, “I don’t know of any parking study.” He asked Hindenlang, “Are you aware? Do you know of any study? When was that study done?”

Annie Hindenlang answered, “In 2013 a parking study was done of the existing parking situation of the downtown which found vacancies throughout the day and that I can give you. With this plan, they analyzed the potential for how much parking that can be created in the downtown what the impact would be. The 2013 study was done by a firm that only does parking analysis. They did it for the Parking Authority. The analysis looked at the potential for development, if the everything somehow got built up to the maximum level and what kind of impact it had and if it could be accommodated. One of the things all of these plans addressed and said needed to happen is a City-wide parking study. It’s in the capital budget for this year. Residential parking needs to be permitted and needs to be protected.”

A crowded Council Chambers
*Photo by Katherine Massopust

Alan Silber spoke next. He cited several redevelopment projects in the works, including: Developer Halpern with 320 more units in the works at Harbortown; Developer Eddie Trujillo’s project which includes 400 more units, Ali Rada’s recent project of 30 units, and Kushner’s planned around 600-unit complex. “We already have plenty of units being planned for the Millennials. Except the Millennials should think about it this way. Halpern knows what he’s doing. He owns units all over. Halpern isn’t building for Millennials. He want’s senior citizens. But someone says the City has to keep on expanding. But the City doesn’t expand. We want more people in one area. A speaker who came up here earlier is accused the Council of being political because you want a Meeting on rezoning. At a previous presentation we’ve got this Shared Parking assignments? Why wasn’t this mentioned? What was mentioned? Doing away with how many parking spaces you need. There was an Ordinance stating one has to live in the City for 10 years to be a City Worker. Now it’s stating 5 years? Why reduce waiting time to move out of this town?”

Annie Hindenlang spoke again, “I will address those concerns. Rental properties pay more taxes and are valued at a higher rate for tax attracted models. When people start having kids, they leave because of the school system. I’m glad to show you shared parking anytime. Crime and infrastructure concerns are detailed in our plan. We’ve worked hard on this plan. You can have here additional plans for that (grandfather clause). Municipal land use, what you can do off-site are grandfathered in. The County Seat doesn’t pay taxes. Johnson & Johnson has a tax abatement.

Resident Mary Ellen Pavlovsky came up to speak, “Why rezone Front Street? It’s not a blighted area. The homes are well maintained. The proposed commercial zone devalues the area. The City is already overcrowded. Other luxury developers have never delivered what was promised. All over Amboy are empty commercial space. What about the dead-end fire hydrants with no water pressure. For one fire, the Fire Department had to pump water from the bay. Why rush ruining a beautiful area with rezoning? Exclude Front Street from rezoning commercial.”

Resident Eric Rodgers spoke next, He asked everyone who lives in Waterfront area to please stand up which they did.  “How many of you imagine we need more commercial businesses in our area (Waterfront)?” “Nobody who stood up  raised their hands except City Employee Lissett Lebron. Rodgers continued, “When I was a very young man and came out of college, I rented a property from Mr. Fishkin (a local businessman who had a store on Madison Avenue). I told him what I wanted to do. Mr. Fishkin said, “I have a lot of money and I’ll give you guys a break.” Let me tell you about Paramount. Are we going to make this man (Paramount) rich who doesn’t even live in this town? He already stated he wants businesses here with deep pockets. Perth Amboy is selling out. A small promise. You can’t open an art shop with a $5,000 overhead. How many times do you see Paramount Properties hand out anything to the kids at any of the festivals? Zero times. What has this man done for Perth Amboy? Anything Paramount thinks is a great idea I think is a bad idea. Do you want Perth Amboy to be the next Newark? He (Paramount) did nothing for Newark; nothing for Elizabeth; and I will bet you he will do nothing for Perth Amboy!”

Resident Angel Rivera spoke next. “Let’s use logistics working with existing problems in the City. I hate to walk in the streets in Perth Amboy because the smelly sewers. I hope you make at least $70,000/yr to live in Perth Amboy, because that’s what it costs.”

Business Owner Anthony Abreu stated that the rezoning was good for the town.

Resident and City Employee Tashi Vasquez came up to speak next, “I’m speaking not as an employee, but as a resident and home owner. There is an organization looking to partner to buy 8 new buildings in Perth Amboy – affordable units. That would have been done. The deal fell through because they had to put in a variance. I’m not a Millennial. One day, I’ll become a senior, and those seniors need housing as well. Let’s not get caught up on logistics. We need to help our businesses. This is the way to do it. We have to think all the way across the board, so if a developer comes in, there’s no red tape. Let’s make these rules happen and put them in place. Let’s get rid of the red tape because that’s what we have now.

Resident Dan Hedberg came up to speak next, “How would the cost of rental income justify the increase in owner’s property tax? In my experience, population growth has only led to higher taxes. There’s lots of vacant land begging for people to do something with. The Gateway project – people pass by and think we’re a burnt-out city. A good place to start this discussion is to deal with that illegal housing problem. I have property in Ocean Grove. In order to rent your property there, I have to get a seal every time it rents. I have to give a list everyone including students renting that property. Firefighters know how many people are in that property when they pull up. They don’t have to be guessing. I think it’s a good thing. The City hasn’t been very good about sending out announcements about their general projects. Even the Bayview Park Project, which was built is right under my house – I didn’t even know about it until the fence was being put up. Its important information which should be shared with the public. We’ve seen that Harbortown has turned into a large Section 8 housing project. Just wondering with all this money going into these redevelopments, are they going to end up Section 8 if they don’t rent? You have to put that on the scale, too. Will rezoning increase property values? Will rezoning maximize the value of the property at its highest value if sold?”

“Even if a property is sold, when appraisal is done at its maximum potential and it’s a one story residential building, if it’s allowed to be 5-6 stories of residential then it gets appraised for the additional value than that person can capture,” Hindenlang answered.

Resident Abraham Rodriguez came up to speak next, “If you want Millennials and you have to open up a box, the basics here are not for Millennials.  You need variables all in check.”

Mayor Wilda Diaz came up to speak again, “The City is not going to stop growing regardless who is the Administration. It’s not a redevelopment project. I’m grateful for anyone who works for the City. When I take a look at this rezoning, when we ask for grants they ask what’s your plan for capital improvement. If you don’t have a plan, money is tight. Every plan we implement, we carved out. You need a plan in place. You have to here. We’re serious enough to show the initiative. The Waterfront rezoning came out after Superstorm Sandy. It came from the Waterfront Advisory Committee. Everything here is how we came up with the plan. There is something that you should be aware of.”

Resident Maria Rodriguez spoke next, “When are you voting?”

Council President Bill Petrick answered, “We will vote at the next Council Meeting or one of the next couple of Council Meetings. We will notify people thru newspapers (of any meetings).

Rodriguez continued, “It is very important that you read every detail. You have the power. You are the voices. This is an important decision you have to make.”

Resident Samuel Cosada spoke next, “This really hits home big time. My parents had a business on Smith Street for 25 years. We had a business on Smith Street and our family business is being left out. I do feel this is a great idea.”

Councilman Fernando Irizarry asked, “What type of business?”

Cosada answered, “We had a multiservice. It closed down.”

After the public portion, the Council Comments part of the Meeting began. Councilman Helmin Caba spoke first. “There are 2 sides of everyone who spoke. On one side we had the Administration and Developers on the other side we had City Residents and Citizens of Perth Amboy. That tells you a lot. We, the Council are paying attention. We were elected by the people to do for the people. “My decision will be for the people”. You should allow us to have a better plan. We should revisit that plan. Yes, every city and nation keep growing, but we need to take in consideration the size of Perth Amboy and its Schools. Two schools are being built: an elementary and a high school. We’re finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, so let’s not push that light further from us. There was no mention of schools. Millennials are ready to leave Perth Amboy if it’s not what they want. Looking at Paramount, Millennials will not be able to afford the rent they charge. The Millennials – we need to keep them here. We’ve had other projects promising to target young professionals. How many did we have? It didn’t work. I believe in property owners being subjected to do variances to any change, because it gives a voice to the residents in the neighborhood.”

“Why would this work? Let’s work with the issues we currently have like overcrowdedness, congested traffic and no parking, so let’s not go backwards with high-rise rentals. A parking deck with a Police Substation downtown is a phenomenal idea. We don’t need to take on so many more people with this rezoning, we’re already doing that with the other redevelopments. These downtown property owners have big pockets and should renovate their buildings without doing high-rises. I too, live in the Waterfront area. I don’t’ want a big high-rise in my neighborhood. I wasn’t convinced today. People that spoke in behalf of the project were some of the Administration and developers. Others who were against it were the citizens of Perth Amboy”

Councilman Fernando Gonzalez made his comments next: “We got elected to make hard decisions. The reality is I pushed for this meeting. You have to read every word here. I did three times. I’m still confused. Zoning is not an easy matter. We need to look at this. A decision has to be made. All you have to do is look at the makeup, you’ll get the answers. Without creating all these changes, there’s some good changes. I think this has to be taken line by line to see what we are going to use and not use. Someone mentioned the sewers. There are so many things we need to address. The Administration has the best interest in mind for the City. We do also. How do we put it all together? We got to take it piece by piece. Now, the hard work starts. Now we make this town a great place to visit.”

Councilman Fernando Irizarry spoke next: “I will consider everything that’s been said and continue asking questions. I’m not committing myself either way. I’m keeping an open mind and considering the issues.”

Councilman Joel Pabon made his statements: “We need this more (a large attendance). If you do have an issue, come down here and tell us. Those are good points. We need your eyes and ears to come up here. We’ll listen to what you have to say. A lot of this discussion that was here – we’ll listen. I was born and raised here. When I bought a second home I took a risk. I’m glad. A lot of things you brought up. I’d like to see a traffic study. A parking deck – it’s one of the best ideas we’ve come up with. 20 years from now, I’d like to say I was a part of it.”

Council President Bill Petrick spoke last, “There was an overflow crowdand a lot of people in the hallway. Next time we will have it a larger venue. ” H e thanked everyone for coming.

Councilman Irizarry then added, “We did ask the Board of Education to come to this Meeting. We did send the ordinance to them. They did send us an email and what the email that we received said basically they reviewed the ordinance and they felt it wasn’t going to affect any of the schools in any way.”

Board Member Anton J. Massopust who was in the audience loudly objected, “WE DIDN’T SAY THAT!!!”

Councilman Fernando Gonzalez then added, “That was sent to the Business Administrator over there. The Business Administrator responded. The Superintendent or none of his staff knew this meeting was going on.”

The Special Meeting was adjourned at 9:29 p.m.

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