NJ.com, Nov. 25, 2014
By Barry Carter
The division was clear at Newark’s Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting.
Fifty-three people, including residents, architects and planners, sat on one side of the municipal council chambers at Newark City Hall. They raised their hands, almost in unison, against plans for another surface parking lot in the city’s Ironbound section.
Across the aisle, 46 people didn’t agree with them. They supported the lot.
This was the fifth meeting about what should happen with a small piece of land between parking lots that saturate Newark streets behind Penn Station. When you add up the number of lots, including those facing the Prudential Center, there are 13.
Nino Pereira, of Hillside, was seeking permission to operate lot No. 14 on Bruen Street – with space for 73 cars. His problem was that residents have become fed up with parking lots, especially after they couldn’t stop a large one from opening two years ago on McWhorter Street, just across from where Pereira wanted to put his new lot.
Residents are appealing the approval of the McWhorter Street lot in court, but they dug in to fight this one, too.
Experts testified for and against the proposed lot at a hearing last summer. Earlier this month, more people on both sides of the issue had their say.
They traded shots, but residents’ arguments against the plan eventually were more compelling. Parking lots, they said, stifle development and drive away opportunities for retail and housing.
Lisa Scorsolini said she moved to Newark, particularly the Ironbound, so she could walk to the deli and hair dresser, the restaurant and train station.
“This area has a potential for growth,’’ she said. “Surface parking lots do none of that. Commuters come in and they leave, leaving behind their trash, none of their dollars, and only harm to our city.’’
When daytime travelers are gone, residents said, the lots become isolated empty spaces that invite crime. Cars are vandalized and people get mugged.
David Robinson, an architect, brought pictures of several parking lots, with very few cars in them, to illustrate his point. “This is proof that no one uses the lots on weekends and at night,’’ he said.
What proved most convincing to the zoning board, however, is that parking lots are not permitted uses under the city’s zoning ordinances and its master plan.
Previously, property owners with plans for parking lots had no trouble gaining permission to open them. The zoning board routinely approved variances allowing these lots to exist in the Ironbound and downtown Newark.
The justification given to Ironbound residents was that their area is zoned industrial, not residential, and businesses they don’t like, such as a night club or lumberyard, could be approved.
Pereira was hoping the zoning board would side with him on the Bruen Street lot. But his supporters, including Makram Demian of Dayton, who owns the land in the Ironbound did not sway the board. They contended that Newark is developing, and businesses need parking for customers. And they disagreed about the potential for crime, saying parking attendants could report suspicious activity.
Fausto Simoes, the lawyer who represented Pereira, argued that a parking lot may not be ideal for his client’s property, but that it was unfair for residents to tell him how the land could or could not be utilized.
Good try, but it didn’t work.
The zoning board voted 7-0 to deny the variance, a departure from past rulings that ushered parking lots into the area. Pereira was disappointed, saying he doesn’t know what to do.
“It’s very small land,’’ he said. “There’s no space for nothing else.’’
Rosemarie Ruivo, a board member who represents the Ironbound, said Newark thrives when its people use the local business. “Not a parking lot.”
Zoning Board president Charles Auffant made it plain: The city’s new master plan does not permit parking lots.
“I’ve heard nothing that would make me believe that this application is anything but a detriment to the master plan,’’ he said.
Now, residents and East Ward Councilman Augusto Amador want Newark to follow other cities, which have development plans that support “transit villages,” creating areas where people live, shop and do business.
Amador said the goal – in an effort he hopes the administration will take the lead on – is to persuade parking lot owners to develop the land into housing and parking garages, with possible incentives from the city and state.
“We’re slowly losing against towns like Harrison, Jersey City, Hoboken to develop the area around Penn Station, so we can create the conditions to attract new people,’’ he said.
Newark has to pay attention. If not, the city will struggle to capitalize on its assets for a very long time.
Barry Carter: (973) 392-1827 firstname.lastname@example.org of nj.com/carter of follow him on Twitter @BarryCarterSL
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NJ.com, Nov. 25, 2014