Board declines to back redevelopment plan

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:51

    BYRAM-The sun will shine on the Byram Car Wash for another day. The planning board refused to rain on the Route 206 business last week by declining to endorse a study calling for the redevelopment of the property near the proposed Byram Village Center. "The planning board recognized that the Village Center could be built without the Byram Car Wash property," said Saul Wolfe, a Livingston attorney who represents the car wash owners. "The people of Byram can be proud of the way the planning board conducted itself, evaluated the situation, and reached a decision." The township-commissioned study recommended that the property where the Byram Car Wash is located n and others near it -- be "redeveloped" to serve as a "gateway" to the entire Village Center. Local business owners vowed to fight to keep their land. The township council will now decide whether to accept the planning counterproposal before shopping the package for bid to developers. Township manager Gregg Poff said the properties along Route 206 clearly qualify for redevelopment under current local housing and property laws. "The planning board's decision is certainly going to weigh on the minds of an elected official," he said. "Byram has done a magnificent job of planning this Village Center. It's not about taking people's property n that's not what this law is about. It's about working with private property owners to make the sure the vision of the town is realized." The study, prepared by Heyer, Gruel & Associates of New Brunswick, concludes that the Village Center cannot be established without integrating some key commercial parcels facing Route 206 into the overall design. Township planners envision the land surrounding the intersection of Route 206 and Lackawanna Drive as home to the Village Center, a proposed mixed-use area for retail, offices, restaurants, and apartments including state-mandated affordable housing units. Earlier this month, a sharply divided U.S. Supreme Court granted local governments wide latitude to condemn and knock down homes and businesses against the will of the owners to foster new private economic development. The court's decision dealt a blow to property-rights advocates nationwide. Localities would now have broad discretion to promote privately backed renewal projects as long as they include "public purpose." However, Wolfe, Byram's Car Wash attorney recommended caution. "Eminent domain should be a last resort and used very carefully for public purposes," he said. The attorney noted that New Jersey's Constitution is more restrictive and allows towns to seize only "blighted" property for redevelopment. He said there was no clear reason for the town to take his client's property. Robert Paladino, who owns the car wash with his brother, Glenn, and sister, Sheryl, said his business is not blighted, and instead includes a well-kept building and landscaped property along the quarter-mile mile stretch of roadway. The study recommends other areas along Route 206 for redevelopment, including STS Tire and Auto Center, Exxon, HRS Drilling Service, Lockwood Cemetery, a home owned by Ruth and Vincent Hartman, and Western World, Inc., a 50-acre undeveloped stretch of land owned by the Stabile family. Paladino bought his property some 20 years ago with an eye toward the future. At the time, the nearby Shop-Rite Plaza was a vacant lot full of rocks near the quarry and Route 206 featured just a splattering of mom-and-pop businesses. The car wash property now sits on 224 feet of prime real estate off Route 206.