Local businesses to feel Byram's growing pains

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:49

    BYRAM-Maybe he's not considered a visionary when compared to the backgrounds of township officials planning development and growth in Byram, but Robert Paladino, appears to know a little bit about looking into the future. The Livingston resident along with his brother and sister decided to purchase and operate the Byram Car Wash back in 1986 when the Shop Rite Plaza was a vacant lot full of rocks and political indecision, McDonald's was a half-hour drive away in another county, and Route 206 was the only major thoroughfare in town. Today, Shop Rite plaza is a strip mall heaven and McDonald's is selling two-for-one Egg McMuffins nearby, yet Route 206 is still the only major road through the center of Byram. Some two decades earlier, Robert Paladino saw what township planners see now in the area at the intersection of Route 206 and Lackawanna Drive. And he's upset about it. A report commissioned by the township has 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," a proposed mixed-use area for retail, offices, restaurants, and apartments including state-mandated affordable housing units. "We were young; we had dreams and visions," said Paladino, now 51 and married with three daughters, the oldest a freshman in college. "I have most of my life tied up in my business. We bought it back then hoping the future would be better, and now the time has come." The study, prepared by Heyer, Gruel & Associates of New Brunswick, concludes the Village Center cannot be established under "smart growth" guidelines without some commercial parcels of Route 206 frontage integrated into the overall design. "Unfortunately my property is affected," said Paladino, whose business sits on 224 feet of prime real estate off Route 206. "They want the regional frontage for the town center. That's what I bought the property for. I'm irritated. The town wants to take my property." Township officials claim all discussion concerning property frontage along Route 206 is premature. "There's been no determination that this area needs to be redeveloped," said township manager Greg Poff. "It's important to realize this is a two-sided study. Ultimately, that area may not be deemed to be redeveloped." Poff said the planning board is reviewing the study and will make recommendations to the township council after hearing concerns from local residents and business owners. The council will then formulate a plan keeping in mind "smart growth" ordinances and the desire for a Village Center before shopping the package for bid to developers. 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. "The businesses have their property and they're concerned," said George Shivas, chairman of the planning and zoning boards." At this point in time, there have been no decisions. There are a lot of possibilities." Paladino said he wasn't surprised when he received a letter in the mail late last year alerting him to the study. But he said it's not like he can pick up his business and move to another location. "The car wash business is not like a shoe store, a dress shop, or a deli," said Paladino. "You can take them and rent in other retail areas. In the car wash business, that's not the case. You have to have high exposure; it's predicated on the weather. You just don't take a car wash and replace it easily." Saul Wolfe, a Livingston attorney representing the family, said there's plenty of room for the township to build access to the Village Center without the Paladino property. "The Paladinos came to town and picked a location because they believed the town would grow n and that has happened," he said. "There's no way they should not be part of it." Paladino said he has stayed in Byram, through more bad times than good. Now he feels part of the community. Like any good businessman, he says, he keeps his property nicely maintained, sponsors local youth teams, takes part in tricky trays for charity and even washes the township police cars. "Now we're a thriving business, but some days I twiddled my thumbs and weathered the storms," he said. "We were the only ones here. No one else was here. Why can't the community center be built around us?" Paladino said he tries to remain optimistic. He believes the people of Byram want a car wash. He said he'll attend the next public meeting scheduled for June 28. "It's going to hurt if I lose my business," he said. "I'm hoping every day that someone has a change of heart, but I just don't think they'll care about Robert Paladino having a car wash."