By Neil Schulman
Long Branch — Several developers have been given approvals to work in the Transit Village part of the city, and officials are waiting for work to commence.
At the Sept. 27 Town Hall, Mayor John Pallone and Carl Turner, Director of Planning and Zoning, discussed the status and issues with what’s going on in development near the train station. as well as in other parts of Long Branch.
City resident John Mattis said he had seen relatively little work in the area since it was declared a Transit Village by New Jersey in 2016. A few months ago, he said, work began at a Pavilion Avenue site, but stopped quickly.
Turner said that the reason construction stopped there is work had begun without getting approval from all the necessary agencies. After some wires were taken down and caused problems for other properties, the developer was told to fix those problems and wait on permits before continuing.
That was one of five projects around the train station that Long Branch has approved.
“The different developers are taking their time,” Turner noted. By law, the Planning Board approval for a project is good for a two years, and that can be extended by a year upon request, up to three times.
The former Casey Jones restaurant on the corner of Morris Avenue, for example, is waiting for financing, Turner said. That plan calls for a commercial business on the ground floor, and a couple of floors of housing above it.
Turner also reported the closed Jersey Pride Food store on Third Avenue “is in play.” The liquor store on the block is planning a major renovation, and may use the closed convenience store to temporarily conduct business while that work takes place. Afterwards, he said, there is “interest for a food type use” at the location.
The biggest thing that the city wants to see is an east-west pedestrian crossing so people on foot, can easily get from streets east of the train station to those west, something that has been difficult since the station was redesigned and walls were put in during the 1980s.
Long Branch has examined several options, including a tunnel and an overhead walkway. The estimated cost of the work is $3 to $3.5 million.
“In every case, we’ve been told by NJ Transit they would not accept it, and would not fund it,” said Turner.
One of the stipulations of building in the transit zone is developers must put some funding aside for the city to use to develop this crossing.
Mattis expressed frustration with the appearance of the neighborhood.
“Third Avenue from Casey Jones to Chelsea is dreary, at best,” he said.
Turner said that work there was in the hands of the developers. But he agreed that making the area around the train station look good was important.
“That is the gateway to the city,” he said, noting Long Branch was the first stop from New York where you were within walking distance of the ocean. “It really is the gateway to the Jersey Shore.”
The city had gotten in touch with the owners of Casey Jones, who had agreed to cut the grass later that week.
Mayor Pallone noted that since both his brother, Congressman Frank Pallone, and State Senator Vin Gopal both live in Long Branch, he has reached out to them. He was with Gopal recently, who introduced him to the Department of Transportation Commissioner, who now has Pallone’s wish list for the city.
Mayor Pallone also said that Congressman Pallone had called to praise Stan Dziuba, Director of the Department Public Works, who he had seen cleaning up the area around the train station.
Dziuba noted that it could be tricky to do that, since Long Branch employees need permission to be on NJ Transit property. He said that once when city workers tried to get to an area near the tracks by City Hall, “we were told to stay away, or they would fine the city.”
Downtown Broadway work
While the Planning Board gave approval to Long Branch Partners earlier this year to begin work on the first phase of the downtown Broadway redevelopment project between Second Avenue and Memorial Parkway, the developers are still waiting on permits.
Pallone also said that the city is waiting on more financial documents from the developer, to ensure they have the necessary funding for such a large project.
The project calls for 590 rental units and 100,000 square feet of retail, two parking garages, widening and reshaping Broadway to make it more pedestrian friendly, and more. The first phase of four phases will include building 28,000 square feet of retail for restaurants and a market grocery near Union and Second Avenues as well as rental housing above and around it, and the roadwork.
Pallone said that they have asked Long Branch Partners, “before construction starts, to spruce up the area,” so that it looks good while work is taking place.
“If you go through Asbury Park, if there’s some vacant land, there’s some sea grass and benches” put on it so that it doesn’t look empty, Pallone said, adding he hoped that something similar could take place on Broadway.