2007-01-31 / Front Page
Mayor introduces 10-point plan for Iselin
Proposals for business district focus on traffic and illegal housing
BY KATHY CHANG
WOODBRIDGE - Sergio Ghiano praised Mayor John E. McCormac for introducing a 10-point strategy plan, which he called the most extensive plan for the Iselin area he has ever seen since moving into Iselin almost 15 years ago.
However, Ghiano said he still had a healthy dose of skepticism because very little action has taken place over the years.
"Even though the plan is nice sounding, it's not filled with any specific solutions," he said. "Yes, the violations [on illegal housing] are great, but I would like to see the township track the violations as they go to municipal court and post updates on the [township's] Web site."
Ghiano said his skepticism stems from the unmade promises of former Mayor James E. McGreevey for the Metropark Train station area. Iselin residents are still waiting for the eight new intersections that were promised by NJ Transit.
"That is only part of the problem," he said. "I fear that a very big piece that causes the traffic on Oak Tree Road is the oncoming traffic from the Edison side and there should be lines of communication with the Edison mayor [Jun Choi]."
McCormac said he is communicating with Mayor Choi, but said the traffic in Edison is not his problem.
The mayor, who was joined by the Township Council, introduced a 10-point plan for the Iselin business district and the surrounding area at the last Iselin visioning meeting held at the Iselin Middle School on Jan. 22. Over 100 Iselin residents came out to hear the mayor's plan.
The meetings are part of a $60,000 initiative to explore the township's business districts and the surrounding residential areas. The next set of meetings will concentrate on Main Street and the Woodbridge Proper area and look at the concept of a transit village. Future meetings include Inman Avenue in Colonia and New Brunswick Avenue in Fords.
Unlike the last two meetings on Iselin where township officials heard Iselin residents speak about problems in the area, McCormac stressed that the third meeting was about solutions and wanted to hear what residents thought about the township's plan.
The first point of the plan was Housing Code Enforcement, which includes several items. The first item is a hot-line number where residents can call with problems that they have at (732) 634-4500, ext. 6009. The mayor said residents who do not feel comfortable using the hotline could call his line directly at (732) 602-6025.
"All calls are confidential," said McCormac, who stressed that the calls do not only pertain to the Iselin area, but all areas of the township. "The many residents who have already used the hotline has helped us with illegal housing matters and most recently we issued more than 360 violation notices to residences and businesses throughout the township over the past 60 days for failure to properly maintain property and related offenses."
McCormac has increased housing inspectors, which makes the total number seven. The third item is laptops for each housing inspector, which enables them to find out the history of a particular house before inspecting the house.
The fourth and fifth items are fines, which range from $250 to $2,500, and municipal court.
"We want to fine the [person or persons] the maximum dollar amount allowable by law for housing violations," said McCormac. "By the second or third offenses, we hope the dollar amount will make them pay attention. Once the violations are in municipal court, it's out of my hands; however, I do have authority with the prosecutors, and we want to make sure the summonses move along as quickly as possible through the court."
The sixth item is staggered hours. "It could very well be possible for someone to Sheetrock and put up a shed over the weekend, when everyone is off from work," said McCormac. "We want to prevent this from happening. I have advised our housing inspectors to be available on Saturday and if needed Sunday and during night hours until 8 p.m."
The seventh item is certificate of approval. "We want inspectors to inspect each residence in between tenant changes," said McCormac. "We don't want to find later on that the bedroom doors have a lock from the outside or find three different tenants living in a residence."
McCormac discussed the county suggestions for long-range intersection and road improvements; however, he said some suggestions such as closing off some driveways would be looked at more closely.
The county suggestions include closing off the western driveway to Sabzi Mandi Shopping Center; a single left turn for Wood Avenue northbound - improvements to include roadway widening and a new signal; close off one or both driveways of the business located in the northeast corner of Correja Avenue - driveways can be relocated to gain access from LaGuardia Avenue; two-way left-turn center lane on OTR between Plymouth Drive and Hillcrest Avenue; make Marconi Avenue one-way northbound - one block of Marconi Avenue, which is four blocks long, was changed into a one-way street in December; direct pedestrians to cross at intersections of OTR and Middlesex Avenue; install pedestrian signal heads that will coordinate with Middlesex Avenue and OTR signal; and improvements to include roadway widening and new traffic signal - which could include a jughandle to avoid left turns from Middlesex-Essex Turnpike to OTR.
Councilman James Major said a green lead arrow signal would be put in place at Middlesex Essex Turnpike toward Gill Lane hopefully by the summertime.
The county also suggested a diamond interchange signal timing method to be implemented to coordinate the two intersections of Route 27 and OTR. The signal is set to actuated-coordinated to minimize lost time between phases and maximize efficiency.
The township is currently doing a survey to see if a shuttle bus is feasible for the area. "This is a high density shopping area where people come out of the stores with 40-pound bags of food," said McCormac. "We want to see if the bus could be successful."
Another idea is increased police presence. Currently, there are two officers that are paid through a grant that make sure traffic runs smoothly from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.
"In 2006, police made five arrests, gave 1,094 warnings, gave 4,523 parking summonses, and 972 other summonses," said McCormac.
Short-range issues involve parking. "We want to take the cars off OTR period," said McCormac. "However, finding these surface lots is limited. A parking deck is something that we are exploring and the ideal place is the free municipal parking lot currently near the church at the intersection of Route 27 and Middlesex Avenue. The free parking lot is currently paid by the Special Improvement District [SID], not the taxpayers."
McCormac also added that if a deck is granted, they would look for alternate parking, while the deck is being built. He presented the crowd with two rough drawings of the proposed decks. Both decks showed three floors and one had 162 parking spaces and one had 205 parking spaces.
The mayor said he would like to revise the zoning boundaries.
"Too many variances have been approved over the years," said McCormac, who received applause from the crowd. "The zoning ordinances have been the same for the past 20 years. Former B-2 zones should be rezoned to B-3 zones on OTR, revise parking grandfather clause - require site plan approval with nonconforming parking; revise use provisions to eliminate a business to have the ability to have a drive-thru and auto related uses - there are currently no businesses with a drive-thru, but we should eliminate them from ever having one; reduce the floor area ratio [FAR] to more reasonable levels; and eliminate kiosk and bazaar uses."
McCormac presented a streetscape and design layout for OTR, which showed a drop and pick-up area on the road where residents or the proposed shuttle buses would not block traffic, which would help traffic move freely.
McCormac also said he would form a Technical Review Process board that would help the zoning and planning boards.
"I feel over the years, the boards have lost focus because they are worried about if there are bushes here rather than should we grant this variance or not for this particular site," he said.
Biren Jhaveri, a business owner on OTR, said speeding is not the problem; it's the amount of tickets that are given out by police.
"More pedestrians and jaywalkers are given tickets by police; those people should be given warnings," he said. "It's stopping the people from coming to shop on OTR and hurts our businesses; however, I do think the police and township are doing a great job on the illegal housing."