Guess who is responsible for providing the parking needed for the new restaurant proposed for Village Hall? Despite what you may have heard at the Planning Board hearings it’s not the restaurant. Based on our own zoning laws South Orange is responsible for providing the parking for this and all other businesses in the central business district (I’ve included the relevant sections at the end of this note). Businesses in existing buildings in the central business district – the B-1 zone – are exempt from all parking requirements and can rely on shared public parking to satisfy their parking requirements.
This is a good news and good zoning. If every business downtown was required to have it’s own parking we would have Route 10 instead of the walkable, pedestrian friendly downtown we all want. Imagine a downtown of stores surrounded by parking lots; that would be a disaster. But this good zoning puts the responsibility on the Village to plan ahead and make sure there is enough convenient infrastructure, including parking, pickup/drop off zones, pedestrian safety improvements, to attract and support the mix of businesses we want in our downtown.
That means that if we want to attract a major new restaurant we need to invest ahead of their arrival. We have failed to do this and have squandered the almost two years since the deal was announced when we should have been building the parking and other improvements needed by this major addition to our downtown.
Instead we have tried to make the restaurant find their own parking solution and forced them to cobble together a Frankenstein-like plan that combines the appropriation of what are now shared public parking lots for private use (The Village Hall lots), short term leases for a few other parking lots (one of them on 1st Street), and valet parking for every patron in order to squeeze in as many cars as possible. This plan is a disaster for many reasons (how can it be good to have so many cars coming into and out of driveways so close to the busiest intersection in town?), but primarily because it adds no new parking capacity downtown despite adding a new 500 seat restaurant. But what else can the restaurant do? Would we want them to buy three or four nearby buildings and knock them down to create new surface lots? They have no good options.
The Village on the other hand is sitting on a great option right across the street. A new three or four level parking deck on the Library Lot would add hundreds of shared public parking spaces, enough to support both the new Village Hall restaurant and our other ambitions for the redevelopment of that area of South Orange Avenue. We need to build that deck now. It is our obligation under our own zoning laws and our obligation having chosen to bring a large new restaurant that needs a substantial amount of parking to that area.
If we want a vibrant, large destination restaurant downtown then it’s only common sense (and the law) that we include an increase in the amount of parking and other public infrastructure in our planning for that restaurant. Part of our development plan for Village Hall – and that would be the part that is blank right now – must show how we are going to build the new public infrastructure needed to support the increased intensity that comes with redevelopment.
Redevelopment Must Improve the Quality of Life For All Residents
We can pretend (for a while) that our existing infrastructure can support a new 500 seat restaurant, and 100 more apartments and 10,000 square feet of new retail at 4th & Valley, and 22 more apartments and 2,400 square feet of office space on Valley, and a 215 bed new dorm on Valley Street, and a 100 room hotel on South Orange Avenue, and the redevelopment of the old Blockbuster site, and the new townhouse development at Orange Lawn Tennis, all with no new parking, no additions to open space, no new recreation facilities, no substantial pedestrian safety improvements.
It will sort of work (for a while). But it will slowly eat away at the quality of life in town. That is what we are all seeing and feeling right now. It needs to stop.
There is an important lesson to be learned here that applies to all of the the redevelopment projects in South Orange — that while adding density and intensity of use we must also add the public infrastructure needed to mitigate the impact of that density and intensity of use and to improve the overall quality of life for all residents. If we fail to make these infrastructure investments – and to date we have failed to make them – the new developments will simply overwhelm the capacity of the town, and the quality of life for all residents will go down. That is where we are today. Trying to force the restaurant to meet their own parking needs without the town adding any new capacity is just the latest example of how we got here.
Financing New Public Infrastructure
These public investments are expensive, but new developments bring in new revenue that should be funding infrastructure. Where should the new $600,000 per year of revenue from 3rd & Valley go if not to acquiring additional open space to offset the added density? Where should the new revenue from the Village Hall restaurant go if not for additional parking downtown and pedestrian safety improvements? Instead, our taxes continue to go up by the 2% maximum allowed by law and the new revenue from redevelopment projects is absorbed into our day to day operating budget and will never be seen again. Not only are we not budgeting for the acquisition of more open space or for building new parking, we are told for two years that we didn’t even have enough money to create a new master plan. And yet we build and we build even without a plan.
We seem to have an endless appetite for big new development projects – we even have a very active committee dedicated to streamlining work with developers: the Development Committee. We get so excited by the dreams of every developer who comes to town, whether they are consistent with our zoning or not. But there is never a word spoken in the Development Committee, the Board of Trustees, or the Planning Board, about the public infrastructure we need these deals to finance in order for the town to comfortably absorb the added density and intensity of use. There is no line in our financial analysis of these deals that shows the cost of the required public infrastructure and how it will be funded. There is not even an infrastructure plan. We are supposed to be happy that the 4th & Valley deal will include less than $100,000 for a few new crosswalk signs on Valley Street and some cosmetic improvements to Memorial Park. All that new density, plus 10,000 square feet of new retail, and no funded plan for additional public parking in the area or for real pedestrian improvements, or for acquiring new open space.
Each development proposal brought forward must include a plan for a substantial investment in public infrastructure to mitigate the impact of that development and to improve the lives of the citizens of South Orange. If it cannot meet this requirement then why would we approve it? In the next hearing about the Village Hall restaurant the Planning Board should ask the town, not the restaurant, for how they will provide the additional parking required by this important new business and require that plan be part of the approval of the application. Moving forward, the Planning Board should always require the town to present their plan for mitigating the negative aspects of increased density and intensity of use before approving any redevelopment application.
92-201 General provisions.
A. All proposed new uses shall satisfy the off-street parking requirements contained in the following Schedule 3, Minimum Off-Street Parking Requirements.
Restaurant, eating and drinking places (1) : 1 for each 50 square feet of net floor area devoted to patron use
1 For existing buildings located in the Business B-1 Zone, the following parking requirements shall be satisfied:
92-203 Exceptions to off-street parking in business districts.
B. Parking requirements for individual uses in the B-1 and B-2 Business Districts may be reduced to the extent it can be demonstrated to the approving authority by the applicant that parking requirements will be provided in public or private off-street parking facilities open for use by the general public.