Blog for Highland Park

Welcome to the Blog for Highland Park, a weblog chronicling events in Highland Park, NJ from an alternative perspective to the often one-sided slant of the official borough newsletter.

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Location: Highland Park, New Jersey, United States

I am a freelance writer and community activist who has worked on many progressive and Democratic political campaigns over the last 25 plus years and a lifelong resident of Highland Park, NJ. I have a BA in Journalism from Rutgers University, an MA in Middle East Studies from Harvard University, and an MEd in English Education from Rutgers Graduate School of Education. An enthusiastic amateur astronomer, I have just completed Swinburne University Astronomy Online's Graduate Certificate of Science in astronomy and am pursuing a Masters of Science in astronomy at Swinburne. I am also an actress with experience in theatre and film and have written a full length play. I am currently working full time on a book "The Little Planet That Would Not Die: Pluto's Story."

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Debunking the "Myths and Facts" Flyer on Redevelopment

Below is a point-by-point rebuttal of the “Myths and Facts” claims stated in a recent flyer distributed by supporters of redevelopment:

Highland Park’s proposed redevelopment is limited.

Response: In many towns, the pattern is that redevelopment zones begin in one small area but almost always are expanded. The first redevelopment plan is almost never the last one, as developers often say they need larger tracts of land and then need more parking spaces for bigger businesses. If we put 4-story buildings on Raritan Avenue, it is logical to anticipate that down the line, more parking may be needed behind the new structures, and the only place to put it is on streets and properties that are now residential, such as Dennison and Magnolia Streets.

Almost all of the current businesses will stay.

Response: The key word is ALMOST. Many feel strongly that it should be ALL.
The mayor has already disavowed responsibility for any relocation of businesses, saying that will fall solely to the developer. Should the fate of even one local business, someone’s hard-earned livelihood, be left in the hands of out-of-town, politically-connected developers?

Parking will be increased.

Response: The borough proposes to LIMIT parking on Raritan Avenue in the Redevelopment Plan and to build a parking deck in the heart of the downtown. That means free parking on Raritan Avenue will be replaced with paid deck parking. The deck will also cost taxpayer money for maintenance and management, and many require the creation of new positions for this purpose.

Properties have not been considered for condemnation with eminent domain.

Response: The borough has sent VERY mixed messages on eminent domain. Council candidates running for office say it will not be used, but in a recent Home News Tribune article, the mayor refuses to rule it out. When asked at a public meeting, the mayor and council refused to preclude using eminent domain if owners of businesses they deem undesirable refuse to sell.

Redevelopment will bring in $1.2-$1.8 million per year in tax revenues.

Response: Three stories of apartments in many new buildings will very likely bring in many new school children, whose parents are attracted by our top-notch school system. With a cost of $12,000 per child, an increase of 100 children will wipe out this gain entirely. And the new businesses and residences, the borough will need to increase services in the areas of fire, police, and public works, all of which are funded with taxpayer dollars.

The issue of current owners versus outside developers.

Response: The borough is so completely controlling the requirements of what is allowed in the redevelopment areas that for many owners, no type or degree of improvements can fit what the borough wants.
Owners should be encouraged to make improvements to their properties but should not be forced into a situation where there is no choice but to sell.

Redevelopment will bring only “modest” new buildings.

Response: The zoning ordinance was changed last year to allow 4-story buildings. The borough will be unable to control the number of 4-story buildings constructed since this is permitted by ordinance and there is no law setting a maximum number of 4-story buildings anywhere. Developers frequently seek variances to go one or two floors above what is allowed, meaning we could have five and six story buildings.
Also, a redevelopment agency has the power to supercede all zoning laws.

Most redevelopment will only involve consolidation of parking.

Response: Consolidation of parking means moving it from free parking along Raritan Avenue to paid deck parking.
No one ever said five blocks would be bulldozed.
Officials say 10% of the downtown is slated for new buildings. That 10% consists of small business owners who have been part of this community for years. Many believe it is morally and fiscally unacceptable to affect even one downtown property this way against the owners’ will. New buildings should be planned only for vacant properties or for properties whose owners choose this option.

Existing gas stations will remain, and not all auto-related businesses will be prohibited.

Response: Mechanic shops and auto sales have been repeatedly described both by the mayor and in the redevelopment plan as not belonging in the downtown.
If a business wants to stay in its current, often historic location, and the borough wants them out, how can there be any “mutually acceptable negotiations?”

The borough is pursuing redevelopment to increase tax revenues.

Response: The borough says it is pursuing redevelopment to increase tax revenues, not abate them, but gives NO evidence of how this would be done. Research shows that in almost every community that does redevelopment, tax abatements are a standard tool used as an incentive to attract new businesses.

Redevelopment will not change the character of the downtown.

Response: Will adding a parking deck and 4-story buildings maintain the small town character of Highland Park? Will the creation of large, high rental buildings for which “mom and pop” shops can no longer afford the rent keep the character of the downtown?
Traffic on Raritan Avenue is already horrendous, with 25,000 cars a day passing through. The Route 18 extension project will greatly increase this number in the near future. Now imagine the additional traffic generated by 4-story buildings with 3 floors of new apartments. The current problem of people speeding down side streets to bypass Raritan Avenue will only get worse, creating MORE safety hazards for children, bicyclists, and pedestrians.

Public input has been incorporated into the plan.

Response: People have been allowed to speak at public meetings, where sentiment has been overwhelmingly against this plan, but their concerns were ignored, and the only input included has been from those who supported the plan from the start. The mayor has repeatedly said, “this redevelopment WILL happen,” indicating she has made up her mind to go ahead with it regardless of what public input conveys.

The borough has tried sensitive ways to revitalize the downtown.

Response: The borough has NOT been offering incentive programs for sensitive revitalization; in fact, the permitting and application processes are so expensive and complex that many property owners have had little motivation to make needed improvements. We need to re-examine the permit and application processes to make them more business friendly. And we need to begin enforcing commercial property maintenance codes, many of which have not been enforced in over 25 years. Sensitive revitalization can be done; it only requires the political will.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Other Borough Newsletter

Welcome to the Blog for Highland Park, aka the OTHER borough newsletter, the voice of the opposition to the current administration. This blog is intended as a counter to the Highland Park Quarterly, an official borough publication that contains more propaganda--mostly borough officials congratulating other borough officials--than genuinely useful information. The people of this borough deserve better than ten pages of one-sided rhetoric about why redevelopment is "so wonderful," endless photographs of the mayor, and no opportunities for expressing other views through letters to the editor. The Highland Park Quarterly looks like a newspaper, complete with advertisements, newsprint, etc., but in reality, it is more like Highland Park's version of Pravda (which, ironically, means "the truth").

So here is a journal that is exactly what it says it is, the other point of view. This blog is an outgrowth of my recent campaign for Borough Council, where I discovered how extensive the misinformation in town is and how little people really know about the inner workings of borough government. My goal is to shine the light on those issues, actions, votes, etc. going on in borough government that never see the light of day and to present another perspective that is held by many voters in town but not represented on the Governing Body.

This blog is and will be completely separate from my non-partisan email newsletter promoting local events, which will continue to be non-partisan and non-political.

I look forward to contributing to public debate and hope this blog will become another source of information in Highland Park. And if any readers have stories, information, etc. about dealings with borough government that you would like to make public, please email me at

Power to the People!