Newark homeowners say no to fast food restaurants

By Barry Carter | The Star-Ledger
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on May 26, 2015

From left to right; Resident's Steven Hawks, Janice Hawks, and Lisa Parker of University Estates homeowners association are unhappy with the fast food stores that will be coming to the Springfield Avenue Marketplace, a mixed-use development in Newark. 

 

The Springfield Avenue Marketplace in Newark is on its way with a $94 million retail and residential development that's causing middle class neighbors to have a quality-of-life meltdown.

Inside of the complex, which is between Springfield and South Orange avenues, a full service Shoprite supermarket is opening this summer and 152 market-rate apartments are coming on line this fall.

So what's the problem?

Residents do not want drive-thru fast food restaurants that the developer, Tucker Development Corporation of Chicago, is locating across the street from their homes at University Estates and Society Hill.

Can you blame them?

"We want healthy food choices,'' says Lisa Parker, a homeowner. "Like we don't have enough fast food restaurants already in the city.''

It's not clear how many will be in the Marketplace, but residents know about Taco Bell and McDonald's, which would be across the street from - get this - Sonic, a fast food place that opened last year.

Central Ward Councilwoman Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins, who was elected after the city council approved the project in 2013, says residents didn't know fast food restaurants were a part of the development until March of this year. They also say the owner, Richard Tucker, did not fully explain the scope of the project.

This is the part of the story that goes back and forth, where everyone disagrees.

Christa Segalini, a spokeswomen for Tucker, says in a statement that 10 public meetings were held and that from its conception the project always included plans for drive-thru restaurants and additional retail.

"Since the initial stages of this exciting development, we have been forthright and communicative with the surrounding community,'' she says.

Homeowners say that depends on who was notified, because many of them weren't. Once they learned about the Marketplace, homeowners say the developer's presentation included housing, a large retail store and restaurants that constitute fine dining.

When the ceremony was held to break ground on the project, state and local officials talked about jobs, tax ratables and an economic boon to the area. That's all well and good, but homeowners say their urban community doesn't need fast food restaurants to contribute to health issues that families have with diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure.

If someone craves a burger that bad, homeowners say, McDonald's, Wendy's and Checkers are less than a mile away at Market and Bergen streets.

"We want something that matches our lifestyle of home ownership and neighborhood pride, somewhere we can take our families to sit down to eat like the developer takes his family to sit down and eat," says Della Moses, another homeowner.

Here's a thought. How about a coffee shop, a book-store, maybe a dry cleaners for variety. You know, things that a neighborhood could use, things residents offered as alternatives.

Residents and Chaneyfield Jenkins say Tucker met with them once last year and they haven't seen him since. After that, his representatives met with homeowners, who say answers they receive are not satisfactory when they ask about security, maintenance of the property and healthy food choices.

Why are they going with these box chain stores,'' Chaneyfield Jenkins says. "To just disregard a total community is the height of arrogance.''

Everyone knows the answer – fast food franchises make money and can afford the rent.

While this next point is unlikely to happen, homeowners and Chaneyfield Jenkins want Baye Adofo-Wilson, the city's economic development director, to bring Tucker to the table to hash out their issues.

Adofo-Wilson says residents concerns about the drive-thru were addressed when plans were changed to steer fast food traffic away from their streets and onto the main corridors. But at a planning board meeting in March, homeowners protested as Tucker officials sought to reduce the size of the eateries so drive-thru lanes could be larger.

Wayne Richardson, chairman of the planning board, says the request was rejected after the community's concerns about pollutants from cars idling in the drive-thru.

"We would rather you have more space for people to come in and sit down as opposed to cars sitting there idling,'' Richardson says.

With those plans shot down, no one knows if the Taco Bell and McDonald's will be built and Tucker officials have not named the other retail tenants.

"Because we're in the midst of solidifying plans for prospective retail tenants, we're not in a position to be able to announce any specifics at this time,'' Segalini says.

The developer did offer this much. Restaurants will not operate 24 hours as initially planned. This was a huge problem for residents when they learned that city zoning laws permit around-the-clock operation on that site. All they could see was traffic, litter and loitering.

Now, it's anybody's guess as to who's coming to dinner. Hopefully it's somebody homeowners want to sit down with and break bread.

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