Opposition is growing among West Trenton residents to a plan that calls for Freddie’s Tavern to be torn down and replaced with a mostly residential mixed-use project.
The Ewing Planning Board on Thursday, Sept. 5 will hear a plan that calls for the landmark building to be destroyed to make way for two new residential buildings, one of which will also contain 3,300 square feet of commercial space. A total of 59 residential units is being proposed.
Bud Patel, the owner of the business, shuttered the restaurant in June for renovations, and then a few weeks later announced that he was closing it for good. Patel said that he was going to focus on redeveloping the site. A short time later, plans were submitted for the project.
Shortly before the hearing, the developer, Buildquick Properties LLC, mailed a Municipal Land Use Law notice to adjacent property owners informing them of the hearing and outlining details of the plan.
Residents posted a copy of the notice on social media sites and opposition has quickly grown. A number of residents have also posted comments expressing concerns to a story on this website.
A grass-roots group called Save Ewing has been formed to rally residents against the plan, which includes an online petition posted site saveewing.com.
“Save Ewing is a group of concerned residents advocating for responsible development in Ewing’s West Trenton neighborhood,” states the website. “Spurred by redevelopment plans for Freddie’s Tavern, we are making sure that our elected officials understand the opposition to the plan in its current form… Tell your elected officials to say no to the Freddie’s site redevelopment.”
The group says it plans to submit the petition to County Executive Brian Hughes, Mayor Bert Steinmann, Ewing Township Council, the planning board, the Mercer County Board of Chosen Freeholders and the state legislature.
“A multi-story building with a significant amount of commercial property and nearly 60 new apartments doesn’t align with the characteristics of the neighborhood,” states saveewing.org. “The development raises more questions and concerns than benefit.”
The petition was started on Aug. 28, and by Aug. 30 it had already garnered 177 signatures. The petition states, “I am opposed to the current version of the redevelopment plan for the Freddie’s site in West Trenton and as my elected official, ask that you oppose it too. There are many reasons to oppose this project including the negative impact it will have on the existing neighborhood and community, lack of demonstrated need, and lack of alignment with the characteristics of the West Trenton neighborhood.”
The website urges residents to take make the opinions known. “It is likely that there will be action taken at the Sept. 5 hearing.”
Adam Steinberger, the founder of Save Ewing, said he is not opposed to development of the property, but wants to make sure it’s done in a responsible way. “It’s unfortunate that Freddie’s closed, but it happens, and this is the natural progression.”
He added that although there are some people who would rather nothing happen on property, most people are concerned about the scope and scale of what’s being proposed.
“I think it’s important for the decision-making authorities to consider the impact of the plan on the neighborhood,” said Steinberger, who has lived on Summit Avenue — around the corner from Freddie’s — since 2014.
“Even though the site is zoned Town Center, I think there’s some subjective considerations that should be taken. Just because it can be done, doesn’t mean it needs to be done,” he said. “I would ask folks to consider the future of the neighborhood.””
Steinberger added that the area around the site is one of the older more established neighborhoods in town. “People are concerned. They are worried that redevelopment, specifically at that site, does not align with the characteristics and look of the neighborhood.”
The plan proposes two new buildings. The first would be a commercial/residential building with 3,300 square feet of first-floor commercial space. Above that would be 24 two-bedroom units and 14 one-bedroom units. The second all-residential building would be 10 one-bedroom units, 10 two-bedroom units and one three-bedroom unit.
The application requests a number of variances from zoning ordinance requirements, including the number of parking spaces, parking stall size and loading space. The application provides for 147 parking spaces, which includes indoor and outdoor stalls.
Also being requested is a waiver from the requirement to perform an environmental impact statement.
This is not the first plan for the site that has been opposed by the public. Last year, the planning board heard an application by Buildquick to subdivide the property into two lots. One lot would have contained the restaurant, and the other called for the construction of a 4.5-story mixed-use building with 3,550 square feet of commercial space on the ground floor and 40 dwelling units above.
That application was ultimately withdrawn by the developer after the board cited concerns regarding a lack of adequate parking and other issues. A large number of residents attended the board hearings in opposition to the project.
Patel purchased the restaurant from owner Freddie Urbano in December 2015 with the support of a $1.37 million Small Business Administration loan. The Urbano family opened the restaurant in 1933.