The Ewing Planning Board approved a project Sept. 5 that calls for Freddie’s Tavern in West Trenton to be torn down and replaced with a mostly residential mixed-use project.
The redevelopment plan was approved over the objections of a large contingent of residents from the surrounding neighborhood who attended the meeting to protest the plan.
To be built on the site where the landmark restaurant currently stands are two new residential buildings, one of which will also contain 3,300 square feet of commercial space. A total of 58 residential units are being proposed.
The approval was for a preliminary site plan, and requires Freddie’s owner Bud Patel and the developer, Buildquick Properties LLC, to conduct an environmental study of the site.
The board rejected a request to approve the project without the study.
Mathew Posada, the developer’s attorney argued for the plan, stating that the project will “provide affordable housing and replace an old, unused building with a new valuable improvement.”
Ewing Mayor Bert Steinmann, who voted for the project, said the plan was in line with the Town Center zoning for the parcel.
“When there is something new or different being proposed it is human nature to resist change,” Steinmann said. “But this proposal has met all of the requirements it needs to move forward.”
Patel shuttered the restaurant in June for renovations, and then a few weeks later announced that he was closing it for good, stating 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.
Concerned residents posted a copy of the notice on social media sites and opposition grew quickly. A grassroots group called Save Ewing was formed to rally residents against the plan, which included an online petition posted on the site saveewing.com.
“Save Ewing is a group of concerned residents advocating for responsible development in Ewing’s West Trenton neighborhood,” states the website. “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. The development raises more questions and concerns than benefit.”
The petition ultimately wound up garnering 563 signatures. The petition states, “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.”
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.
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.