FATE OF VACANT BUILDING DEBATED

By Leslie Murray/Cranford Chronicle
Published: Saturday, July 2, 2011

CRANFORD — Standing in the middle of one of the shorter blocks of North Avenue, the look is unmistakable: a vacant building in a state of disrepair.
So irksome is the state of the building at 27 North Avenue East —known to many as the MDTV building—that the Township Committee had planned to discuss the procedure for condemnation during the public meeting on June 27. That is until the discussion was moved into an executive session meeting by township professionals.

The MDTV building has been unoccupied for more than five years. In 2010, the township began bringing to bear the power of the building code against that property and a group of other vacant buildings in the area. However, MDTV has drawn the ire of members of the Township Committee and downtown property owners alike because of what some have called dangerous conditions—the lack of roof on the building.

The building was part of a section of North Avenue East that was, in 2006, declared as “an area in need of rehabilitation”. The designation—which encompassed both sides of the street from Centennial Avenue nearly to Alden Street—allowed the township to draft development guidelines that go above and beyond the current zoning rules for the block. However, the power of eminent domain is not attached to a rehabilitation designation and existing buildings could not be compelled to change. At the time both the Planning Board and Downtown Management Committee (DMC) Board endorsed the move.

However, in February 2008, the Township Committee voted in a split decision to revoke the rehabilitation designation for the North Avenue corridor.

Before the talks about the MDTV building began this week, resident Ann Steinbach questioned if the conversation would cover the potential of redevelopment or rehabilitation.

However, Mayor Daniel Aschenbach said the discussion would take place in the governing body’s executive session, saying he had added the item to the open agenda before being told by the Township Clerk and Attorney that it would need to be part of the private meeting.

Adding to the comment, Commissioner Mark Dugan said the legal advice given in the talks and the potential litigation would allow for the conversation to be protected by attorney-client privilege.

“The town needs to get the zoning standards to ensure something happens there,” Aschenbach said. “The whole idea is to get the property owner to do something with this area that looks like (a third-world country).”

Steinbach answered that while residents don’t want a dilapidated building, they also “don’t want it to look like (downtown) Jersey City either.”

Despite the talks at the start of the meeting, the governing body did not discuss the possibility of condemnation in open session.