Resident voices concern over town’s direction

I felt compelled to write a letter regarding the article “Pearl St. project makes progress in Metuchen.”

My family has been residents in Metuchen for now 10 years and we are proud transplants from Brooklyn, New York. I applaud the progress and support future development of the town, but I believe it is moving forward in the wrong direction.

The town is facing an identity crisis. We have seen a town with charm turn into a town of cookie-cutter homes that has changed the very fabric of the town, and nothing is being done to curtail and preserve our character. What has once been a bustling commercial center because of locomotive progress to a collection of literary, artistic and industrial talent is now settling to become purely a suburban community ‘aspiring’ to be another Princeton without a university.

We have had the fortune and opportunity to scale new boundaries with interested developers. While it may be true that the administration has spent countless hours rejecting offers and prospects, it almost feels it was left to a few to decide. We negotiated with rather large developers and because of this it was an opportunity to have asked for more, and maybe that was the intent, but it just does not feel this way. The town needs new business and industry to enter, not incremental residents.

We failed to focus on our own residents who have possibly lived here their entire lives and hoped to retire here, but it is just too expensive to maintain a household with limited income. We do not need to indirectly force out our senior citizens because they cannot afford high real estate taxes and medical costs. We need to embrace our current residents, tap into their wisdom and leverage their talents to the best possible way.

Our town is blessed with diverse religious beliefs, and this defines our community with common virtues. The spirit of the “Brainy Borough” now rests with large landlords who may have the upper hand in every key decision now and in the future. In fact, quite frankly, residents should be agitated that the new public space is named after the developer who does not live in our town. I could think of two other possible names like Charles Corbin or Mary Wilkins Freeman. These are names of former residents who left us with a great legacy. These are the men and women who should be honored.

Instead of 273 luxury rentals, (the numbers keep changing), we should have demanded a significant proportion of new businesses and allocated space given the proximity to the train station and perhaps worked with an “architect,” not a developer, to help design a vision that could include dedicating a business center for medical, bio-tech and start-up tech companies. The naysayers will say there are plenty of vacant offices in New Jersey, but let’s not be convinced this is reality. Our town has and continues to have an advantage over others for a century. Our leadership in the state and local municipalities has not been doing enough to attract or incentivize new businesses and large companies to relocate here. We had a chance to lead and set an example with this significant change. In reality, the headline should read, “The town sold premium real estate and believes it has received current fair value.” Metuchen has sought to compete or keep up with other neighboring towns, which are all doing the same thing. This is not “creative thinking” nor is it the town I remember when we first arrived.

In contrast, if you look at Brooklyn today, it is going through a Renaissance in that dozens of unoccupied large warehouses along I-278 are occupied by tech start-ups, manufacturers, and just recently Time Inc. announced its relocation there of 300 employees. This was done with careful architectural, social and civil engineering, but it took years.

Instead of the usual, sustainable retail brick and mortar nail salon, perhaps our residents would have chosen the option to have new non-retail businesses, and new jobs in the town to help propel the town into the next decade. The viability of Main Street small businesses depends on sources of steady income from a daily workweek, not from our weekend living rooms.

Yes, the town has a new parking facility that has been the dream of key figures who live or have lived in our town, but what has been sacrificed is the opportunity to build upon the fabric of the Main Street area. The historical Brainy Borough has morphed into the “Greedy Borough” and it takes an awakening to change course or perhaps a foxhunter.

The positive news is the future is unwritten. While in the short term the Brainy Borough will become Co-op City with a gourmet Whole Foods store, we look forward to seeing the completion of the projects and work together to rebuild the fabric with new leadership in the future.

Richard Menziuso Metuchen