The Rite Aid on the corner of Raritan and Fourth Avenues has made a formal application to the Highland Park Planning Board to close permanently most of its exterior windows. The application will be heard at the Thursday, August 13, Planning Board meeting, 7:30 p.m.
First reported in The Planet on May 12, 2015, closing the windows is a violation of Rite Aid’s 2007 site plan approval for changing the façade of the building. Even though the renovation of the façade was approved, one of the specific requirements of the approval was to keep windows on Fourth Avenue. The planning concept was that a windowless façade is a deterrent to a pedestrian friendly downtown, i.e., counter to the town’s economic development strategy of creating a vibrant downtown shopping district that is attractive and pedestrian friendly.
Rite Aid is now going before the Planning Board to seek relief from that requirement and to gain approval for their building modification that proposes to place graphics in the spaces where the windows used to be.
When it became apparent at the beginning of May that Rite Aid as part of its building renovation had removed the real windows from the Fourth Avenue side of their building, several residents voiced their opposition to the change. Highland Park resident and Redevelopment Agency member Jeffrey Perlman said: “It is just wrong. Aside from the fact that faux windows look terrible, the point is that the covering the windows is a clear violation of the store’s site plan approval…. Allowing the situation to continue sets a poor precedent that undermines the borough’s effort to create an attractive downtown environment.”
The Planning Board has the power to deny the application and force the re-opening of the windows, grant approval, or Rite Aid may propose alternative solutions.