The Planning Board did a great job in taking lemons and turning them into lemonade, “said Mayor Gayle Brill Mittler, referring to the newly installed lights and artwork at Rite Aid’s Fourth Avenue façade.
“We had a less than ideal situation where Rite Aid’s renovations directly conflicted with the agreement originally reached with the Planning Board…. The Planning Board’s meetings and discussions resulted in an agreement between Rite Aid and the Mason Gross School of the Arts to install a rotating art exhibit where there once stood closed up windows,” said the mayor.
It has taken more than a year to resolve this “less than ideal situation,” which was of great concern to the downtown business community and residents concerned with the safety and attractiveness of the downtown – and the necessity for all retailers in the Central Business District to comply with the terms of the zoning and prior planning board approvals.
A few years ago, when Rite Aid set out to renovate their store that included covering up their display windows on Fourth and Raritan Avenues, the store failed to get planning board permission to do so. First reported in The Planet on May 12, 2015, closing the windows was 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.
The specific zoning requirement is as follows: “Permitted retail and personal service uses shall have large pane display windows on the ground level…” – Chapter 230, Part 4, Article XVII, Section L, Item 2
This move away from compliance prompted Rite Aid and the Planning Board to pass a resolution with the main results being:
- Rite Aid agrees to upgrade the blocked windows to display cases.
- Rite Aid obtains a contractual relationship with the Mason Gross School of Arts to provide artwork, as well as an ability of for local artists to participate.
- Rite Aid agrees to install new bike racks and seating available to the public.
The resolution of the situation “strengthens our ties with Rutgers University, promotes our existing reputation as an art-centric community, and provides an engaging amenity for Rite Aid and Highland Park’s residents. A win-win situation for all parties,” said the mayor.