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South Amboy residents advocate for marina, downtown living


SOUTH AMBOY — Residents have been sharing their ideas and wish-list items for the future of South Amboy.

The South Amboy Planning Board held a public comment session during its Feb. 22 meeting on shaping the city’s new master plan. Instead of updating the existing master plan, the city is undertaking a complete redrafting since the existing plan’s first iteration in 1974.

Facilitating the dialogue between the board and residents were representatives from the Red Bank firm, Heyer, Gruel & Associates, which is creating the new plan.

“We are here to help you create a vision for your new master plan,” said McKinley Mertz, associate planner for the firm, adding that the firm has met with various stakeholders in the city to get their input as well.

About 50 residents attended the meeting, and many of them took the opportunity to speak about providing more parking, reducing traffic and maximizing the waterfront.

Ken Feeley was one of a few residents who suggested a marina, pointing out that people travel from quite a distance to boat and fish.

“There’s a great fishing area out here — a big, huge fishing area,” he said, adding that with the proposed ferry to New York City planned, the timing would be good.

“Yes, we are looking into that,” Mayor Fred Henry responded, adding that it is part of a longer term plan for the area.

Many of the requests related to making more food available, such as restaurants, a community garden, farmer’s market or a grocery store, such as Trader Joe’s.

“This is probably one of the cutest towns, and it seems like a perfect match,” Marina Garay said.

Henry said the city has reached out to Trader’s Joe’s without much success, but would reach out again.

“I would like it, too,” he said of Trader Joe’s.

He also said that the city is limited when it comes to specific businesses, as there has to be interest on the part of the business owner to come to the city.

Jeff Melillo added that more young adults would move to South Amboy, but one of the obstacles is getting food within the city at night.

Garay also recommended a community garden, and Councilman Tom Reilly said the South Amboy Arts District was working to bring a fruit stand to the downtown.

Councilman Brian McLaughlin could not attend the meeting, but his mother, Nancy, read a letter on his behalf. McLaughlin advocated for many of the changes he had campaigned on — less residential building, dedicated space for emergency services and incentives for new businesses. In the letter, he also said that waterfront municipalities north and south of South Amboy all have waterfront recreation, but South Amboy does not.

Planning Board members also shared their intents for the plan. Mary Szaro requested a historic preservation plan — a sentiment her husband, Joe, expanded upon as well, recommending the establishment of historic districts.

Board Member Frank Milatta suggested that historic properties that have fallen into disrepair could be converted into mixed-use spaces where artists could live and work.

“Those live-work units are becoming very popular,” Mertz agreed.

Board Members Holly Hughe, Milatta and Reilly also advocated setting up a structure that maximized the relationship between the city and the downtown business district, such as a business improvement district.

“We want people that come here to have a pleasant experience,” Milatta said.

Other issues that were discussed included converting abandoned freight areas into walking trails, whether the city should make the city more bicycle-friendly, planting vegetation that encourages walkability, adult recreation opportunities, improving communication within the city and making the city more attractive to younger adults.

Mertz said that Heyer, Gruel & Associates would be drafting policy recommendations for presentation and possible inclusion in the new master plan.

Mertz said she anticipated an additional public comment session once the draft plan was ready for consideration by the Planning Board.

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