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How Fanwood Won

John Mooney

Sunday, April 27, 2014 • 11:02pm

FANWOOD, NJ – New Jersey Future, a nonpartisan organization that promotes responsible land-use policies, this week announced that Fanwood’s downtown redevelopment project was among eight winners of the 2014 Smart Growth Awards.

The organization honored the borough for the transformation of its outdated downtown, which today is a lively mix of new retail and residential development. NJ Future’s winning entries’ site stated: Located across from the borough’s Victorian-era train station, this transit-oriented village offers many of the benefits of urban living, coupled with the appeal of a small town.

“Fanwood was never really a downtown, it was a more of a pass-through on the way to Westfield or Scotch Plains,” said Janice Kovach, mayor of Clinton, NJ, and one of the judges for the Smart Growth Awards.  “They took the concept of a transit village and made it work. The development was a partnership between the mayor, borough council, business owners, and developers. You have to have everyone on board to make it work.” 

Enhancements included new sidewalks, the installation of “Fanwood lamps,” and a Victorian-themed “Millennium Clock” in an open space created by closing off an unsafe entrance to a commuter parking lot. However, these public beautification efforts did not initially entice private businesses to invest in downtown.  After establishing Fanwood’s downtown as an area in need of redevelopment, public officials used a Smart Future Grant from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs Office of Smart Growth.  The borough hired a consultant and eventually adopted a full redevelopment plan.

The plan extended the characteristics of Fanwood’s historic railroad station to the surrounding area and included new zoning to encourage residential, retail, and open public spaces.  Redevelopment has produced new buildings developed in a style that reflects the borough’s traditional charm.  It also brought 24 units of affordable housing and contributions to the local affordable-housing fund.  

Once known for “all those nail salons,” Fanwood’s downtown is now a rich mix that includes Be Craftful, a craft and creative gift retail store for children and their families, a couture dress shop, Enchantments hand-made jewelry and gifts, Ivy Educational Services (an SAT and other test preparation services and curriculum tutoring, college counseling), and Mara’s Café.

“The improvements are bringing in people from other towns who had never thought to visit Fanwood before,” said Amy Boroff, owner of Be Craftful.  “They are starting to make a day of coming to a party here at Be Craftful, and then having lunch at Nick’s Pizza or dessert at Mara’s. We’re becoming a destination place.”

“We love our new space,” said Nicole Oringer, co-founder of Ivy Educational Services, which moved from offices on Front St. in Scotch Plains last November.  “Business has definitely improved.  We get a lot more walk-ins because our location is in a larger, more retail-oriented space in Fanwood.”

“When the whole downtown development is completed, it will be wonderful.  Fanwood is a great town to live and work in, and there’s always something to do here,” said Marci Semel, owner of Mara’s Cafe.  “Change is good, even though it sometimes has its challenges.”

The redevelopment has been used to leverage infrastructure improvements. Through public/private partnerships, officials were able to secure the installation of updated drainage systems.  Additionally, the project enabled the remediation of two former toxic industrial sites.

Mayor Colleen Mahr will accept the honor on behalf of Fanwood along with representatives of Maser Consulting, Rogut McCarthy, and T&M Associates on Thursday, June 5, at the annual Smart Growth Awards gala held in Newark.

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