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Downtown Lakewood business owners are scratching their heads wondering why Township officials don't actually reach out to them - the true lifeblood of the Downtown - to discuss how they can improve the Downtown.

Instead, it seems that what the business owners actually want to see improved, Township officials turn a blind eye, and when Township officials decide they finally figured out how to improve the Downtown, they don't discuss the plans with the business owners, often leading to unpleasant outcomes.

Back in February 2022, the Lakewood Development Corporation approved expending $250,000 of UEZ funds to replace all the trash cans used by businesses in the Downtown area with 4 centralized trash compactor units.

The explanation for this "upgrade" was that "the situation in the UEZ downtown corridor is significantly less than ideal. With garbage, cardboard boxes and other obstacles piling up on the street and obstructing store fronts, it presents dangerous conditions and an impediment to the efficient ingress and egress of UEZ businesses."

Township officials vowed that they had conducted research, using townships in Virginia as a model, and found that Virginia has successfully utilized mechanical compactors to vastly improve their business districts.

The plan was position the 4 compactor units strategically in the back of the businesses to facilitate trash disposal.

The planned locations for the compactors were:

o 1st Street & Route 9 parking lot

o 225 4th Street behind Gelbstein’s bakery

o 240 3rd Street - Municipal parking lot corner

o 242 2nd Street - narrow alleyway lot

Each compactor has a capacity of 35 Cubit Yards. The total cost per unit including electrical and fencing was $62,000.

Township officials vowed that replacing all the green and yellow garbage receptacles with compactors would alleviate garbage congestion in the downtown area, improve aesthetics.

To make the project compliant with UEZ guidelines, Township officials also vowed that the compactors would promote the economic growth of the downtown area as they would eliminate the need to drive garbage trucks down the main business areas hence alleviating major vehicle traffic congestion for a more efficient traffic flow.

Finally, Township officials confidently assured us that the compactors would lead to improved access and foot traffic to the downtown UEZ corridor, ultimately enhancing the downtown shopping experience for UEZ businesses and their customers, hence promoting the conditions for increased economic and employment activities in the UEZ corridor.

Sounds marvelous.

Except that apparently the Township officials did not actually bother to check in with the actual lifeblood of the Downtown - the business owners - regarding this fantastic proposal.

At today's meeting of the Lakewood Development Corporation Board of Trustees, Executive Director David Klein informed the Board that the power was just connected to some of the compactors, however, Phil Roux, Director of Public Works has decided to freeze the project as "business owners were complaining of being afraid to drop off trash in the area of the compactors and because of the smell from the compactors."

As the compactors have been eliminated, Public Works has now delivered 96 gallon cans and front loader cans to the businesses.

David Klein shruggingly told the Board that "it could be that the facts on the ground have changed [since we decided to launch this project.] Either way, we need to discuss the future of this project as it's more on hold."

Township Manager Patrick Donnelly quizzically clarified that "this project is not actually on hold, rather, instead we are refocusing the idea."

Township officials have quite a habit of "improving the Downtown" without actually checking in first with the business owners. A few which come to mind are the Clifton & 1st Street traffic signal; numerous turning lanes which have been striped and unstriped on 2nd Street at Monmouth Avenue; and numerous traffic flow changes at 1st Street at Lexington Avenue.

Local Downtown'ers are hopeful that this new exposure to this habit will bring much wanted change for them.

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