Chalk one up for the voices of the public.
Last week, a proposal to build a billiard parlor at the site of a legendary bowling alley was turned down by the township’s Zoning Board.
The board voted unanimously to deny a variance for Spin City, a Queens, N.Y.-based firm that owns and operates pool halls, to build a 30-table pool hall at Kennedy Blvd. and 90th Street, where Nungesser Lanes once stood.
Several residents showed up at the public hearing last week to voice their displeasure about the possibility of opening a pool hall in the township, holding a petition that had several signatures. They offered concerns about parking and unsavory activity near the site.
Rocco Arciola, a local activist who lives in the neighborhood, has written several published articles about the concerns of adolescent gambling. He steadfastly believed that a pool hall would have promoted gambling with teens.
“I know what happens at pool halls,” Arciola said. “Gambling is part of what happens. It would have brought in more undesirables to the neighborhood. If that parlor opened, it would have caused even more deterioration to the area. Something has to go there that will enhance the area, and it’s not a pool hall. I think this is a considerable victory for the residents.”
In defense of their stance, the residents also presented statistics from the state Department of Consumer Affairs, regarding addictive behavior, including alcohol, drug and cigarette abuse.
The group of residents also provided information about the murder of a homeless man inside the now-vacant bowling alley that happened in January 2001.
After listening to testimony from representatives from Spin City and architect Soli Foger of Englewood, who designed a plan for the proposed pool hall, seven people offered complaints against the pool hall, forcing the Zoning Board to discontinue the rest of the public portion and vote against the application’s approval.
The Zoning Board was concerned about the clientele that would frequent the parlor, considering it would be located across the street from North Hudson Braddock Park.
The Zoning Board said that they took the concerns of the residents into mind when coming to the conclusion that a pool parlor didn’t fit the character of the neighborhood.
The parking problems that already plague the area also came into consideration. The current owner of the property, Ruth Pomerantz, said that the 86-space parking lot adjacent to the pool parlor would have been exclusively used for customer parking.
Pomerantz also owns the property that houses the CVS Pharmacy Plaza and Burger King on Bergenline Ave.
Residents considered the ruling a victory for their concerns.
“By bringing the community together, it was a victory for the community,” said resident Hernando Alvarado. “Let’s hope this decision stands, because we don’t need a pool hall at the site. There were several incidents there, drug use, a stabbing. It’s a situation we needed to avoid, especially for the children and the senior citizens. We were able to show the board that we’re not going to take it.”
Representatives from Spin City said that they intended to totally renovate the insides of the old bowling alley and do a $300,000 restoration before bringing in the 30 pool tables, valued at $5,000-to-$10,000 each.
“What the people said had nothing to do with what was planned,” Foger said. “It was going to be an upscale establishment with a security guard at the door during busy hours.”
Foger said that the owners had insured that they would have established an age limit for children and that there would be no drinking allowed. As to the claim that that a pool hall would attract a criminal element, Foger said it was “biased and strictly a stereotype.”
Representatives from Spin City said they plan to appeal the decision.
In the meantime, Arciola feels elated that his concerns were heard. He attends the Board of Commissioners’ meetings regularly to voice concerns over possible development at the site of the old Sier-Bath gear factory, which has been razed.
“I think we had good representation from the community on this issue,” Arciola said. “We live in a Democratic society where all issues should be heard. We should work together to solve a problem like this. Sometimes, that doesn’t happen in North Bergen. Sometimes, opposing views are considered as a threat. We’re happy our voices were heard this time.”