Area drivers to face delays a little longer

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:52

    SPARTA n Motorists can expect some added traffic delays n especially in the morning n as crews continue streetscape improvements on Sparta Avenue. Township engineer Charles Ryan said construction, which began in the summer, is expected to be completed by mid-October. "We do have some backups, but it hasn't been all that bad," he said. "There's going to be delays and some inconvenience, but it's relevant. Some people don't want to wait five seconds and some people are willing to wait a little longer." Sparta police have been on on-site to direct traffic at the east and west ends of Sparta Avenue, which is reduced to one alternating lane, 7 a.m.-3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday. Sgt. Russell Smith, who said traffic on the first day back to school was a bit heavier than usual, is encouraging motorists to change their driving patterns and use the Route 517 bypass instead of traveling along Sparta Avenue through town. "This is an inconvenience to the business people and the community, but it has to be done," he said. "It's well overdue. We just have to be patient." The streetscape improvements will include new curbs; 5-foot concrete sidewalks on each side of the street; modular block retaining walls; lighting to accommodate 36 additional fixtures; drainage and water main work; and enhanced landscaping. Township planner David Troast said the project involves the third phase of the proposed town center, which is envisioned to include 44 age-restricted housing units and new commercial and retail office space along Main Street where the Central restaurant and pizzeria had stood for more than 80 years. A $350,000 state grant under the township center designation is funding the "pedestrian-friendly" construction along Sparta Avenue. When completed, about 200 seniors currently living in 180 nearby units will have greater walking access to shopping and other businesses from the Stop-N-Shop to the jug handle near the Citgo service station, said Troast. Ryan said additional crews would be working this week to speed up the project, which, once completed, will shift toward Woodport Road and White Deer Plaza. Eventually, Ryan said, sidewalks will be installed along Woodport Road, from the Gulf station to the theater. The Sparta Avenue site work was expected to begin June 27, was then rescheduled for July 5, before commencing July 11. Sparta officials are still awaiting plans from Novelle Associates, the developer of the proposed town center along Main Street, while regulatory concerns are addressed with the state Department of Environmental Protection. Officials from Novelle Associates have said they expect to break ground this fall. Sparta officials have been doing their part to move the town center project along. Council members earlier this year amended a zoning ordinance that paved the way for construction of the senior units that they believe will generate affordable housing within walking distance to the grocery store, haircutters, the library, banks, shoe store and municipal building. The Main Street Town Center designation prohibits any structure from exceeding three stories or 38 feet. The amended ordinance requires at least one occupant of the senior residential units to be 55 years of age or older and other members to be over the age of 19. At least 80 percent of the units shall be under three bedrooms. Sparta officials have said the project will bring increased ratables to town without placing an added burden on an already acknowledged overcrowded school system.