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Interlocal Advisory Center

Economic and Environmental

Partnership Beautifies Fair Lawn

by David L. Ganz, Mayor, Fair Lawn

Donald R. Smartt



   In January 2002, an interest in improving an important “gateway” entrance to a Bergen County community as part of an ongoing effort to revitalize an older commercial district began. The unforeseen result was the formation of a new public/private partnership that not only achieves the improvements, but also broadens the scope of the project to include riverfront restoration.

    The Borough of Fair Lawn and the River Road Improvement Corporation, the non-profit, business led organization that manages the River Road Special Improvement District (SID), wanted to enhance the northern “gateway” of the district at the border of Hawthorne and Fair Lawn. The “gateway,” which includes a forested portion of private property adjacent to the Passaic River, was thought to need some long overdue attention and improvement.

    Property owners and organizations with an interest in the area were brought together to discuss strategies that will make the most of the district’s natural “gateway” on the river. The ensuing partnership directly links elements of commercial revitalization with resources for river restoration and takes advantage of the mutual economic and environmental motives that emerged.

    A team consisting of the Borough of Fair Lawn, the Passaic River Coalition (PRC), the River Road Improvement Corporation (RRIC), and the Passaic Valley Sewage Commission (PVSC), in cooperation with the property owner, Lackland Self Storage, was formed.

    Several meetings were held between team members and garnered substantial outcomes. Goals for both the short-term and long-term were identified and agreed upon. More specifically, ways to move forward with planning and implementation of new conceptual designs as well as opportunities to examine an overall “greenways” plan for the entire Passaic River area were laid out.

    The objectives are two-fold. First, to heighten ongoing efforts to create green and clean space along and within the Passaic River, and second, to cap an economic corridor with a visually enhanced “gateway” to one of the Borough’s main commercial districts.

    Currently, the property, which sits on the edge of town and the beginning of the River Road commercial district, is not maintained and holds no identity or bearing on the community. The project will incorporate economic development with environmental responsibility. It signals an evolution in the definition of development and reinforces Fair Lawn’s commitment to provide for our residents on a variety of levels.

     The first joint activity was an initial clean-up in April ‘02, on Lackland’s property along the riverfront. Over 20 volunteers joined in the clean-up and local business owners supplied lunch, refreshments and parking.“


     Business owners, residents and river users will all benefit from the efforts put forth from the organizations who partnered together in this project,”  said Bob Landzettal, President of the RRIC. The RRIC is the district management corporation for Fair Lawn’s Special Improvement District (SID), one of over 60 such districts throughout the state.              

     A second clean-up—which involved heavy duty, water-based equipment used for river dredging, removal of river debris and the tending of river edges unreachable from land—was done in October (2002). The Passaic Valley Sewage Commission has taken most of the responsibility for the first phase of clean-ups. It aims to thoroughly complete the task before the partnership moves into the second phase of the project, the hiring of a landscape architect to prepare conceptual plans for the project area.

    The Passaic Valley Sewage Commission serves as an advisor on land and water resource management and public health issues within the Passaic River Basin. Their involvement and efforts on the lower Passaic River, promoted through the Passaic River Restoration Project, date back to the mid-80s, while the non-profit, urban watershed association has been in operation since 1969.

    All of the projects original partners plan to participate in the implementation phase of the project, which is expected to be completed by the end of the year. The SID and Fair Lawn are hoping to continue to ride this wave of success for the good of both the economy and the environment.


David L. Ganz is in his fifth term as Mayor of Fair Lawn and his first term as a member of the Board of Chosen Freeholders of Bergen County.  Donald Smartt has served as Project Director for the river Road Improvement Corporation since 1992.


Originally published in the May 2003 issue of New Jersey Municipalities, pp. 34-36.



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