As Bloomfield’s redevelopment continues, crime is still a concern downtown

Bloomfield will have to change how it polices downtown to attract renters as private investors funnel hundreds of millions of dollars into the struggling neighborhood, according to township officials.

“For lack of better words, those areas have acted as a buffer zone between Newark and East Orange and the residential areas (of Bloomfield),” said Mayor Michael J. Venezia.

For years, crime has stifled business near Bloomfield’s train stations, officials said. While just a few miles away, Montclair has flourished into a bustling, lively neighborhood.

The police department plans to fix that.

“We’re definitely going to change the way we police those areas,” said Samuel DeMaio, the township’s police department director. “With so many more people living there, we need new patrols dedicated there.”

Yet, as construction continues in the neighborhood, potential renters and residents are still weary of the crime.

“I wouldn’t feel safe or want my girlfriend to walk to the train station (from the Parkway Lofts), even though it is just across the street,” said Dave Izard, a 32-year-old renter in Bloomfield.

The Parkway Lots, the first of the high-end complexes to open, is located a few blocks from Newark and is partially in East Orange. It offers a number of amenities aimed at attracting renters, such as a fitness center, rooftop deck, game room and movie theater.

It was those features that Izard said made the Parkway Lofts appealing, as well as its proximity to a train station. So, when looking for an apartment last year, he toured the complex.

“I could easily see how someone from out of town would sign a lease there just by the website without seeing it,” he said. “They don’t show any pictures of the neighborhood.”

The complex is blocked off from the surrounding neighborhood by an 8-foot-high barbed-wire fence and has a 24-hour guard at its gate — two things that made Izard uneasy.

On its website, the Parkway Lofts touts its proximity to Montclair and advertises more than a dozen nearby restaurants — two are in Bloomfield.

“I would have liked that to have been built after we worked on the area,” said Venezia, noting the township had recently secured a grant to fix up the Watsessing train station.

“But that building was empty for decades, so it made sense,” Venezia said. “And there hasn’t been any incidents.”

“I mean it’s good they put the building to good use, it just didn’t seem like it belonged,” said Izard. “I don’t know what the gentrification process begins with, but it seems like they’ve skipped a few steps.”

In 2014, there were 98 violent crimes and 1,115 property crimes in Bloomfield, while Montclair saw half those numbers, according the FBI’s annual “Crime in the United States.”

A statistic, homeowner Wayne Riedl, 49, said he thought historically has played a large role in the township not being able to attract lasting businesses downtown, where crime is more prevalent.

However, Bloomfield’s violent crime numbers are at a four-year low, and as of September, crime is down 30 percent overall compared to the same time in 2014, according to DeMaio.

DeMaio said the reduction came from community policing and the resurgence of the neighborhood watch, 50 of which have been added over the last year. Currently, there are about 75 watches throughout town.

The township also plans to add a police substation in one of the downtown storefronts once the redevelopment is complete.

“We want a set of officers to work there that will get to know the tenants and merchants,” DeMaio said. “That’s the start of community policing.”

“As the town changes, we’ll be changing,” he said.

While Montclair offers a more walkable downtown and lower crime rate — aspects that have already attracted a good number of people fleeing New York City’s surging rents — Venezia isn’t concerned.

The mayor said he believes the apartment complexes will fill up in Bloomfield and stimulate the impoverished area despite Montclair’s allure.

“It can only help,” Venezia said. “I mean two-thirds of the Avalon apartments are already rented. That’s ahead of schedule.”

The Avalon apartments at the Bloomfield train station — set to open later this year — are located on the other side of Watsessing Park, a few blocks from the Parkway Lofts.

It was unknown how many of the Parkway Lofts units have been rented since it opened last year. The complex didn’t respond to calls for comment.

Montclair has roughly 10,000 less residents than Bloomfield, and on average, rent is about $300 more per month for a comparable unit.

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