Thursday, October 6, 2016

Zoning Board Approves Lot Merger for Classic Car Restorer

A man with a 31-year passion for classic car restoration won Zoning Board approvals Wednesday to combine two North Avenue lots for an improved and expanded enterprise.

John Bruno said he expects his location near the Netherwood train station to add interest to the neighborhood and bring positive attention to the city. The painstaking work yields about fifteen restored cars per year, using parts from all over the world, he said. Besides repairs to get the vehicles running, he said skills to restore metal, leather, wood and electrical components come into play.

"Each restoration is a complete disassembly," he said, and afterwards a complete reassembly.

His vehicles, which he calls "rolling artwork," have been used on television shows and film production.

"It's fun to see them up on the screen," Bruno said.

Zoning Board  members had concerns about how the business would fit in with objectives for the recently designated commercial "trainside" zone near the Netherwood station, but Bruno's team of experts, including architect Roger Winkle, engineer William Hollows, planner Paul Ricci and attorney Corey Klein testified and answered the board's many questions. Bruno and the witnesses stressed that the restoration company would be a "boutique" or "niche" type of business, not an auto body shop.

Bruno plans to keep several examples of nearly restored cars in front of the business so that commuters and others passing by can enjoy seeing them, while vehicles still being worked on will be in the rear. He said a teen neighbor became so interested in the vehicles that he asked to become an apprentice, and his own son left the corporate world to join the business.

Hours of operation will be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays. Bruno agreed to remove barbed wire, improve ventilation for a spray booth and plant a tree in cooperation with the Shade Tree Commission.

Commentary - The discussion reminded me of the days when Plainfield sought to have a transportation museum on North Avenue. Supporters of the effort publicized it by driving a motorized antique trolley around the city. Alas, the New Jersey Railroad & Transportation Museum Commission chose Phillipsburg as the site in 1998.

Bruno's remarks about showing visitors the city's historic architecture recalled its attraction to film makers. A city resident used to recommend various locations to the state Motion Picture & Television Commission. More recently, urban fiction author JM Benjamin has used some of the grittier locales as backdrops for films based on his books.