Architect Helps Improve The Town Where He Grew Up


Ronald Weiss of North Caldwell stands in front of the new Livingston Town Center, the cornerstone of the improvement to downtown Livingston’s business district.

Name: Ronald Weiss
Age: 47

BY Jennifer V. Hughes
Star-Ledger Staff
April 12, 2007


Hometown:
Born and raised in Livingston, Weiss recently moved to North Caldwell. His architectural firm, Weiss Design Group Inc., is on West Mount Pleasant Avenue in Livingston.

Accomplishment:
Weiss is credited as one of the key people who helped revitalize downtown Livingston’s business district. He has served as a volunteer for the Business Improvement District since 1999 and on the Architectural Review Committee since 2000. He is currently the chairman of the review committee, a post he has held for the past three years.
Focus on the business community:

“I’m really proud about being born and raised in Livingston, but I never felt that way about the way the town looks,” he said.  “We have such gorgeous homes – why is the business area not of the same caliber and character and quality? One of the things I could have an impact on is to help make people as proud of Livingston’s commercial areas as they are of our residential streets.”

The district covers about 3.2 miles and is generally thought of as an “H,” with South Livingston Avenue as the middle line and Northfield Road and Mount Pleasant Avenue as the parallel sides. The Business Improvement District has spent about $5 million on aesthetic improvements to the area, including sidewalks and crosswalks, street lamps and landscaping.

All the money for the projects comes from the taxes levied on businesses, Weiss said. The improvements have helped boost traffic to downtown shopping and also lure better business to the area, he said.

“The entire business district of Livingston has been reinvented as a result of Livingston being shrewd enough to create this Business Improvement District, which gave us the power to oversee what projects look like,” he said.

Working with owners and developers:

In order to get a building permit or a zoning variance, developers and property owners must first get the okay from the Architectural Review Board, Weiss said. The board works with owners, he said, but often steers them away from less aesthetically pleasing decisions.

One developer’s plan called for putting the entry to the building on a side street, not the main street - a choice that would wall off the main pedestrian thoroughfare, Weiss said. He persuaded the developer to change the entry to make it consistent with other shops and stores.

The details:

Another time, an owner wanted to put a stucco finish on his entire building.

“I said, “That would be nice, but why don’t we do something like this"’ – and I took out his plans and sketched right over them and drew a cornice and some detailing and a little bit of stucco,” Weiss said. “Here’s an owner who wanted to do a little bit and we helped him take his little bit and make it better.”

Weiss said that towns are often reluctant to nix developers’ plans based solely on the way they look, but the Business Improvement Designation has given them the legal framework to do so.

“Now we can make statements about aesthetic quality,” he said.

"A Good-given talent:"

Work in the design field runs in Weiss’ blood. His grandfather was an upholsterer and his father was an interior designer. Weiss earned his master’s degree in architecture from Columbia University and does a lot of his work on medical office buildings.

He said he enjoys his work because he gets a chance to create something tangible – something that people can use for years to come.

“There is a great thrill in creating spaces for everyone to use and enjoy and having an impact on people’s lives, “Weiss said.

Weiss said he is particularly thrilled that he can combine his love for architecture with giving back to his community.

“I have a God-given talent as an architect and as a designer,” Weiss said. “I grew up in Livingston and Livingston public schools were enough for me to get an Ivy League education. I came into business with my father here, it’s something I can do to give back with my talents.”

Family:

Wife, Lori Weiss, works as an office manager at the family firm and as an interior designer. They have an 11-year-old son, Taylor, and a 14-year-old daughter, Madison.    – Jennifer V. Hughes.

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