Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Sign of Past Times

After last night's long Historic Preservation Commission meeting, I went off on a tangent regarding a sign I saw on the Titsworth-Sutphen House, the pre-Civil War structure on the PNC parking lot off West Second Street. In public comment during the hearing on the bank's plans to subdivide the parking lot, I asked about disposition of the sign. At first the bank people drew a blank, but the project manager called up an image on his smartphone and saw it.

Here's how it looked before apparently being vandalized. I looked online for Brunson S. McCutchen and found out his sister Margaret had donated her residence in North Plainfield to be a home for the elderly. Brunson donated $10,000 toward the cause, a large amount in those days. See a history of "The McCutchen." 

Brunson S. McCutchen was educated at Princeton University and lived in Princeton. He was an engineer and held several patents, one for a washing machine. His office at 209 West Front Street was for his work as an investment dealer, according to a 1967 city directory.
Sign is loose, door boarded up.
Can this sign be saved?

A fragment from the 1967 city directory

 FAMILY INVESTORS COMPANY, 266 North av cor Martine (Fanwood), Tel 322-1800 Hammond Wm J 209 W 2d Investors Diversified Services Inc 120 W 7th McCutchen Brunson S 209 W 2d Mergott Rappa & Co Inc 240 W Front

(I will be doing a blog post later on the meeting, which HPC members called the longest one ever. )


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Residents React to Muhlenberg Plan

After the Planning Board methodically reviewed the updated Muhlenberg Redevelopment Plan Monday, residents let loose with their fears and feelings about the 10-acre former hospital site's future.

Planning Board Chairman Ron Scott Bey emphasized the fact that many steps remain before anything rises on the site, but in public comment resident Rowand Clark launched into a diatribe against group homes, especially subsidized ones for veterans.

"Plainfield is inundated by homes for persons who are incapable of independent living," Clark said, claiming there are currently 44 such homes now, mostly tax-exempt. He said "50 years of wars" are the reason why there is "no shortage of veterans" for whom landlords can get $3,000 a month in VA and HUD money. Clark differentiated between a vet wounded in action and one with minimal service but having alcohol or drug abuse or "mental problems."

"Is that what we want for Plainfield?" he asked.

Clark described a process that he said would invite an "endless stream of homeless veterans" and was followed by Robin Bright, who insisted "vets with PTSD" were anticipated for the redevelopment site.

Scott Bey rejected the notion as having "no hard relationship to the plan that was written."

Bright, perhaps the most outspoken challenger to redevelopment of the Muhlenberg site, earlier probed the proposed number of residential units, which Scott Bey said was 120 market rate apartments.

"Do you have a developer?" she asked.

Scott Bey said the owner has the right to say whether there is a developer. Plainfield Economic Development Director Carlos Sanchez said the property is under contract, but there are a "multitude of conditions" to be worked out before approvals.

Other concerns Monday  included placement of driveways to avoid opening onto Hillside Avenue, environmental remediation, preservation of historic medical implements left at the site, how development would affect property values in the neighborhood, whether Planned Parenthood might locate there in light of the city's pre-natal and HIV issues and how to save an auditorium still inside the shuttered hospital. Board members and residents also corrected typos and unclear language in the redevelopment plan.

Historian Nancy Piwowar suggested establishing a medical museum on the site, noting Philadelphia's Mutter Museum draws 130,000 visitors a year.

Scott Bey said the public will have a chance to comment when the City Council holds a hearing on the Muhlenberg Redevelopment Plan.

The redevelopment process has many steps, starting with an "in need of redevelopment" study which may eventually lead to establishing a plan. The Planning Board and governing body work in tandem through the steps. After a relatively fallow period, the city now has dozens of projects in various stages of approvals. See the highly detailed final redevelopment plan for the largest development so far, a 212-unit, $50 million development on South Avenue that is now under construction.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Holocaust Remembrance Day

Yom Hashoah
A time to remember
the 6 million Jews
who perished

How Did Candidates Do The Last Time?

Five of the June 6 primary candidates ran for office previously within the past four years. So how did they do the last time? Let's take a look.

Among the mayoral candidates, then-Councilman Adrian O. Mapp ran in the 2013 primary for a four-year mayoral term. He won with 2,793 votes over incumbent Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, who received 1,756 votes. Preceding the primary on May 17, the Union County Board of Elections noted 12,617 registered Democrats eligible to vote. Mapp faced unaffiliated candidates Mustapha Muhammad and D. Scott Belin and Republican Sandy Spector in the November 2013 general election, receiving 5,234 votes to 1,061 for Muhammad, 765 for Spector and 392 for Belin. He took office on Jan.1, 2014.

Fourth Ward Councilwoman Bridget Rivers is running for mayor. In 2013, she was unopposed in the June Democratic primary and received 384 votes of a possible 2,346 ward total as of May 17, 2013. She received 806 votes in the general election, defeating Republican Barbara Johnson, who had 133 votes.

Former Citywide at-large Councilwoman Tracey Brown is running for mayor. In 2016, she sought re-election to the Citywide at-large seat but lost the June Democratic primary to Councilwoman Rebecca Williams in a 2,993 to 3,127 vote. Williams went on to run unopposed in the general election, receiving 11,224 votes. She took office as the Citywide at-large representative on Jan.1, having vacated her former Second & Third Wards at-large seat.

(The fourth mayoral candidate, Dr. Henrilynn Davis Ibezim, has not previously run for office, but according to his Facebook page ran for governor of Nigeria's Imo State in 2015.)

Among City Council candidates, Alma Blanco was Brown's Third Ward running mate in 2016 but lost the Democratic primary to Charles McRae with 718 votes to his 1,016. The total number of registered Democrats in the Third Ward before the June 2016 primary was 3,785. This year, Blanco is running for the unexpired Second & Third Ward at-large seat vacated by Williams and is running with Rivers.

Steve G. Hockaday ran in the June 2015 Democratic primary for the First & Fourth Ward at-large City Council seat. He lost, 522-548, to Barry N. Goode. The total number of registered Democrats in the First and Fourth Wards for 2015 was 5,278. In the November 2015 general election, Goode defeated unaffiliated candidate Norman Ortega, 1,072 to 320, and took office on Jan. 1, 2016. This year, Hockaday faces primary challenges from Elliott Simmons, who served as the Fourth Ward councilman several years ago, and from first-time candidate Terri Briggs.

Here are the local slates with slogans:

Mayor, Four-year term: Adrian O. Mapp
Second & Third Wards Unexpired Term: Joylette E. Mills-Ransome
Fourth Ward, Four-year term: Steve Hockaday

Mayor, Four-year term: Dr. Henrilynn Davis Ibezim
Second & Third Wards Unexpired Term: Cameron E. Cox
Fourth Ward, Four-year term: Elliott Simmons

Mayor, Four-year term: Bridget Rivers
Second & Third Wards Unexpired Term: Alma Blanco

Mayor, Four-year term: Tracey L. Brown
Fourth Ward, Four-year term: Terri Briggs


Sunday, April 23, 2017

A New Chapter for the Arts?

In the early 1980s, it was not uncommon for New York Times art critic Vivien Raynor to travel to Plainfield for an exhibit at Tweed Gallery, an ambitious enterprise of artists Kim Blackburn and Maria Mijares.

In this 1983 review, Raynor also delves into a controversial (and ultimately failed) plan to move the gallery from its Front Street location to the main train station building on North Avenue. Its final location before disbanding was a second-story space on Watchung Avenue.

My daughter, her roommate and my future son-in-law were all involved in Tweed Gallery. It was exciting when a new show opened, but behind the scenes there was the ongoing challenge to raise money, schedule gallery sitters, garner publicity and broaden support from the community.

My entry into local reporting began with art reviews in Plainfield Today, a weekly newspaper created by Jan and Henry Johnson. It had offices on North Avenue in two storefronts, one of which later became an art gallery. I think it was the same location as the pop-up gallery at 144 North Avenue that just opened Friday and will continue through May 19.
Image may contain: 2 people, people standing and indoor
Another new gallery is Obras Art Gallery at 107 Park Avenue, a venture of developer Mario Camino.

These are all good signs for Plainfield's cultural life.

Through all the changes, Swain Galleries has been a constant, now at Watchung Avenue and East Seventh Street but also with beginnings downtown. Its history dates back to 1868 and spans four generations. Newcomers especially should get to know it.

Creativity has always been a prime family value in our household, and Plainfield abounds with creators of art, music, literature, design and more. Those who lovingly restore its architectural treasures pay homage to the original creators. It's heartening to see new support for artistic creation emerging now.

Both Union County's Office of Cultural & Heritage Affairs and Plainfield's own Cultural And Heritage Commission are resources for those involved in creative work. Partner up!


Saturday, April 22, 2017

Quick Take on Revised Muhlenberg Plan

Picture this: My printer needs ink, so I can't print out the draft and revised copies of the Muhlenberg Redevelopment Plan. So I set up the netbook alongside the laptop to compare them. Mouse problems cause me to use the trackpad on the laptop and the screens are two different sizes. I keep reaching for the missing mouse and I have to take notes with a pencil on changes I see.

For all those reasons and more (exhaustion and exasperation in general) I did not make a comprehensive list of changes. I invite anyone who did a page-by-page examination to send over findings on changes.

The redevelopment plan was to have been discussed at last week's Planning Board meeting, but the meeting has been moved to 7:30 p.m. Monday, April 24 at duCret School of Arts, 1030 Central Ave.

Because the most vocal public comment has centered on housing, I looked for changes in that category but did not find many.  One item seemed unusual to me:
"Any structure, or portion of a structure containing dwelling units (as defined in this plan) shall not be connected to any other structure or portion of a structure containing a non-residential principal use by an internal passageway that enables movement of people or goods."

An addition in permitted uses stood out:

"Building Mounted Wireless Communication Facility - A building mounted installation that facilitates personal wireless services as defined in the Federal Telecommunications Act of 1996 which includes FCC licensed commercial wireless telecommunications services such as cellular, personal communications services (PCS), specialized mobile radio (SMR), enhanced specialized mobile radio (ESMR), paging, and similar services that currently exist or may be developed in the future. Such installations may include, but are not limited to antennae and satellite dishes."

This reminded me that on April 5, T-Mobile Northeast LLC was listed on the Zoning Board of Adjustment agenda as "requesting an interpretation" of a section of the Plainfield Land Use Ordinance. The location was Park Avenue and Randolph Road and the ordinance cited has to do with parking. As I recall, the agenda item was not discussed. Here's a possibly related paragraph in the new Muhlenberg Redevelopment Plan:

"Parking on the site shall be designed to maximize efficiency and promote shared parking between uses. A parking management plan shall be submitted as part of any application for site plan approval that describes the mix of uses on site, their respective parking needs, hours of operation, number of employees, and any other information that may be requested by the Planning Board and its professionals"

Two other interesting items in the revised document:

"Any portions of the building with historic significance that cannot be retained as part of the redevelopment of the site shall be documented in a report prepared by an architect or other qualified professional specializing in historic preservation. This report shall be provided to the City and kept in the collection of the Plainfield Public Library. 5. A plaque or similar installation commemorating the history of Muhlenberg Hospital shall be provided onsite in a location deemed appropriate by the Planning Board."

"A traffic impact assessment report shall be submitted as part of an application for site plan approval. This report shall include existing conditions assessment, projected traffic generation, a level of service assessment for streets and intersections in the vicinity of the Area, and any other information requested by the Planning Board or its professionals"

This is such a busy weekend that I doubt many people will sit down and delve through 34 pages of the draft plan and 37 pages of the revised plan, but if you do and form any opinions, please share.


Famous Plainfielders!

Thanks to Tim O'Connor for viewing the George Clinton/Killer Mike post and reminding us that famed photographer Irving Penn, the subject of a Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit starting Monday, is also from Plainfield.

If you have not seen the post with that other famous Plainfielder, George Clinton, please take a look. It has a video and some music as well as a transcript of the NPR segment. It's pretty funny when George Clinton talks about some coffee-stained currency that helped him launch his career.

Plainfield has many notables in diverse fields (click the link to see)..