Friday, September 19, 2014

New Elmwood Gardens Plan Startles Planners

Planners were taken aback Thursday on hearing new plans for Elmwood Gardens, but Executive Director Randall Wood said there had always been a "Plan A and Plan B."

For more than two years, the Planning Board had expected low-income family townhouse development to replace the outmoded public housing complex, but Wood said a "huge need for senior housing" had prompted a shift to a three-story building for residents 55 and older.

He said the change was based on input from "focal groups" and on Union County waiting lists for housing.

"I have a real problem with this type of change," board Chairman Ron Scott-Bey said. "This is completely worthless," he said of a draft townhouse plan submitted in January.

Scott-Bey said the new concept would affect the city's COAH affordable housing obligation and it should have been discussed.

"It's a totally different design," he said.

"So we all recognize that this plan has to be amended," Planning Director Bill Nierstedt said.

One of the benefits of the townhouse plan was to have been a new layout with individual front doors instead of the hallways that were believed to foster loitering, trespassing and crime in the public housing. The proposed senior housing building will have just one entry with a security guard. Architect Brian M. Slaugh said the new plan calls for 0.7 parking spaces per unit, because seniors tend not to own cars. The board wanted 1.1 spaces per unit for the townhouses.

"This is a shock," Scott-Bey said.

Citing different needs of a senior population, such as security staff and transportation to medical offices, Scott-Bey said, "We need a new plan now."

Nierstedt told Wood that if the Housing Authority wanted approvals before the year ends, the revised plan would have to be ready in time for the board's Oct. 2 meeting.

Wood again said there had always been alternate plans, but Scott-Bey said, "Plan A and Plan B has no meaning to me."

The new plan must be in the Planning Office by Sept. 26 for review at the Oct. 2 meeting, Nierstedt said.

--Bernice

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Planning Board Hears Benefits of Complete Streets

"Complete Streets" advocate Jerry Fried urged the Planning Board Thursday to join dozens of other New Jersey municipalities in support of making streets safe for all users - drivers, walkers, bikers and people with disabilities.

Fried, the former mayor of Montclair, showed how streets there were modified to slow traffic and create access for all. The New Jersey Department of Transportation adopted a Complete Streets policy in 2009 and since then numerous counties and municipalities have followed suit. Not only do complete streets give access to all, Fried said, they can improve health and make towns more attractive.

The NJDOT has published a Complete Streets guidebook that explains all the benefits of walkability and bike lanes, with step-by-step advice on how to develop, adopt and implement a Complete Streets policy.

Fried saw Plainfield as being well-suited for such a policy, noting the city's "great bones," in contrast to cities such as Orange and East Orange that were split by highways.

On a personal note, I have been an advocate of walkability since deciding not to get another car about six years ago, and certainly Plainfield has no stronger advocate for bike access than Planning Director Bill Nierstedt, who often rides to work on his bike.

Fried mentioned the possibility of increased safety for seniors when car drivers learn to share the road, and anyone trying to cross at Park & Seventh would surely welcome that change.

Planning Board Chairman Ron Scott-Bey said the board will consider a Complete Streets policy when revising the master plan...

--Bernice

Heat Season Starts Oct. 1

This little bee was stunned by the cold a couple of days ago. It sat perfectly still for a portrait. (Click to enlarge.)

Fall seems to be arriving early this year. The heat in my apartment came on when the temperature dropped below 55 degrees recently. The official heat season begins Oct. 1 in Plainfield.

Here are the rules, from the Municipal Code:

Heating Requirements.  Except as hereinafter stated, from October 1 of each year to the next succeeding May 1, the interior of every dwelling unit or rooming unit, bathroom and water closet compartment shall be maintained at least at sixty-eight degrees Fahrenheit (68°F) whenever the outside temperature falls below fifty-five degrees Fahrenheit (55°F) during the daytime hours from six (6:00) a.m. in the morning and eleven (11:00) p.m. in the evening.  At times other than those specified, interiors of units of dwelling  space shall be maintained at least at sixty-five degrees Fahrenheit  (65°F) whenever the outside temperature falls below forty degrees Fahrenheit (40°F).

Except as hereinafter stated, from May 1 to October 1, every dwelling unit, rooming unit, bathroom and water closet compartment shall be maintained at a temperature of sixty-eight degrees Fahrenheit (68°F) during the daytime hours from six (6:00) a.m. in the morning and eleven (11:00) p.m. in the evening whenever the outside temperature falls below fifty-five degrees Fahrenheit (55°F).  At times other than those specified, interiors of units of dwelling space shall be maintained at least at sixty-five degrees Fahrenheit (65°F) whenever the outside temperature falls below forty degrees Fahrenheit (40°F).

With so many new apartments being constructed, tenants need to be made aware of the local rules.

--Bernice

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Remember in November

So Jerry Green is upset once again over "the blogs."

I will resist the urge to copy Courier News columnist Jay Jefferson Cooke's classic retort to perceived whining and will not say "boo-fricking-hoo."

But I will note Green's comment on what is out of bounds in public discourse: "... when you talk about my family, I feel like you have crossed the line & that is something I will not tolerate from nobody, nor should anyone else have to tolerate this."

Oh really. Here is one from the chairman's blog in June 2011:
Ps I can understand someone coming home to help mommy however there is a big difference when someone comes home to LIVE off of mommy. When a parent raises a child and gives that child the best years of their life it is a shame that in their senior years they still have to take care of the child. When is it time to give mommy a break? If someone abuses a parent's goodness like this, I don’t dare imagine what that person would do as an elected official.

This comment was directed at a candidate in the primary election that year. When the candidate brought her ill mother face-to-face with Green, he had to apologize.

Green has also attempted to slur family members of other elected officials and these attacks are part of the reason why people hesitate to run for office. Councilman Cory Storch has announced his intention to seek re:election in 2015 - will the past innuendos about his family resurface?

Soon campaign mailings will arrive for the Nov. 4 general election. Take note who sticks to the issues and who stoops to personal attacks. And remember in June and November 2015 as well.

--Bernice

Watson, Turning Over a New Leaf?

Despite the early fretting over Eric Watson's return to City Hall, in all fairness we don't know how things will work out. While we wait and see how this administration proceeds with Watson as department head, we may remember some interesting appointments from the past administration.

From the Annals of Dubious Hires, there was the fleeting transit of Carlton McGee in 2006, the one-year tenure of A. Raiford Daniels to November 2007 and the 10-month career of Douglas Peck in 2008.

Peck, an Ohio resident, came to city notice as a consultant to the PMUA. The City Council approved a $12,000 stipend billed as relocation expenses when he was appointed in acting capacity as a department head.

Once on the job, he called for a complete overhaul of the budgeting process. But his presentation on the capital improvement plan met with consternation and just over a month later, Peck was out. He was the fifth person in two years to serve as head of the city's largest department, Administration, Finance, Health & Social Services.

Watson has an opportunity to serve for more than than three years in the Mapp administration if confirmed by the City Council. He is no stranger to Plainfield and is a city resident. Unless he gets a better offer somewhere else, he is probably here to stay. And just in time for one of his department's busiest tasks, Leaf Collection!

--Bernice


Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Watson's Hiring Hits Headlines

Eric Watson's job change made the front page of today's Courier News after breaking on the blogs yesterday.

For those who missed it, the longtime former executive director of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority is back in his original role as director of the city's Department of Public Works and Urban Development at a salary of $110,000.

Watson received a controversial payout for his PMUA service in 2012, sparking outcry from residents already upset by a citizen's investigation that uncovered excessive spending by top PMUA executives. Also in 2012, a city study recommended dissolution of the PMUA, a course endorsed by then-Council President Adrian Mapp. Not the least of the puzzlement over Watson's hiring was that Mapp, now mayor, named him acting DPW&UD director.

In his news article, Sergio Bichao reminds us that the state Division of Local Government Services within the Department of Community Affairs had launched its own probe of the PMUA. But as he notes, no outcome has been announced.

On Aug. 11, the current PMUA executive director, Dan Williamson, came before the City Council to report on the authority at the behest of Council President Bridget Rivers.. He gave a brief overview, but urged the council to have a joint meeting with the authority.

The biggest news out of the PMUA this year has been the signing of service contracts with various outside entities, something promised at the outset in 1995 to bring in revenue. The authority now receives bulky waste and vegetative waste at the Rock Avenue transfer station from neighboring towns and school boards, which must then be delivered to another destination for final disposal. PMUA Commissioner Malcolm Dunn credited Williamson with finally launching the long-awaited outside revenue program. The trick in making the program profitable will be to make sure the final disposal costs do not outweigh the revenue from outside use of the transfer station.

--Bernice

Monday, September 15, 2014

TAP Into the News Biz

Always wanted to run a local newspaper?

Michael Shapiro, creator of The Alternative Press, is looking for a franchisee for Plainfield. His TAP online newspapers have been very successful in neighboring towns. He offers his expertise to help you launch one for the Queen City. See more details here.