With City Council approval Monday, a large swath of land north of the Raritan Valley Line and between Leland Avenue and Berckman Street will be investigated to see whether it is in need of redevelopment.
On the Google satellite image above, the Netherwood train station is marked in blue. The target blocks are rather shakily outlined in orange by me. The North Avenue side contains the blocks that will be examined for possible future commercial use. There is also a lot fronting on Johnston Avenue of North Avenue that will be investigated for possible residential use.
As readers are learning with all the new development, the governing body requests the investigation, which the Planning Board carries out and then conveys the results back to the council, which may then ask the Planning Board to make a redevelopment plan.
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In this location, development guidelines fall under the TOD-N zoning ordinance. The turquoise area spanning both sides of the train tracks is the Trainside Commercial Zone. The block on Johnston Avenue is in green and is part of the Trainside Residential Zone. The entire TOD-N ordinance is on the city website (albeit sideways - you may have to use icons at the top to straighten it out.)
Anyone living in that area may want to become more familiar with the ordinance and map. It would be a good thing for neighborhood associations to discuss at one of their meetings.
After so many years of studies and plans that were filed for future reference, in this case the future is now, to use a phrase from Nam June Paik.
Monday's City Council meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.
At the Feb. 1 Agenda-Fixing Session, Deputy City Administrator for Economic Development Carlos Sanchez promised an update on the Muhlenberg site at the Feb. 8 regular meeting.
Mayor Adrian O. Mapp also commented on Muhlenberg in his State of the City Address Thursday.
As readers know, the hospital closed in 2008. The Satellite Emergency Department that remained in the hospital has been relocated to another part of the campus, leaving the hospital site open for other uses. Although the city does not own the property, it has conducted studies and hired a consultant to explore future uses. Mapp says the administration is now ready to "accept viable proposals from investors or developers."
Below are excerpts from the mayor's address and two Plaintalker II posts on Muhlenberg (click on link to read). The meeting Monday is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court. Councilwoman Gloria Taylor asked Sanchez to speak also regarding Councilwoman Diane Toliver's suggestion that the site be used for a new municipal complex.
From the State of the City Address:
My administration and I have worked hard to advance the potential redevelopment of the Muhlenberg site and I am pleased to share with you that it is now ready to accept viable proposals from investors or developers.
Throughout the past year we re-established a working relationship with JFK Health in order to move the re-development process for the now closed 10 acres of the hospital site, and conducted required studies. This allowed us to obtain the necessary recommendation and approvals from both the Planning Board and the City Council in order to declare the site an “area in need of re-development”
The site has been marketed to potential investors and developers as a site for a “health care” facility with supporting services and benefits to the Plainfield community and surrounding areas
Working closely with a re-development consultant we are now in the process of creating, generating and marketing a viable RFP to attract potential proposals for the redevelopment of the site.
We have also worked closely with JFK to properly assist them with the relocation and implementation of a newly renovated Satellite Emergency Room at the Kenyon House facility with expanded services to the community.
Since taking office in 2014, Mayor Adrian O. Mapp has set his sights on re-establishing the city's fiscal health and challenged his team to improve operations across the board.
"If I had to describe the past year in only two words, those words would be change and progress," he said
With increasing interest from developers and investors, he sees 2016 as a time to "re-brand" the city and build on the accomplishments of the first half of his four-year term. Noting the city's historic districts and two train stations, he said through re-branding and marketing "our ability to attract more investors will expand exponentially."
"We have to see ourselves as we want others to see us," he said, calling 2016 "poised to be a breakthrough year."
Mayor Adrian O. Mapp
Mapp delivered his State of the City address before a large crowd at the Senior Center Thursday, having chosen to separate it from the annual reorganization that took place on Jan. 4.
The crowd assembles
Among the good news he could report:
On Public Safety
-Violent crime is down by 17 percent, non-violent crime is down by 9 percent.
-Police are more interactive with the community
-30 real-time security cameras are monitored at police headquarters
-Seven new officers have are on the job as of January and nine new recruits are in academy training
-Police body cameras are in use
-The Fire Division has 12 new firefighters and the American Red Cross is working with the division
On Public Works & Urban Development
-Mapp called the Public Works Division "one of the finest" for their dedication and most recently their response to the Jan. 23 blizzard
-The Recreation Division and Senior Center are now joined in providing all-age activities and held 15 culture-based field trips
Mapp switched to goals, recalling his aim to prove Plainfield is economically viable, safe and a great place to live, work and invest. He told the story of Abraham and Maria Ramos, who had built up a following for their restaurant that spanned the metropolitan area. After their North Avenue location suffered structural damage during a demolition in March 2015, city officials offered help that resulted in a new North Avenue location by November. Mapp praised the "Plainfield Open for Business" loan program's help for the couple.
Citing participation in 15 new business openings, Mapp said there are now also 56 development projects in progress, representing investments of over $135 million. He highlighted the two largest, a 212-unit residential development in the Second Ward and a 90-unit affordable housing plan in the Fourth Ward, coupled with warehouse construction that will allow a successful business to expand and stay in the city.
"This is what I call real change and progress," Mapp said.
City Council members
Another big push was for improved communication, which included electronic documents for the governing body, a revised website for ease of use and social media outreach including the "Mapp App" in recognition of residents' increased reliance on their phones for connecting to the world.
Turning to care for the needs of residents, Mapp quoted Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.:
"Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle."
Calling it "not unreasonable nor unattainable to seek prosperity for every one who lives here," Mapp said his administration is committed in 2016 to expand and promote opportunities opportunities for Plainfielders "in the fields of nutrition, housing, health, income stabilization, criminal justice and improved community life."
He named Plainfield Action Services as the entity to help low- and middle-income residents empower themselves and achieve self-sufficiency. A partnership with Rutgers University School of Social Work will lead to a 10 percent increase in case management. Other assistance will include tenant/landlord advocacy to prevent eviction and homelessness, as well as financial empowerment workshops.
The Community Relations division will also expand its services to help nonprofit organizations and offer consumer education.
The city will also seek means of improving re-entry of parolees into the community, aiding homeless veterans and preventing foreclosures. Municipal photo IDs will be made available to any residents who need them.
Mapp covered all the above topics and more in his 50-minute address,with some deviations from the print version. The full State of the City Address is online and the event was also recorded for viewing on local cable channels. His closing words were a call for togetherness, again quoting Dr. King: "We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools."
Plaintalker sought comments from attendees Thursday after the speech. Several declined, but resident Norman X. Johnson spoke about the re-entry program, saying he would prefer a "no-entry" program. He said help for those returning to the community is greatly needed, but so are education, vocational training, job skills and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) knowledge for young people "on the front side rather than on the backside of release." --Bernice
A group of supporters of paid sick leave sat quietly through the City Council meeting Monday until the very last item came up.
"Here we go," Councilwoman Gloria Taylor said as the council considered whether to move a sick leave ordinance to the Feb. 8 agenda for a vote.
Taylor asked about a "counter proposal" from the SID," referring to the Special Improvement District association that opposed the legislation last year. She asked whether Corporation Counsel David Minchello had received it only that night.
Someone called for a vote, but Taylor went on to talk about a compromise and said a meeting was never held with the merchants' group.
New Councilman Barry Goode said the topic had been on the agenda since he began running for office, about a year ago.
"If we have four votes, we can do it today," Councilwoman Rebecca Williams said.
Council President Cory Storch asked whether the initial legislation had been modified and called for an explanation of the changes. Williams asked Craig Garcia of NJ Working Families to come forward
Garcia said he was not aware of a counter proposal and that compromises agreed on at the last meeting were in the ordinance. They including changes to a collective bargaining clause and a longer interval before attaining sick leave hours.
Garcia said if he had to guess what (the merchants) wanted to cut out, he would say it was (benefits for) part-time workers, but he called such a cut "totally unacceptable."
The discussion was somewhat opaque to those who did not have the text of the ordinance and did not recall the merchants' objections last year. After unanimously approving the ordinance on first reading in March, the council postponed consideration for final passage due to strong objections from local merchants. Union officials and statewide activists for paid sick leave also spoke at the March meeting.
Merchants opposed penalties and fines in the ordinance and also objected to the stress on family-run businesses.The original $2,000 per day fines were reduced to $750 in the new ordinance.
In April, speakers raised new objections and the measure failed in a 3-3 tie vote, with Williams, Storch and Tracey Brown voting "yes" and Taylor, Diane Toliver and then-President Bridget Rivers voting "no." Vera Greaves was absent. On Monday, all seven members including Greaves' successor Barry Goode agreed to move the ordinance to the Feb. 8 agenda. If it passes then, the council would still have to give final approval in March.
Plans for a City Council/administration retreat remain open-ended after a discussion Monday on the parameters.
Council President Cory Storch spelled it out as a "one-day retreat to come to agreement on three to five high-priority goals for 2016," but council members differed on who should be included and how the retreat should be conducted.
Storch stated a need for focus and saw the participants as the council, mayor and cabinet members. He said the location would probably be out of Plainfield.
Councilwoman Gloria Taylor said the retreat should yield "more than just agreements" and cited administrative and legislative priorities as goals. She wanted a planning committee ahead of time and also wants public input, such as from block associations and faith-based organizations.
Councilwoman Bridget Rivers, who advocated a retreat when she was council president, said the retreat would come under the Open Public Meetings Act and would have to be publicized. Members differed on whether the public could comment or only observe.
Storch said the retreat should have a facilitator and suggested Reagan Burkholder as an example. (Burkholder is principal of Summit Collaborative Advisors LLC and has held various municipal administrative positions.)
While the plans got a foothold, nothing was settled Monday. Council watchers will be looking for a resolution that states the location, date and cost.
I have been reporting on Plainfield for about a quarter-century, first at the Plainfield Today weekly, then at the Courier News and after retirement on the Plainfield Plaintalker blog and its successor, Plaintalker II.
For feedback, questions, or corrections, send a note to: bernice.paglia "at" gmail.com.