The Housing Authority of Plainfield cleared a hurdle Thursday when the Planning Board declared the obsolete Elmwood Gardens complex in need of redevelopment.
Based on a study by city planner Scott Bauman and testimony from HAP Executive Director Randall Wood, the board concluded that the crime-ridden, dilapidated housing complex could not be renovated, but needed to be replaced. The 119-unit low-income housing complex dates back to the early 1960s and its eight 3-story walk-up building clusters have structural flaws such as non-functional windows, outdated kitchens and bathrooms, lack of handicapped accessibility and a failing electrical system. In addition, the layout makes it "a haven for loitering, crime and vandalism," according to the study.
Perhaps the most disturbing finding in the study was that firefighters say they will not respond without police backup, because they may interrupt drug deals or find themselves in the midst of a shootout.
Bauman's 35-page study included references to the city's master plan and to eight criteria indicating a need for redevelopment, four of which were deemed applicable to Elmwood Gardens. Reports from Fire, Police and Inspections divisions rounded out the picture of a public housing complex beyond saving.
The City Council had requested the Planning Board to have the study made and now that the findings show a need for redevelopment, the board will make that recommendation to the governing body, which may then order a redevelopment plan to be drawn up.
There will still be many steps for HAP before a transformation of the site can take place, including relocating tenants and identifying financing. Another issue is density, which is currently 119 units at a rate of 31 per acre. The Planning Division is recommending 69 units at 18 per acre.
The "in need of redevelopment" investigation report may be seen in its entirety in the Planning Division office during regular business hours at City Hall, 515 Watchung Avenue.