Friday, September 5, 2014

Planners Mull Study, Next Steps Unclear

A city-sponsored study of the 17-acre Muhlenberg site drew a cautious acceptance from the Planning Board Thursday as members voiced reservations about the next steps.

Formerly dominated by Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center, the site has had only a satellite emergency department for medical treatment since the hospital closed in 2008.

The City Council approved hiring Heyer, Gruel & Associates of Red Bank in October 2013 at a cost not to exceed $48,000. The firm held three community meetings in early 2014 for input from residents, who overwhelmingly insisted on a medical use for the campus, with no residential development. The study results included 100 units of veterans' housing and 36 apartments, a far cry from the 600 apartments proposed by JFK Health System for the site, but still rejected by the public.

Chairman Ron Scott-Bey led off by saying the study was commissioned by the administration and the Planning Board had nothing to do with it. 

"I understand there is a final plan somewhere," he said, noting no additions to what was handed out Thursday. 

Deputy City Administrator for Economic Development Carlos Sanchez said there was a minor change, deletion of health-related veterans' housing due to community concerns at an Aug. 14 meeting. 

"I look at this and see zoning and code changes, not development," Scott-Bey said.

But board member Gordon Fuller pointed out a developer could come in and ask for variances "and we'll be back where we started."

"We are kind of operating blindly," board member Horace Baldwin said. "I really don't feel we're in a position to effectively assess what's being proposed."

The study results are posted on the city web site. There is a recommendation for a "healthcare campus zone" and a page with next steps was up briefly, but has since disappeared.

Black and white copies handed out Thursday were barely legible, but audience members familiar with the results offered comments. 

"Why is this discussion even taking place?" resident Robin Bright said, noting the city does not own the site and should figure out how to acquire it if city officials want to make a plan.

Bright asked what the current zoning is, and Planning Director Bill Nierstedt said it was a professional office zone, which permits single- and two-family dwellings, mixed-use dwellings, apartments, medical offices, hospital and child-care centers.

Dr. Harold Yood said he agreed with Scott-Bey, calling it "premature even to discuss this."

Nancy Piwowar cited historic aspects of the Muhlenberg campus that she felt were going to bring attention to Plainfield, and also repeated the advice she gave at the Aug. 14 meeting, to make sure a title search of the property is done.

Dottie Gutenkauf told the board it was "very clear" that they were in a very preliminary situation, but she said there is a "distinct community sense of what Plainfield needs and what Plainfield does not need." She urged Sanchez to "find somebody who wants to revive a hospital."



  1. Until the City brings healthcare professionals, pharmaceutical companies, medical device manufacturers, investment bankers with close ties to the healthcare industry, and similar, into the mix, everything else is pie in the sky. It's not about the planning and zoning functions of the City boards, it's about identifying viable healthcare components and how they can be financed. We all know the consensus is to maintain a medical facility, but we're no closer now than we were six years ago, and we'll stay that way until we bring the right individuals, with all their knowledge, connections, and resources to the table. It is unlikely that the Lone Ranger will ride into town and all will be sunshine and happiness.

    1. "...we'll stay that way until we bring the right individuals, with all their knowledge, connections, and resources to the table."

      So the plan is to wait for Multiple Rangers to stumble their way into town? And then buy the joint from JFK and sink additional tens of millions into an outdated facility, all on the hope that semi-expanded Medicaid (until the Senate turns republican) will make them rich? Why? Why would anyone with any financial sense do that? If it were viable wouldn't JFK be doing it already? If you can't convincingly answer the question "why" you got nothing. I think that you, good and righteous citizen that you are, along with everyone else who turns out for all the dog and pony shows, are just dreaming.

      I say drive the hardest bargain you can with JFK, let them develop it with mostly housing if that's the best we can do and let those who are unhappy with that outcome adjust or move (nothing personal, but things change whether we like it or not). Stop dreaming because neither God nor Obama are going to save us. Get something positive done with the material at hand while the opportunity is still present.

    2. Anonymous, don't give up the ship! If the best we can do is drive a hard bargain while JFK puts in housing, I'd say we're not doing the best we can. Rather than wait for the Lone Ranger to ride in, or as you phrase it, Multiple Rangers, we need to rope 'em in, if just to get an educated opinion. It could be that housing of some density or other is the only alternative, but I wouldn't take JFK's word for it.

    3. Why should we just LET JFK do anything they want? You think that something positive would be a 600 unit project? It’s obvious that you don’t live in this community or you would understand the hard fight us “dreamers” have put up and will continue to put up. It is NOT ok for big businesses or developers to come into a town and dictate what should happen just because people like you say something needs to happen. Should everyone who is oppose to JFK’s plan move out of town? Let’s not forgot what a town is, unless you have people to bring it to life, it’s nothing. The majority of the people spoke and unanimously agreed that a 600 unit project was NOT the best use of the property nor was it in the best interest of the city and its residents. So I say to you anonymous, your little post in favor of JFK doing whatever they want after they’ve already took away our hospital, jobs and help contribute to the foreclosure rate in Plainfield, sounds like someone in line for a gratitude check from JFK if they can get this deal done. The hardest bargain we can drive is to assess taxes on that property from the time it cease being a tax exempt medical facility and make JFK pay accordingly. Let’s tax them until they put a FOR SALE sign on the building and solicit buyers on the open market. That should be the beginning of moving that property along in the right direction, along with re-zoning it for medical use only. One other thing to you anonymous 11:10, unless you sign your real name, as far I’m concern you and your opinion is a non-factor!
      Robin B

    4. Thank you Robin - I have been advocating from day one that JFK should be paying real estate taxes on the property from the moment the state allowed them to rescind their hospital license.

      My fear is that once the ER is moved the main building will be wrapped in a 10 foot hight chain link fence (much like Elmwood Gardens is now). It will sit there like that for years to come - a big white elephant while JFK waits us out. They will wait us out!

      Let us put the pressure on them now, let us hit them where it hurts and force them to be serious in the marketing of the campus.

  2. Well said Mr. Goldstein. With the right incentives, I don't know why we cannot lure pharma companies, medical practices, etc., to this location,