Thursday, April 30, 2015

"The Monarch" - New Ruler, Old Problems


Glen Fishman, May 20, 2009

Dan broke the story today about the sale of The Monarch's unsold units and raises some questions about the consequences.

I had been chasing that story myself, as best I could under my current circumstances. In fact, I was in the tax assessor's office just days ago to check whether the sale was posted in the big tax book on the counter. The name I had was LGP Plainfield LLC. There was no change indicated, but staff in the Assessor's office had been on vacation when I first asked and catching up after sick leave when I asked last week.

My questions or concerns were slightly different than those Dan raised. One was how will the city, as condo owner of the Senior Center and Veterans Center, be affected. This is a very unusual situation, I think, for a city to own a condo and be subject to condo fees for upkeep of common areas. The fees are supposed to cover maintenance and replacement of deck; maintenance of sidewalks, garage, and fire pump; common gas & electric and water & sewer utilities; landscaping and snow removal; and many other maintenance items. City officials had demanded an accounting of actual costs for which the city as condo owner was liable for 13 percent for the senior center and 1 percent for the veterans center. The Senior Center annual condo fees had been set at $33,000. Now the city will be dealing with a new owner.

City officials in this administration and the past one have wrangled with Dornoch over condo fees as well as a disputed amount that Dornoch claimed the city owed for fit-out of the Senior Center. Is that matter resolved? As I recall, Corporation Counsel Vernita Sias-Hill received authorization from the governing body recently to negotiate a settlement.

I learned that all back taxes and liens on the unsold condos were paid off recently by a company called Virgo Municipal Finance Fund LP of New York and that tenants had received a letter to that effect, talking about foreclosure, even though tenants are not liable for back taxes. My last check of the tax book a month or so ago revealed 22 condos owned privately and 41 still owned by Dornoch.

One owner told me earlier this year that he and several others were dismayed by the situation and were trying to sell and leave Plainfield altogether. Among owners' complaints, tenants allow dogs to roam and relieve themselves in the hallways, the common areas are not kept clean, they feel misled in buying and the condo association is a cumbersome mix of private owners, the city and the owner of the unsold condos.

How did this all begin? At a time when Dornoch was pulling out of projects in other towns, former Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs made the senior center a key re-election campaign promise in 2009. The May event at which developer Glen Fishman was caught looking so pensive was a pre-primary whoop-de-do with a parade of dignitaries assembling at the center on a one-day temporary certificate of occupancy. Robinson-Briggs won the June 2009 primary, defeating then-Councilman Adrian Mapp by a margin remarkable to local conspiracy theorists as nearly the exact number won by a perceived "spoiler" candidate.

Only gradually did the "promise made, promise kept" rhetoric prove to be somewhat false. But it did the trick, giving Robinson-Briggs four more years in charge.

FYI - On Plainfield Plaintalker and its successor, Plaintalker II there exists a full archive of posts on Dornoch and The Monarch. Put a search term in the box at upper left to search either blog.

--Bernice

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

YMCA To Create 30 Apartments for Aging-Out Foster Youth

About a year ago, a City Council item hinted at a YMCA program to assist young people aging out of the foster care system. A press release this week confirmed the YMCA is officially under way to create 30 efficiency apartments in the building at 518 Watchung Avenue.

From the press release:

"The Plainfield YMCA is the sponsor, developer and property manager for the project. Construction and
permanent funding for the project have been secured through state funds and will be supplemented by a
Declaration of Intent for 4% housing tax credits. The Plainfield YMCA has secured site control and is in the
process of finalizing all necessary municipal and funding approvals. Construction is estimated to begin Fall
2015 with a targeted opening of April 2016."

Details in the press release are essentially the same as what was in the council packet last year, when the YMCA sought municipal approval as one of the first steps in the lengthy process of gathering backing and financing for the project.

"The project involves the renovation of the top two floors of the existing campus currently located at 518
Watchung Avenue in Plainfield and will create 30 affordable individual efficiency units designed specifically for youth between the ages of 18-24 years.

Each efficiency apartment will have a private kitchen and bathroom with Energy Star appliances. Modern
amenities such as 24 hour security, private elevator access, secured entry, multipurpose rooms, a resident
lounge, instructional kitchen, common laundry facilities, office space for property management and support
service functions, on-site parking, updated site lighting, and attractive landscaping are to be included. Energy-saving measures and green features will also be incorporated in the project’s design to foster a healthy living environment and lower project operating costs."

The housing is not meant to be permanent, but to provide a safe, supportive environment as the young adults make the transition from foster care to independence. Residents will pay no more than 30 percent of their income for rent. They will have access to case management and support services.

The project is intended to ward off the many risks of aging out of foster care, which include unemployment,
poor educational outcomes, health issues, early parenthood and long-term dependency on public assistance,
and possible incarceration or homelessness.

--Bernice

Hit A Wall

Blogging will be delayed while I attempt to get my wits together.  Too many unresolved problems. Hoping to enjoy the day and start over when I feel more able.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Bond Issue Meeting Fails: No Quorum

A special meeting called by Mayor Adrian O. Mapp for a road repair bond issue fell through Monday for lack of a quorum.

Passage of the $3 million bond ordinance required approval by five City Council members, but by 7:15 only three of the seven members had arrived. Deputy Municipal Clerk Sherri Golden allowed another five minutes, but then said the meeting could not be held due to lack of a quorum. Council members Cory Storch, Rebecca Williams and Diane Toliver were present in City Hall Library. Gloria Taylor, Vera Greaves, Tracey Brown and Council President Bridget Rivers were absent.

Grants from the NJ Department of Transportation and the Community Development Block Grant Program were to be added to the $3 million bond issue for a total of $4 million for the 2015 Road Improvement Program. Asked whether timing was an issue, Chief Financial Officer Al Steinberg said the Community Development Block Grant had a deadline and would be lost if not used.

"There is only a certain time to put in for reimbursement, and when the funds lapse, they lapse," Steinberg said.

Once the bonds are issued, Public Works Director Eric Watson said, the administration has to decide who the engineer will be and specifications for the work must be drawn up. He also said the CDBG funds had to be allocated by a certain time or they would be lost.

The ordinance states the funds are for improvements that include, but are not limited to, all or part of Francis Lane, Linbarger Road, Loretta Terrace, Maxson Place, Shirley Street, Coolidge Street, Salem Road and Second Street. (Yes readers, I know it should be Frances Lane and Linbarger Avenue.)

Plaintalker posted some history on the road repair issue Monday.

Ordinances have to pass on two readings and then do not take effect for 20 more days. If the bond ordinance had passed tonight, the second reading could have taken place on May 11 or, if necessary, at a special meeting before the May 4 agenda fixing session.

Asked by email to comment, Mapp replied, "I was disappointed to learn that the meeting did not occur due to the lack of a quorum. We are doing all that we can to address the very bad condition of our roads and also to ensure that grant funds are used in a timely manner. We are still hopeful that the council will have two readings of the ordinance in May so as to avoid delays. This would require a special meeting during the month of May."

--Bernice

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Special Meeting Monday for Road Repair Bonds

In 2005, the city was poised to embark on a 15-year plan to allot $5 million annually for road repairs.

Ten years later, the current administration is trying to pick up the thread after years of slippage. Along the way, the city changed from an in-house engineering division to outsourcing road repair oversight, and passed years with no capital plan in place. In 2008, former Councilman Rashid Burney published the last complete schedule on his web site, which is no longer available. The council also approved a $1 million bond ordinance for a road repair study by the city's outsourced engineering firm of Remington & Vernick and the plan was no longer defined by years, but by "phases."

By 2012, the situation was not much better, as noted in this update on road repairs.

One ray of sunshine was Remington & Vernick's assignment of engineer Jackie Foushee to Plainfield. Ms. Foushee developed an encyclopedic knowledge of city roads and their various conditions, and worked closely with Planning on related concerns. Her talents apparently impressed former Public Works & Urban Development Director Eric Jackson, because when he became mayor of Trenton, he appointed her his own director of Public Works.

Among the chores inherited by the administration of Mayor Adrian O. Mapp on Jan. 1, 2014, the finance team had to sort out the status of various bonds for capital improvements and also review the current condition of city roads. (Some major roads belong to Union County and are maintained separately.) The last major bond issue in 2013 brought questions on its validity.

Mapp has now called a special meeting Monday (April 27) for approval of a $4 million bond ordinance for the 2015 road improvement program, including grants from the NJ DOT and Community Development.Block Grant Program. The meeting is 7 p.m. in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice

On Noise and Litter

After a harsh winter, we all were glad to have a few warm spring days recently. But then some of us remembered what comes with open windows and more people spending time outside - noise and litter.

Regarding the latter, at the Arbor Day event Mayor Adrian O. Mapp got involved in a dialogue with a pre-schooler about what to do with candy wrappers and such. His advice was to keep them in a pocket if necessary until they could be put in the trash. The child countered with his mother's advice - throw them out the car window. It is always tricky to tell a young person his parent might be in error, but how else to instill a sense of social responsibility?

The lack of regard for the community is all around us, in the paper cups stuck in bushes, discarded plastic bags caught in trees, bottles and cans on lawns. Sometimes trash is dumped just steps from a receptacle, such as the ones downtown that PMUA maintains through "shared services" costs paid by all property owners. Routes to and from the schools are noticeably more littered that other places.

Anti-litter campaigns led by mayors have come and gone. Harold Mitchell deputized schoolchildren with badges to fight litter, and cleanups were a standard feature of the McWilliams administration. But each new generation apparently needs to be taught by someone, if not by their parents, not to drop or toss stuff just anywhere.

Noise is another urban hallmark that I for one could do without. Yesterday for the first time since my health went downhill I was able to spend a couple of hours sifting compost. I was listening to the radio on earphones while I shoveled the compost out of a bin and sifted it to a fine, rich top dressing for the garden. A neighbor turned up his car stereo to window-rattling volume, overwhelming the radio and setting my nerves on edge. I knew better than to ask this rather surly person to turn down his sound, because he does it to annoy and would either yell at me or be perversely pleased to know he was causing someone else discomfort.

Both noise and littering are actually forms of aggression and disdain for the common good. They can be minor, such as just tossing a wrapper out of a car window, or major, as in the individual who feels he is entitled to knock your socks off with his loudspeakers while he cleans his car. If people don't agree on what constitutes social norms, a disjointed community is what you get. Anti-litter campaigns would be less necessary if the person holding the litter did not just drop it anywhere, and maybe our nerves would not be so jangled if others kept their decibels to themselves instead of inflicting them on the neighborhood.

Ah, Spring! A time for birdsong and flowers, or a reminder of the incivility that comes with warm weather? We all, young and old, have a choice between selfish disregard for the community and agreement to respect our neighbors and neighborhood. Which will it be?

--Bernice

Saturday, April 25, 2015

More on Arbor Day

List of plants
Plan for entrance plantings

The Shade Tree Commission also gave sincere thanks to Public Service Electric & Gas. It was not feasible to plant shade trees at one of PSE&G's projects in Plainfield, so the company kindly contributed the money that would have been spent on trees to the Shade Tree Commission for the Drake House project. 

(If there is anything else anyone wants to add, please leave it as a comment.)

Arbor Day 2015 at Drake House

Mayor Adrian O. Mapp and students from King's Daughters Day School
City officials and students gathered Friday at the Drake House Museum to observe Arbor Day 2015 with tree planting, designation of the year's specimen tree and acknowledgement of Plainfield's Tree City USA award.
This year's effort by the Shade Tree Commission included historically appropriate plantings around the 18th Century museum, along with a Red Horse Chestnut and a Winter King Hawthorn. Beth P. Riley of The Potted Garden in Madison created the garden plan and Peter Simone, chairman of the Shade Tree Commission, did much of the work.
The 2015 specimen tree is a very large Magnolia Acuminata that grows on Martine Avenue and is also known as "Cucumber Tree" for its cylindrical seed pods.
Deputy City Administrator Carlos Sanchez
Due to the unseasonably cold and windy weather Friday, the program began inside the museum with the Plainfield High School ROTC presenting the flag and a welcome from Deputy City Administrator Carlos Sanchez.
Sanchez and Planning Director William Nierstedt unfurled the city's 2015 Tree City USA flag. The Shade Tree Commission has planted 1,100 trees in the last nine years.
Outside, everyone got ready to add some mulch to the newly-planted Red Horse Chestnut.
Mayor Mapp collaborated with some young students on the task.
Students from the Barack Obama Green Charter High School pitched in as well. Others involved in the Arbor Day event included Public Works Director Eric Watson, the Public Works Division headed by Superintendent John Louise and Shade Tree Commission Liaison April Stefel of the Planning Division. Besides Simone, Shade Tree Commission members include secretary Mary Burgwinkle, David frost, Jan Massey, Oscar Riba, Narbara Spellmeyer and Lynne Wallace. Historical Society of Plainfield President Nancy Piwowar and trustee Liz D'Aversa attended the ceremony Friday.
The Drake House Museum is owned by the city and operated by the Historical Society of Plainfield. It is open to visitors on Sundays from 2 to 4 p.m.Visitors can attend the Drake House Museum on Sundays from 2 to 4 p.m.

--Bernice

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Brangaccio Solo Show at Swain's

Displaying Citrus Bowl.JPG

From Ann Swain:

     "Pastel Perspectives III" is part three of Nancy Brangaccio's ongoing
series of interior still life pastels.  Her solo show at Swain Galleries 
opens May 2 and runs through May 30.  Brangaccio is noted for her tight composition and the intense colors achievable with pastels.  The artist aims for a very clear, elegant simplicity to invoke serenity and a sense of the permanent.  "There is no enigma," Brangaccio says.  "When I paint an apple or strawberry, that's exactly what you see.  One apple may require 10 different pastels, not by color, but from hard to very soft.  I like to rub in my colors to make objects look real enough to touch."
     The exhibit features soothing tablescapes and florals done with artist's usual careful attention to fine details.
     Brangaccio is a signature member of the Pastel Society of American and has won many PSA exhibition awards.  In September of 2012 she won the Connecticut Pastel Society Award at the Pastel Society of America show in New York City Gramercy Park.  In November she won the Award of Excellence at the Mountain Art Show in Bernardsville, and the Best in Still Life Award at the Pastel Society of New Jersey Members show.
     The opening reception hosted by Swain Galleries is May 2 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.  Brangaccio will do an artist demonstration, also at Swain Galleries, Saturday, May 9 at 1 p.m.  Swain Galleries, family owned and operated for 147 years, is located at 703 Watchung Avenue, in Plainfield's Crescent Historic District.  Hours are Tuesday to Friday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.  For Details call 908-756-1707 or visit www.swaingalleries.com.

Budget Deliberation Schedule Announced

City Clerk AJ Jalloh has posted the meeting notice for budget deliberations. The schedule runs through May 20, when there will be a public hearing on any amendments. All meetings start at 7 p.m., but the locations vary. The first one conflicts with the May 6 Board of Adjustment meeting and the second with the May 7 Planning Board meeting. The City Council, the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee and Council's budget consultant will hear from representatives of various departments and divisions before formulating any amendments. 

The city has three departments, under which all divisions fall. Not all divisions are scheduled to be heard. For example, Administration & Finance has 15 divisions and Public Works & Urban Development has eight divisions. The Department of Public Safety's two divisions, Police and Fire, account for one-third or more of municipal costs.

Here is the schedule:

7 p.m. Wed. May 6
Plainfield Senior Center
400 E. Front St.
Public  Affairs & Safety
Police Division
Fire Division
7 p.m. Thur. May 7
Plainfield Public Library
Anne Louise Davis Room
800 Park Ave.
General Government
Office of the Mayor
7 p.m. Wed. May 13
City Hall Library
515 Watchung Ave.
Economic Development
7 p.m. Thur. May 14
City Hall Library
515 Watchung Ave.
Administration & Finance
IT & Media
Health Division
Purchasing Division
7 p.m. Mon. May 18
City Hall Library
515 Watchung Ave.
Public Works & Urban Development
Public Works Division
Inspections Division
Recreation Division
7 p.m. Wed. May 20
Plainfield Senior Center
400 E. Front St.
Council/ CBAC./Consultant
Feedback & Other

Public  Hearing & Possible
Budget Amendments


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Meet the Board - Indeed!

A commenter on my Earth Day post reported "disturbing news" that John Campbell Sr., husband of school board president Wilma Campbell,  was just appointed to the school board.

The April 21 agenda still listed Mahogany Hall as a board member, but on the "Meet the Board" page tonight, John Campbell's name appears under a blank spot and Mrs. Hall is gone. See the Meet the Board page here for a better look.

At this hour, there is not much to do in the way of getting quotes and such, but at least we can look at the timetable.

Mrs. Hall, then Mahogany Hendricks,  was the top vote-getter in the November 2012 school board election. Under the new system since the City Council voted to move school board elections from April to November, winners in November take office on Jan. 1 for three-year terms. So Mrs Hall's term would have ended on Dec. 31 of this year. That means candidates will have to file on July 27 to be on the November 2015 ballot for the seat. On the City Council side, a November winner in case of a vacancy takes office immediately, but because there are three board seats up, there is no direct succession as in the case of a council seat.

Update from Mahogany Hall:  "I would like to give you the timeline of my resignation. I sent my resignation letter in on April 13th with an effective date of April 17th.":

It may be that Mr. Campbell will then serve until Dec. 31 and would have to run and win in November to stay on for a full three-year term starting Jan. 1, 2016.

The question of relatives on the board came up one year when Joanne Hollis ran while her sister, Bridget Rivers, was on the board. State officials said it would not have been a conflict had Hollis won. The School Ethics Act addresses conflicts where board members have relatives employed by the district, but I will have to check whether having a spouse as a fellow board member constitutes a conflict under state law. One hopes this would have been researched before the appointment took place.

John Campbell previously served on the City Council and has been involved in city politics for many years.

--Bernice

Celebrate Earth Day

Image result for earth day images free

From what I see around Park & Seventh, Plainfield has a special challenge on Earth Day and every day regarding trash and litter. People stick their trash in hedges or in tree trunks. For those who use receptacles, thanks! For those who drop or shove trash anywhere, please respect the community and the planet!

PMUA: Do As I Say ...

So we have diligently saved our paper and cardboard to recycle in the brown container and here it goes.
Oh noes! The bottles and cans we sorted and placed in the blue bin are going in, too!
Other people have wondered about why they should separate recyclables only to have them get dumped in the same truck.

Will they be sorted all over again at the Rock Avenue transfer station? Or maybe they were so contaminated by people who tossed their garbage in the recycling bins that the company that takes recyclables can't use these loads.

Still, it does seem like a case of "Do as I say, not as I do." Another of life's little mysteries in the Queen City.

--Bernice

Monday, April 20, 2015

Lap Dances Out, Bathing Suits In For Richmond Tavern


Victorian bathing suits

A  liquor license holder who wants to locate at the former Richmond Beer Garden agreed to ditch lap dances and skimpy outfits in order to avoid the label of a "sexually oriented business."

Dancers will wear bathing suits that do not expose breasts or buttocks and will not engage in any touching or simulation of self-gratification or sexual intercourse, or else owner Luis Penaloza will be in violation of a rule barring a "gentlemen's club" from being 1,000 feet or less from a church.

The pledge emerged at a special meeting Monday where the City Council acted as the local Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. Penaloza's request must still be reviewed by the state ABC and if approved, it will be up for a vote by the council at the May 11 meeting.

Council President Bridget Rivers urged support for Penaloza, saying he "deserves a chance" to open his business, although in public comment several neighbors complained of noise until 2 a.m., sex in cars, blocked driveways and condoms, broken beer bottles and crack vials littering their property. Since the go-go club closed a few years ago, the neighborhood has been quiet, residents said.

Sgt Nuno Carvalho, who investigated the application for the Plainfield Police Division, also said police calls were down 50 percent since the club closed. Carvalho met with Penaloza last year and described his initial business plan as "less than stellar," in part because Penaloza wanted to convert a DJ booth to a private space for lap dances. Carvalho described "substantial" criminal activity around the club in the past, including a homicide, but in cross-examination Penaloza's attorney noted two homicides this year in the closed club's vicinity, bringing a laugh from Rivers.

Planning Director Bill Nierstedt also testified on the application, saying he reviewed it for a certificate of occupancy as a tavern, which is a permitted use. But he said the only previous certificate of occupancy on file was in 1971, for a retail store. The applicant later produced a document that Inspections did not have, which was a certificate of occupancy for a first floor bar. Still-outstanding issues included parking, the need for site plan review and the fact that the tavern designation did not allow for live entertainment.

Council members asked how the Richmond Beer Garden operated over decades in violation of laws on the books and Nierstedt said there were illegal uses all over town.

"So it appears that your reasoning is that you are interested in applying the law when you find it," Councilwoman Gloria Taylor said. "For us, we have to look not only what is in the books, but what is practice."

City Solicitor David Minchello conducted the hearing and in summation told the governing body, "Make no mistake, the application before you is for a sexually oriented establishment. Don't be confused about what this is."

Alluding to Sgt. Carvalho's testimony on crime, he said, "I ask that you deny this application."

But Penaloza's lawyer, Andrew Ingram, said, "Do not believe this is a sexually oriented business," and insisted his client would have to follow all the rules or be subject to suspensions, fines and revocation of his license.

"He has no choice but to follow the letter of the law," Ingram said. "Dancers need to be fully dressed. He's going to have to follow that."

In public comment, resident Alex Toliver said,  "I don't have no horse in this race. A word has been tossed around here and used negatively. Sex, sex, sex - that's crap."

Toliver said people could see thongs and such at the beach.

"Let's get that sex out of our mind," he said.

Disputing Nierstedt's comment that a vacant lot across the street could not be used for parking and would only hold five cars anyway, Toliver said  he has seen three trailers parked on the lot.

"This is a night club, it's been a night club all these years," he said. "Where are these other licenses at? Who owns these licenses? Then shut them down," he said, alleging "kickbacks."

Update: the vote to include renewal of the license on the May 11 agenda was 4-1, with Vera Greaves, Gloria Taylor, Diane Toliver and Bridget Rivers voting "yes" and Tracey Brown voting "no." Cory Storch and Rebecca Williams were absent.

The other item on the agenda, possible charges and penalties against the Latino Heat Bar & Grill, was decided quickly as a downgrade from an initial 70 days' proposed suspension to an agreement between the city and license holder Mahamatie Beni for a 30-day suspension which will require City Council approval at the May 11 meeting. The offense was not disclosed in the hearing, but when Plaintalker asked Beni, her companion said it was just some people drinking after hours. Minchello said Beni can also appeal the suspension and seek just a monetary penalty.

All liquor licenses must be reviewed for annual renewal by June 30, according to ABC law. Although a state formula limits the number of bars and liquor stores by population, most Plainfield licenses are "grandfathered" and not affected by the rule. See a post on last year's liquor license process here.

--Bernice

Plainfield Cop Arrested

Dear Friday tipster, I have no way of confirming information from the Somerset County Prosecutor's Office, but according to this Courier News story online just now, you are correct.

Somerset County Prosecutor's press release

2010, 2015 Demolitions Compared

I just noticed a table on the city web site that contrasts two North Avenue demolitions, one in 2010 and the recent one in 2015. The table goes point by point over five pages, ending with the question of whether City Council approval is needed for an emergency demolition and the answer, no.


"A Tale of Two Demolitions"

p.s. I see this is part of a post by Mayor Adrian O. Mapp

Get Ready for June 2

It's a little over 40 days until the June primary and it looks like a rough ride.

Locally, political messages are flying in from all angles. Some are merely persuasive, while others are outright lies and distortions. The hapless voter has more of a job this year sorting through the barrage of bullfeathers for honest representations by candidates.

What's at stake? Theoretically, control of the local Democratic Committee is one thing. Being able to count to four on the City Council is probably not something opponents of the current majority can achieve in the near term, as one candidate will only be saving his place if he wins, but could be an incremental  goal for the future..

Between now and the primary, expect a lot of showboating in the budget process and the demolition investigation, as well as posturing on City Council camera by a wide cast of characters with more axes to grind than a league of lumberjacks.

Many Plainfielders will eschew the whole political process on June 2, making every vote cast all the more important. If you believe right now that you know who who'll vote for on June 2, volunteer for the campaign, donate money, talk it up to friends and neighbors. When your sample ballot arrives, take a good look at it for candidates and your polling place.

Political wisdom has it that this primary will not interest voters because there is no major race at the top of the line. Locally, the new opportunities for development make it very relevant for voters to declare who they want in charge. If you don't vote, don't complain after June 2 about how things are going in Plainfield. Your vote counts, especially now.

--Bernice

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Hillside Avenue Historic District Reorganizes

Here's an update posted by Libby Price on Facebook:

Fabulous kickoff meeting for the Hillside Avenue Historic District! A great turnout and lots of new energy and ideas for our District and the City. Congrats to our 2015 Board...President Peter Price; Vice President Dawn Jenkin; Treasurer Nathan Vaughn; Secretary Quinn Jarrett.

Plaintalker wishes the same for all the historic districts. Some are already operating at a dynamic level and provide positive interest in the city with house tours and other events. Others may need a little "new energy" as Hillside has found.

There is a wealth of information on the city web site about historic preservation, but you have to dig a bit for it.
You have to go to Departments, open Public Works & Urban Development, choose Divisions, then choose Planning on the drop-down menu. All the land use boards (Planning, Zoning Board of Adjustment, Shade Tree Commission and Historic Preservation Commission) are under Planning.

Here's a map of all the historic districts and sites and there are also maps of individual districts. Take a few minutes and look around!

--Bernice


Celebrate Earth Day with Garden Club

Earth Day 2015
April 22
Plainfield Garden Club
(click link for information)


Garden Club, Cricketers Open the Season

The Plainfield Garden Club opened the Shakespeare Garden this week, with weeding and cleanup on Wednesday and Saturday.
On Saturday, club President Mandy Zachariades conferred with staff from Union County Parks & Recreation.

"We get a lot of help from the county," she said.
The Shakespeare Garden contains plants mentioned in The Bard's works. There are other such gardens in many locations, including Central Park, San Francisco and Melbourne, Australia.across the world. The Plainfield Garden Club welcomes visitors especially at the peak of the blooming season in June, and the event on June 6 will also celebrate the club's centennial.
As part of the Union County park system, Cedar Brook Park is open dawn to dusk and the garden may be enjoyed any time during those hours. It is a great place to take visitors who want to learn more about Plainfield's attractions.
Near the garden is another point of interest, a cricket pitch.
Over the playing season, large groups gather to watch the games and cheer on their teams.

On a weekend visit to the park, you might see a game in progress while strolling through the garden.

--Bernice

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Special Meeting Monday on Liquor Licenses

Two liquor license matters are on the agenda of a special meeting called by the City Council for 6:30 p.m. Monday.

From the legal notice:


  1. HEARING TO DISCUSS POSSIBLE CHARGES AND PENALTIES PREFERRED AGAINST THE PLENARY RETAIL CONSUMPTION LICENSE  IDENTIFIED AS MAHAMATIE BENI T/A LATINO HEAT SPORTS BAR & GRILL LICENSE NO. 2012-33-029-008.

  1. HEARING TO DISCUSS THE PROPOSE PLACE-TO-PLACE TRANSFER OF THE PLENARY RETAIL CONSUMPTION LICENSE IDENTIFIED AS 301 LUIS PENALOZA LLC. T/A EXPRESS NIGHT CLUB LICENSE NO. 2012-033-23-004 SEEKING TO CONDUCT BUSINESS AT 301 RICHMOND ST. PLAINFIELD, WHICH HAS BEEN RECOMMENDED FOR DENIAL BY THE DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC AFFAIRS & SAFETY.

As much as I don't want to attend yet another meeting, it might be of interest because liquor licenses are high on the list of controversial topics in Plainfield.

The Latino Heat Sports Bar & Grill is on Watchung Avenue, near the police station. I don't know where Express Night Club is and nothing comes up on Google for it. In past years, the license has not been connected with a location.

The bar at 301 Richmond Street has been closed for some time. It was the Richmond Beer Garden in past years and more recently was a Latino go-go bar. The shuttered bar is across the street from the site of a large, proposed apartment complex that is under review by the Planning Board.

Many feel the city has too many liquor licenses. The number of liquor licenses has dwindled a bit, but at the same time developer Frank Cretella needs one or two for his downtown development plans. Maybe he will get lucky!

--Bernice

Friday, April 17, 2015

Project Faulted for Density, Lack of Parking

A redevelopment project for Richmond and Third faltered Thursday over lack of parking and being too dense for the location.
After two hours of testimony from an engineer and an architect, Planning Board members were far from approving Crown Real Estate Holdings Inc.'s proposal to replace the former Cozzoli Machine Company with 150 new apartments. The developer proposed only 155 parking spaces, where 306 were required. When engineer Edward S. Dec mentioned parking on the street to make up the difference, Planning Board Chairman Ron Scott Bey said, "Hold on! We do not count on-street parking."

As it became evident there would be no approvals Thursday, Scott Bey polled the board on concerns they want addressed when the developer returns. Members said the density was wrong for the location, which architect Noel Musial said was 1,620 feet from the main train station, or "just outside" the transit village ideal distance.
Engineer Edward S. Dec explains the project.
"I just think there's too many units, way too many units," Councilman Cory Storch said.

The city's new transit-oriented development zoning calls for the greatest density to be clustered around its two train stations.

Board member Billy Toth questioned the density as well as the mix of amenities. Among them, Musial had mentioned 32 laundry units, but Toth wanted washing machines inside the apartments.

The former industrial site was found to be contaminated several years ago and board member Ken Robertson said, "Brownfields remediation really needs to be looked at."

Scott Bey called the development "A lot of project for a very small space."

The proposal originally was for a four-story building,but among the many changes introduced at the March 19 meeting, another floor was added. Among other details questioned by the board, the developer planned only 50 storage units, to be assigned on a first-come, first-served basis, and provided "green space" in small sections that members said would not meet the definition of open space.

The group will return on May 7 for a third try for preliminary and final site plan approval. The meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m. in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice

Thursday, April 16, 2015

2015 Budget Process Gearing Up

With budget introduction and the naming of a budget consultant and members of the Citizens Budget Advisory Committee Monday, the governing body is closing in on the 2015 budget process, but has yet to set a schedule for hearings.

The council approved an agreement with Government Strategy Group for the services of consultant Larry Caroselli, at a cost not to exceed $10,000. Caroselli, a former Union County finance director, served in the same role last year. The 2014 budget consultant's report included cuts to new hires that Mayor Adrian Mapp said were crucial to launching his new administration. For this year, Council President Bridget Rivers is asking the administration to furnish the names and salaries of all employees and to include any "in the process of getting a raise."

In a budget message on April 6, Finance Director Ron West said the introduced budget "has an increase in the municipal tax levy of $1,502,259.03, which represents an increase of 12 cents in the municipal tax rate from 4.26 to 4.38, or a $134.46 increase to the average assessed home of $110,000."

The total budget as introduced is $78,119,734.57 and the municipal tax levy is $53,856,706.66.

--Bernice .


Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Rules of Order or Disorder Rules at Council Meetings?

Whoever said "We can disagree without being disagreeable" has probably never been to a pre-primary City Council meeting.

Civility took a hit more than once during Monday's meeting, Former Councilman John Campbell, more recently a political power broker, called out insults to Councilman Cory Storch after a crucial vote.

"You out of there, baby," Campbell yelled to Storch, who is seeking re-election.

Resident Danny Dunn singled out Mayor Adrian O. Mapp, saying he was going to address Council President Bridget Rivers as the mayor, because Mapp was absent too much. By the city's special charter, a mayor is not part of a council meeting but may attend. On Monday, Mapp was away for the funeral of his father-in-law.

Former PMUA Commissioner Alex Toliver demeaned Chief Finance Officer Al Steinberg after he moved from his front-row seat to stand in the rear of the courtroom three and a half hours into the meeting.

"What is he?" Toliver asked, even though Steinberg has been CFO since January 2014. He also alluded to Steinberg's color.

None of this drew any call for order or reprimand from Council President Bridget Rivers. She herself laughed out loud when Finance Director Ron West said the administration wanted to hire someone to address the problem of vacant and abandoned buildings. West said he had identified more than 220 such properties.

"So you're going to add a new position to look at abandoned properties?" she asked. "Aren't there enough positions on the books?"

After West explained the goal of getting the properties back on the tax rolls, Councilwoman Gloria Taylor agreed with him and said, "That's a good use of funds."

"We think it's worthwhile," West said after others commented.

Rivers said with a laugh, "We'll discuss it during budget deliberations."

Rivers did try to have an outspoken member of the Tri-County Latino Coalition removed by police, but when his sister and other members began screaming, Rivers left the dais to intercede and have him brought back in. Coincidentally, the group had just honored her as "hero of the night" for preventing Mapp from having police remove TLC members who were shouting at the April 6 meeting.

And so it goes.Barring any special meetings, the public will likely hear more of the same on May 4 and 11. The primary is June 2 and then the rhetoric may simmer down until after Labor Day, when the Nov. 3 general election follies begin. Maybe by then somebody will have reviewed the council's own Rules of Order and the sound of the gavel will be heard in the land.

--Bernice


Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Council Honors Plainfielders

Plainfielders who view City Council meetings on television will see an uplifting segment on the April 13 presentation.
Ceremonial matters included a resolution marking the retirement of Chief Edward Santiago. Councilwoman Diane Toliver Councilman Cory Storch read aloud his many accomplishments and milestones, including this excerpt:
"Chief Edward Santiago began his employment with the Plainfield Police Division on January 6, 1975; promoted to Police Sergeant on February 4, 1985; promoted to Police Lieutenant on July 11, 1986; promoted to Police Captain on September 10, 1989; and was appointed Plainfield Police Chief by Mayor Albert T. McWilliams on April 13, 1999, becoming the first Hispanic Chief of Police in the State of New Jersey."
He served as chief until the title was abolished in 2008 and continued to serve the city as a police captain.

Another resolution honored Emily Washington, who recently passed away on her 91st birthday. She was legendary for her social and political involvement in Plainfield as noted in an extensive obituary. A keen observer of the city scene, she never hesitated to share her opinions and advice with those in power. She was recognized widely in Republican circles and was also well-known for her catering and the Washington Deli that she and her late husband owned in the West End.
Another honoree was Eagle Scout Jarret Brown, who described his project and encouraged others to    follow his example. His Eagle Scout project involved providing an inventory of the Brook Avenue Presbyterian Cemetery in North Plainfield, and clean up services to the property and surrounding areas.
Councilwoman Toliver also presented a resolution to Brenda Gilbert for the Greater Central Jersey Community Choir, a group comprising 20 churches with members including many residents of Plainfield, which has won first place three times in the McDonald's Gospel Fest and has also broken the Guinness World Record for most participants in a choir, topping 1,147 participants.

The ceremonial matters are at the beginning of the meeting, which ran until after midnight. Be sure to see this part and take pride in your fellow Plainfielders.

--Bernice

PMUA Meeting Rescheduled

If you were planning to attend a PMUA meeting tonight, forget about it. The meeting has been rescheduled to April 29. Meanwhile, here's a look at Dan Williamson's contract in contrast with that of his predecessor. The search is on for an executive director as Williamson's contract nears expiration. Will the next contract be even less generous?

Sick Leave Law Fails

A Latina union member speaks in favor of paid sick leave.

A much-discussed sick leave ordinance failed, 3-3, after two more hours of public comment Monday.

Councilwoman Rebecca Williams urged her fellow legislators to make Plainfield the tenth city in New Jersey to pass legislation allowing workers to earn paid sick days, but only Cory Storch and Tracey Brown joined her in voting "yes" for final passage. Gloria Taylor, Diane Toliver and Council President Bridget Rivers voted "no."

The ordinance passed unanimously on first reading in February, but after a large turnout of business owners in March, final passage was put off until April. Business owners said they were not informed of the law's provisions, while union representatives and worker, some speaking through translators, endorsed the public health argument for paid sick days. Before a public hearing Monday, the council agreed to amendments lowering a fine for violations from $2,000 to $750 per day and dropping public disclosure of violators' names. 

Storch sought to add a previously-discussed amendment to to exempt business owners with fewer than 10 employees, but Williams objected, saying it would "take the teeth out of this law."

She criticized Storch's suggestion as "unconscionable" and meant only to appease business owners. Taylor said she agreed with Storch, but also claimed the business owners needed more time to understand the ordinance.

"I just think we need to look at this again," she said, but her request to table the ordinance failed, as did Storch's amendment.

Speakers brought up new issues Monday, such as how the law would affect employers who pick up day laborers and whether it would affect employees of nonprofit organizations and churches. The answer to the latter was yes. 

The factions applauded, stomped their feet and shouted as speakers made their points. Some saw passage at the state level better, others said it would be vetoed by Gov. Chris Christie. Nonresidents, including advocates for the law, had to speak last after all city residents, and were branded as outsiders pushing their agenda on the city. But Williams said she brought the legislation to the council. Speakers pointed to other cities that passed similar laws, while others cited backlashes in a couple of them.

School board president Wilma Campbell and her political "kingmaker" husband John each described leaving jobs to start their own business and described the effect they felt the law would have on small business owners. 

"It's a burden, it's an absolute burden," Wilma Campbell said "It's bad for growth in this town."

John Campbell called the legislation "job-killing" and branded one advocate a "snake oil salesman." Telling a homey anecdote about looking at both sides of an issue, he said, "If you don't have no job, there ain't going to be no sick pay."

--Bernice

Monday, April 13, 2015

Fee`Waiver Proposal Needs Explanation

Tonight the City Council is expected to vote on 50 resolutions and five ordinances, but first will hold a closed session to discuss "potential litigation," all of which portends a possibly long meeting.

A lot of the agenda items have already been chewed over in the blogosphere. I am just now reading one on waiving certain fees. Something about it strikes me as "spot legislation" tailored to a particular situation, but maybe I have just caught the suspicious mentality that afflicts some members of the governing body.

Below is the text of changes to a section of the Municipal Code titled "LICENSES, PERMITS AND REGULATED ACTIVITIES, ARTICLE 17, SCHEDULE OF LICENSES AND PERMIT FEES."

A. In instances where an organization is experiencing financial hardship in connection with the payment of the application fee and related costs associated with the preparation and filing of an application to obtain not for profit status under 501© 3 status, the City Council may, by resolution, grant a waiver of fees based on a financial hardship. The entity may make a Financial Hardship Application for Fee Waiver to the City Council through the City Clerk. The applicant must demonstrate that they have commenced the process of obtaining a 501©3 status, and provide information reflecting the existence of its financial hardship. Documents that may be considered as evidence commencing the process to obtain the status of 501©3, includes, but is not limited to 1) a copy of a completed application seeking the 501©3 status, 2) a copy of a letter(s) seeking professional and financial support for the filing of the application, and 3) documents reflecting that the failure to file is due to the absence of available funds to pay the 501©3 application fee and related costs.B. The waiver of municipal fees under this Chapter is may be granted only once to the entity seeking the financial hardship. C. If an organizations can demonstrate that it experienced a financial hardship that existed thirty (30) days prior to the formal adoption of this ordinance, said entity application for a waiver may be considered by the Council and if such a waiver is granted, the waiver of said fees shall apply.

The question of 501(c)(3) status most recently came up at a City Council meeting in connection with the baseball league controversy.  Charitable organizations achieve this status through the IRS, not the city. According to online information, there may be a $400 fee to file an application.

However, a closer reading of the proposed change to a city ordinance seems to indicate the applicant wants to be excused from paying city fees while going through the process of obtaining the exemption. The text above says the applicant has to show proof of seeking professional and financial support for the application. 

This is a convoluted situation, and as much as I do not want to prolong the meeting, the basis for this ordinance needs more explanation. In the case of the baseball league, a firefighters' group last week pledged to provide all the equipment needed, and yet the league's representative asked the council for more help. Do organizations that already have 501(c)(3) status get all fees waived? How do other exempt charities raise money? Further explanation is in order.

--Bernice