Monday, August 31, 2015

Mayor's Response on Outsourcing

UPDATE: Here is Mayor Adrian O. Mapp's reply to my request for a comment on outsourcing:

The administration will address this matter, fully, with the council on September 8, 2015. I am aware that certain employees are circulating self-serving malicious information. As you know, when it comes to personnel matters we are always limited in's  what we can say.

Special Meeting Tonight

As Dan reminds us, Mayor Adrian O. Mapp has called a special meeting for 7 p.m. tonight (Monday,  Aug. 31) in City Hall Library with two items, the "payment in lieu of taxes" for the South Avenue Gateway project and vacating a portion of Old South Avenue.

The possibilities are 1. Lack of a quorum, 2. A quorum rejecting the ordinances or 3. Passage of the two ordinances on first reading, which would mean possible final passage on Sept. 14 if a council consensus agrees at the Sept. 8 meeting to move them to the agenda.

Either No. 1 or No. 2 could sink the project, as Dan suggests, because the developer needs to acquire almost a dozen properties and clear them off to make way for the 212-unit apartment complex. Further delay into late fall or early winter could upset the developer's timetable and as we all know, time is money.

Perhaps since the Aug. 17 meeting at which several council members lambasted the deal and declined to act on it, council questions have been answered. But as with the defeat of the police dispatcher ordinance, there may be a whole other issue, offstage to the public, that will impact some council members' votes. Only those in the know will be able to connect the dots.

The dispatcher ordinance failed, it seems, because a quid pro quo didn't go through. Plainfield already has a reputation as a tough place to do business. If deals hinge on totally unrelated issues, how can any developer operate in good faith? A developer becomes an unwilling third party to some unseen intrigue between two powers in situations like that.

Whatever the outcome tonight, let us hope that it will happen according to the fact-based opinions of the deciders and not anything else. And should the ordinances pass tonight, again let the same hold true on Sept. 8 and Sept. 14.

--Bernice

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Some Thoughts on Outsourcing

Not even a very long nap has had any effect on the fatigue I am experiencing. No blog thoughts are coming to mind, except some vague opinions on what some readers insist is the impending outsourcing of the Planning Division.

On the face of it, outsourcing this division would do away with the institutional knowledge of the city's physical character and structure. The example of outsourcing engineering can stand as proof of what you get when you depend on the abilities of strangers to deal with crucial functions. Over the years, the individuals assigned to the city have ranged from extremely competent and in tune with the city's needs to practically oblivious and incapable of timely response.

In the newsroom a few years ago, there was talk of "journalism by parachute," or the practice of putting a skilled journalist in some unfamiliar place, with the result often being a superficial report that in many cases lacked the social or historical context needed to convey the news intelligibly to readers. Similarly, we have seen instances of outside professionals not "getting" Plainfield and making recommendations based on generic concepts.

Someone raised the issue of how much employees cost, versus outsourcing. A while back I wrote a post on how employers may increasingly be viewing employees as a burden and a nuisance, with their need for things like vacations and benefits. Outsourcing may give the impression of doing away with those costs, but guess what? Each assignee to the city is an employee of the outsourcing firm and so the costs of time off and perks are built in to the hourly rate billed to the city.

This whole situation needs a lot more light shed on it, which may not happen due to personnel rules and the autonomy of any administration in such decision-making. It's hard to report on a personnel issue that is rumored to be happening, until it actually happens. And even then the facts may remain hidden behind regulations on confidentiality.

Meanwhile, eight months of displacement within my own small apartment have left me really tired. It has only been a week since I got back all the space I lost starting on Dec. 9, 2014. Sometimes I am sad and sometimes very angry. It is interfering with my ability to do a lot of things, blogging being one. And now I think I will go back to bed.

--Bernice

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Join the League, Work on a Campaign, Vote

It's nine weeks to the Nov. 3 general election!

We hope all 21,673 registered voters* will come out to the polls. But you can also work on a candidate's campaign or join the Plainfield League of Women Voters in helping to educate voters.

The City Council candidates are: Second Ward, four-year term: Democrat Cory Storch, Independent John Campbell. No Republicans filed.

First & Fourth Ward at-large, four-year term: Democrat Barry Goode, Independent Norman E. Ortega. No Republicans filed.

Board of Education: Three three-year terms: (Non-partisan) John C. Campbell, Jackie Coley, Emily Morgan, Richard Wyatt

NJ State Assembly, District 22, Two two-year terms: Democrats Gerald "Jerry" Green, James M. Kennedy: Republicans William "Bo" Vastine, William H. Michelson.

*Registered voters as of 5/15/2015, will be updated in October

Friday, August 28, 2015

Political Fireworks Ahead

I heard about a couple of situations Thursday that sound rather explosive, but need to ripen a bit more before becoming actual news. To those who think I can make a difference by blogging about the rumors, let me say that I would rather wait on the facts. That's all I can say right now.

--Bernice

Mystery Blooms Emerge


Some mystery plants in one of my flower patches finally bloomed and I found out what they were. I thought they might be a bushy form of Morning Glory, but a check online revealed them to be Four O'Clocks. The flowers are very pretty, but the wait was long. I never planted them before and if I do again, at least I will now know it will take a few months before they bloom.
Here's a white one. There are also some yellow ones about to bloom.

The succession of blooming is something gardeners have to learn, from the Spring ephemerals through early Summer perennnials and then a lot of members of the Composite family, including Sunflowers and Black-Eyed Susans bringing up the rear in late Summer and Fall. Now I know where to expect these ones.

--Bernice 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

YMCA Discusses Apartment Plan with HPC

Representatives of the YMCA made a conceptual presentation to the Historic Preservation Commission Tuesday on the proposed creation of 30 apartments for young people aging out of foster care.

Plans call for converting the second and third floors of the Watchung Avenue building  from 60 single-room occupancy units to small apartments where the young people can live while making a transition to becoming self-supporting. The program includes counseling by staff that will occupy a new two-bedroom unit. The conversion will require a new elevator as well as an addition to the third floor.
Architects Dan Nichols and Richard Ragan
The changes will require a certificate of appropriateness from the HPC, as the YMCA is in the Civic Historic District, but Tuesday's discussion was informal. Representatives of the YMCA will apply for a hearing at a later date.

The conversion of the upper floors will not affect YMCA programs below.

As described by architects Dan Nichols and Richard Ragan, the addition on the third floor will have a stucco finish colored to match the brick facade of the existing building. The apartments will range from 369 to 550 square feet and each will accommodate just one person.

The conceptual discussion was the second for YMCA representatives in a week. On Thursday, the Planning Board heard the concept. In both instances, board members and commissioners asked what would become of the SRO unit occupants. On Thursday, YMCA representatives said occupants received assistance in relocating and only 14 remained. By Tuesday, the count was down to nine.

The YMCA will make formal applications to both the Planning Board and the HPC in coming months. Funding is expected to be in place by January, with construction to follow in 2016.

The project first came to light by way of a City Council agenda in March 2014. Municipal approval is often important for new projects in the city, especially as one element in seeking other endorsements and funding.

--Bernice

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Mayor Calls Special Meeting on PILOT

Mayor Adrian O. Mapp has called a special meeting with two items related to the South Avenue Gateway development.

The meeting is 7 p.m. on  Monday, Aug. 31 in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave.

One item is the financial agreement sought by the developer for the $50 million 212-unit residential development on South Avenue next to the Plainwood Square park. A council majority rejected the 30-year "payment in lieu of taxes," or PILOT that the developer sought, first by declining on Aug. 10 to move it to the regular meeting and then by refusing on Aug. 17 to add it as a new item after developer Joseph Forgione made a presentation.

See links for additional information on the Aug. 10 agenda-fixing session and the Aug. 17 regular meeting.

Among reasons cited for rejecting the PILOT were that some council members felt they had not been apprised of the plan earlier and said they had been disrespected by the mayor and administration. At the regular meeting, members praised the project, but said the administration could not defy council rules by asking to have the PILOT added as a "walk-on" item that night.

The other item is a request to approve vacation, or relinquishing city control, of a portion of Old South Avenue right-of-way in order the add it to the development site. Eleven private properties will be acquired and consolidated into one large lot to make way for the two four-story buildings containing the 212 rental units plus numerous amenities including a fitness facilities, a common area for gatherings, a tech center and a theater for films or televised events.

Developer Joseph Forgione and a team of expert witnesses met with the Planning Board on Aug. 6 and completed testimony on Aug. 20, garnering preliminary and final site plan approval. As explained by Forgione and Economic Director Carlos Sanchez, the project also needs the two council approvals to go forward with financing and land acquisition. 

"Time is of the essence," Sanchez told the council on Aug. 17.

Forgione's presentation to the council and their comments in response were caught on video by David Rutherford, who posted them on his blog (click the link to view).

--Bernice

Hold the Welcome Wagon?

Among the many odd aspects of City Council remarks on the South Avenue Gateway development proposal, some members commented on prospective tenants as having "alternative lifestyles" and maybe being gay.

As happens often lately, notions pop up that make one think there had been a meeting before the public meeting to frame arguments on issues by using words or phrases designed to provoke a reaction. Often these references are based on perceived class or racial distinctions, as in the frequent coded allusions to the Second Ward.

So what is the point of saying one has heard that the proposed apartments might be occupied by people with "alternative lifestyles"? Definitions of that term refer to "living outside the cultural norm" or being "socially unconventional." Are speakers saying there is only one accepted mode of behavior citywide that these newcomers might disrupt?

If there is one thing that distinguishes Plainfield from its neighboring towns, it is diversity. People say they have chosen to live here just for the mix of cultures and the freedom to be oneself.

The hint that the new apartments might attract gays is really a kicker. During the 1980s, gays who were attracted to Plainfield for its eclectic Victorian housing stock became a large part of the driving force for restoration and preservation of those homes. It's not like South Avenue Gateway would start some trend. The gay population has been here for decades and has contributed in many ways to the betterment of the city.

David Rutherford was able to capture about 40 minutes of council remarks on his blog, in addition to what the developer had to say about the project. It might be instructive to review the comments and see what you think.

The project received preliminary and final site plan approval Thursday. The developer still has obtain some other approvals before any ground is broken. Let us hope the discussion involving the governing body proceeds without invoking spurious theories about who might move in.

--Bernice 

Monday, August 24, 2015

The Future of Parking?

Sometime last week I heard a public radio commentary on the high cost of parking in New York City and how some car owners were willing to pay up to $1 million for a parking space.

Cruising the interwebs, I came across several articles on this phenomenon, which isn't even new. The articles at major news outlets go back to 2012 and there was a spate more in 2014. This New York Times article quotes a sales and marketing executive as saying, "We're setting the benchmark."

That cost may never be a benchmark for parking spaces in Plainfield, but it might inspire an entrepreneur or two to look into private parking or garages for affluent apartment dwellers with excess vehicles.

Nowadays parking and car ownership are a big mismatch. Tenants in a one-bedroom apartment may need two cars to get to work.Applicants at land use boards have been asking for less and less parking, citing standards that now consider 0.8 spaces adequate for a one-bedroom unit. But nobody (except me) loves a little Smartfortwo, if my surveys of local street traffic and train station parking lots are any indication.

Talk of a downtown parking garage is still just talk, with no public declaration of plans and financing. The parking garage built by the Union County Improvement Authority is still not available for off-hour use, though that was supposed to be part of a settlement announced in 2013.

If the influx of tenants includes a lot of millenials, there might be more interest in car-shares, or use of short-term rental cars. The proposal for South Avenue Gateway  includes a bike-sharing program and maybe even a shuttle to the train station in bad weather.

If you are interested in the pros and cons of different approaches, this 2006 "Parking Matters" study still has a lot of relevant points. It's something to read while we all await the outcome of the PILOT controversy. Without a resolution of that matter, parking issues may not matter, either.

--Bernice

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Art Lofts Rising Downtown

Art Lofts, a Landmark project on East Second Street and Gavett Place, is up to the second story now.

Workers were framing out the second floor of the building last week. It will have 20 apartments with retail space on the ground floor, as well as a courtyard and amphitheater, according to information on a city list of developer Frank Cretella's projects.
Here is another view. The main train station is across the street to the south.

On the opposite corner to the east on Gavett Place, Cretella is renovating the former Miron's furniture warehouse for 12 apartments, also with a courtyard. The exterior has been refurbished and this new facade is on East Second Street.

So far nothing has begun on Cretella's largest project, 100 apartments and 48 condos on West Second Street with commercial space on the ground floor. Cretella received approvals for the project in 2010.

--Bernice

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Carillon Concert, Peach Festival Sunday

Enjoy a unique
Plainfield experience!

Carillon Concert 
and
Peach Festival
Noon Sunday Aug. 23

Grace Episcopal Church
E. 7th & Cleveland
outdoor seating
bring a chair

Friday, August 21, 2015

Planners Weigh Muhlenberg Study Next Week

For those who don't read the legal notices:



CITY OF PLAINFIELD PLANNING BOARD NOTICE OF HEARING PLEASE TAKE NOTICE that the Planning Board of the City of Plainfield (the "Board") will hold a public hearing on September 3, 2015 at 7:30 pm at the City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Avenue, Plainfield, New Jersey to determine whether Block 13, Lot 38.03 on City Tax Map Sheets 74 and 79 (1252-1354 Randolph Road, 1241-1323 Moffett Avenue) qualifies as an Area in Need of Redevelopment pursuant to the Local Redevelopment and Housing Law, N.J.S.A. 40A:12A-1 et. seq. The Board has prepared a map showing the boundaries of the Study Area along with a report detailing the results of the Board's investigation regarding whether the Study Area qualifies as an Area in Need of Redevelopment under the Local Redevelopment and Housing Law. The map and report are available for inspection at the office of the City Clerk located at City Hall, 515 Watchung Avenue, Plainfield, New Jersey, during the City Clerk's regular business hours. If the Board determines that all or any portion of the Study Area qualifies as an Area in Need of Redevelopment, the Board will recommend to the City Council that the City Council should designate such area as an Area in Need of Redevelopment. This redevelopment area determination shall authorize the municipality to exercise the power ofeminent domain to acquire property in the delineated area if the property is designated for redevelopment. The designation operates as a finding of public purpose and authorizes the City to acquire the property against the owner's will. If the area is determined to be in need of redevelopment, notice will be provided to property owners in the redevelopment area. An appeal from the determination that the area is in need of redevelopment and from the right to challenge the public purpose to condemn the property must be filed within 45 days of receipt of notice of the redevelopment designation. Any interested persons will have an opportunity to be heard regarding this matter at the public hearing on September 3, 2015 at 7:30 pm at the City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Avenue, Plainfield, New Jersey. 

South Avenue Development Wins Planner Approvals

Sleepy Hollow Developers won Planning Board approval Thursday for a 212-unit amenity-loaded apartment complex on South Avenue.

A redevelopment agreement with the city is still being worked out and the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority is requiring a sewer capacity study, but the board gave the developer preliminary and final site plan approval. The developer is also seeking City Council approval of a 30-year "payment in lieu of taxes" plan.

Comments from the public Thursday included Tom Kaercher's concern about parking. The developer is proposing 302 garage and surface parking spaces. Kaercher said the anticipated tenants, described in earlier testimony as "walking wallets," would have "plenty of money for cars" and would want to shop in upscale malls that are not accessible by public transportation.

"My concern is where do those cars go" Kaercher said.

Planning Board Chairman Ron Scott Bey said testimony indicated that each resident will contract for parking.

"If you have three cars, your contract may only give you two spaces," he said.

The tenant would then have to find a place other than at the complex or on the street, such as a garage, as car owners in New York do, Scott Bey said.

Dr. Harold Yood remarked on an "epidemic" of apartment complex fires and asked for evidence of fire-proofing at the proposed structure.

Scott Bey said the Fire Division report showed "all necessary fire suppression" was planned. Yood asked whether exceptions were allowed and board attorney Michele Donato said, " I know of no exceptions to the code."

Nancy Piwowar asked how many handicapped-accessible units were planned. Told there were two, she said the number might not meet federal requirements, but Planning Director Bill Nierstedt said all the apartments could be made handicapped accessible.

Regarding the sewer capacity study, Nierstedt said the developer was negotiating the cost for the PMUA to conduct the study. Piwowar asked what happens if the capacity is not there and Nierstedt said the applicant will not get a building permit without the sewer capacity.

Bo Vastine spoke in favor of the project, saying it will bring "fresh residents to town that perhaps will lead to the 'walking wallet' syndrome." While there was no guarantee, he said, the fact that the developer was willing to invest $50 million boded well..

After the meeting, developer Joseph Forgione declined comment.

The PILOT issue generated much comment Monday from council members, with Council President Bridget Rivers calling for renegotiation of the plan. The PILOT ordinance must pass on two readings, and since it did not pass this week, City Administrator Rick Smiley offered to arrange a special meeting for first reading so the ordinance could still be on track for final passage next month. At issue are financing and also contracts on the 11 properties that will be cleared to create the development site. No update has yet been announced.

--Bernice

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Welcome Back, Mr. Rucker

Tony Rucker, a former City Council candidate in two past elections, has emerged anew with many thoughts on development. Here's one comment:

The JMT PILOT:The Council SHOULD make a component of a larger Deal

#1 If there is such a high demand for apartments on the a South Ave Corridor why does the city need to offer a PILOT to incentivize investment in the first place? 

#2 There is already tremendous pent-up demand for more upscale goods and services from the EXISTING 50K+ of Plainfields residents. Why don't the council advocates of this PILOT use this tool for things their constituents are already begging for.

#3 Finally, The council shouldn't place this PILOT on the agenda until it is a part of a much more comprehensive development plan that includes commercial development, entertainment venues and other attractions which every resident of this city would benefit from. Now that's the kind of project that deserves PILOT approval. 

Respectfully submitted. 


While Mr. Rucker was otherwise involved somewhere, Landmark Developers finally moved forward on plans for both sides of Gavett Place by the main train station. One is Art Lofts, which Council President Bridget Rivers praised in a groundbreaking last year. As one can see by clicking on the link, the project envisions market-rate residential units along with entertainment and restaurant compnents on both sides of Gavett Place. There is also the notion of making an adjacent portion of North Avenue a pedestrian plaza, as reflected on the new transit-oriented development maps on the city web site.

A lot has happened since we last heard from Mr. Rucker. The maps are a good tool for catch-up, as is the blog, if I may say so. (BTW, it's JMF, not JMT.)

--Bernice


Floods Remind Us: Represent!


Green Brook Sub Basin

With all the photos of flooding in the news, can someone explain why Plainfield has had no representative attending the Green Brook Flood Control Commission meetings for what appears to be a couple of years, according to their minutes?

This is one of those assignments that has been taken as perfunctory, but every so often (like when floods close East Front Street) it comes to the fore. Yes, the meetings involve a lot of technical stuff and yes, they are a bit out of the way compared to other committee assignments, but as one can see on the graphic above, the Upper Portion is where the local floods start and who is advocating for projects there?

The lower portion has had flood control projects, though not all agree with the U.S. Army Corps' approach, such as the flood walls that some say only concentrates the velocity of flood water. But this project has been underway for decades. If, as one hears, there is resistance from some of the Upper Portion communities, all the more reason to have someone represent Plainfield, preferably in a knowledgeable way, to bring back to the city information that can guide a strategy to get something done.

The other important agency lacking representation currently is the Plainfield Area Regional Sewerage Authority. Correspondence from Mayor Adrian O. Mapp regarding this appointment was mentioned at the last PMUA meeting. The issue of how appointments are made needs to be settled so the city can be represented along with the other seven municipalities.

--Bernice

Signifying for 2016?

Some of the unprecedented 70-plus comments on Tuesday's blog post made me think they had as much to do with elections in 2016 as they did with the topic at hand.

The council seats up next year are the Third Ward and the Citywide at-large seats, currently held by Gloria Taylor and Tracey Brown, respectively. It has become somewhat typical that candidates start trying to impress the public and mess with possible competitors many months ahead of the filing date in late March or early April and the primary election in June.

So look out for comments that sound like campaign sound bites. We haven't even finished with 2015 yet!

Speaking of which, after the big flurry of activity in June and on the July 27 filing date for school board candidates, I totally forgot who is running this year and had to look it up.

Here's the lineup:

Second Ward: Democratic Primary winner Cory Storch vs. Independent John Campbell (the younger)
First & Fourth Ward at-large: Democratic Primary winner Barry Goode vs. Independent Norman E. Ortega

School Board (three seats): John Campbell (the elder), Jackie Coley, Richard Wyatt, Emily Morgan

Reminder: The Planning Board meets at 7:30 p.m. in City Hall Library tonight and will resume the hearing on Sleepy Hollow Developers' application for 212 residential units on South Avenue.

--Bernice

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

More on the PILOT Controversy

The takeaway for developer Joseph Forgione late Monday night, as suggested by Council President Bridget Rivers, was that he should meet with Councilwoman Diane Toliver, who heads the Finance Committee, to "renegotiate the PILOT and come up with a win-win."

The PILOT is a 30-year tax abatement plan that was negotiated between the developer and the city with the help of a redevelopment attorney that the City Council previously agreed to hire. With all due respect, Toliver has less than one year's experience on the council and her business expertise relates to operating her beauty salon.

The formal redevelopment process, which has been underway for a year, has many steps involving both the Planning Board and the governing body. Forgione apologized for any misunderstanding Monday, but also explained that he thought the council's participation in the process meant they were informed.

The situation reminded me of one from many years ago, when a developer who had been working with local officials for three years finally came before the council and got such a rude reception that he walked out and dropped the project. Forgione does not seem to be in that state of mind, even though Councilwoman Gloria Taylor made a crack about "money under the table." When finally permitted to speak, he assured Taylor there was no wrongdoing involved.

Forgione even offered to have his architect flown in from Virginia to address council concerns. At the Aug. 6 Planning Board meeting, he had not only architect Angela Kostelecky on hand, but also attorney Andy S. Norin, planner John McDonough, traffic engineer Craig Peregoy and engineer Brett Skapinetz.. The Planning Board had an engineer, James Giurintano, to cross-examine Forgione's witnesses.

The Planning Board hearing will continue at 7:30 p.m. Thursday in City Hall Library.

Smiley suggested there could be a special meeting for the City Council to act on the two ordinances needed for the project, one for the PILOT agreement and another to vacate a portion of Old South Avenue. No date has been announced for a special meeting. If the ordinances pass on first reading this month, they could  be passed on second reading and final passage in September.

Among reasons for urgency on the PILOT, Sanchez said it is needed so Forgione can obtain financing for the project. Forgione needs to close on contracts for the 11 lots involved and he also hopes to clear the site before bad weather sets in.

Besides commenting on the blog, citizens with opinions on the PILOT can also contact council representatives directly at their phone numbers and email. 

--Bernice

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Council Stalls Gateway Project, Blames Administration

A $50 million project is in limbo after a City Council majority alleged disrespect by the administration.

"I'm not going to say it's political, but it is," Councilwoman Gloria Taylor said as she launched into a lengthy tirade.

Last week, the council failed to advance two ordinances needed for the 212-unit South Avenue Gateway project that was first announced over a year ago. On Monday, developer Joseph Forgione of JMF Properties described the project for the council and urged support of a 30-year "payment in lieu of taxes" plan vital to its success.
Joseph Forgione
Economic Development Director Carlos Sanchez told the council, "Time is of the essence," saying the PILOT is needed for financing the project, and Forgione has contracts on 11 properties that would make up the redevelopment site. Sanchez said if the site stays as it is, the city will only get $3.5 million in taxes over the next 30 years, but if developed, the city will receive three times that amount.

The meeting was about to end with no action taken on the ordinances when Council President Bridget Rivers said although she thought the presentation was excellent and the project was great for Plainfield, she was "not comfortable" with the 30-year PILOT.

She asked how it would impact the school system and said, "You guys are basically looking for yuppies."

She said she had asked Sanchez to include the council in the process and "there should have been transparency."

Alleging the project was "shoved down my throat," she said when she did research on PILOTs, "It aches my body."

Councilwoman Rebecca Williams spoke in favor of the project, citing the $50 million investment and the PILOT income.

"This is how cities transform," she said, calling approval "a wonderful legacy for us as a council."

Taylor said there was no question that the city wanted development, but added, "The council is an entity that you have to work with."

In numerous ways, Taylor scolded the administration:

"I'm sick of this - if you want to work with us, act like it."

"You had a whole year to get us involved."

"I'm tired of this - I'm tired of this game."

"I'm going to talk until we get to the place where we win-win."

Rivers told Sanchez the PILOT might need to be renegotiated and referred him to Councilwoman Diane Toliver, who heads the council's Finance Committee.

The council had previously authorized hiring of a redevelopment counsel and a finance consultant to review the PILOT.

Councilman Cory Storch was out of town but had asked to take part by phone. After City Clerk Abubakar Jalloh explained that the ordinances had not been introduced as new items, Storch moved to put them on the agenda, but no one seconded the motion.

Meanwhile, Forgione asked to speak, but Rivers said no.

Councilwoman Tracey Brown called the project "excellent," but said she felt the administration had been disrespectful.

"We need to have as many meetings as possible to get this project off the ground," she said.

Finally Forgione was allowed to speak. Though taking responsibility, he said, "We've been at this for two years."

He said by going through the redevelopment process (which requires numerous council approvals), he felt the governing body had been informed.  Noting his application was up for approval at Thursday's Planning Board meeting, he said, "I don't know if we should even continue," but offered to do anything "to make you feel more comfortable."

City Administrator Rick Smiley also offered to do anything possible and said there could be a special meeting.  He pointed out that the ordinances had to pass on two readings, so there would be another month to answer questions.

Rivers said she asked Sanchez a month ago to reach out to Toliver, because she is on the Finance Committee.

"We're a rock and a hard place now," she said.

Forgione offered to bring his "full team" to the council, meaning all the expert witnesses he had already brought to the Planning Board.

Toliver said, "We just need a little bit more information," adding, "we should have been spoon-fed."

"This is your expertise," she told Forgione. "You don't know about my expertise."

At 11 p.m., Forgione repeated his apologies and said, "At this hour, I am pleading."

He asked for the ordinances to be tabled, but Rivers said, "There is nothing to table - it's not on the agenda."

Though acknowledging Forgione's distress, Rivers indicated he had just got caught up in the situation.

"Is there a contract, a blue print?" Toliver asked, talking about "small print."

"Back up and bring to the council everything about the PILOT," she said.

(The council had received the 28-page PILOT agreement in last week's packet.)

With more promises from Forgione, the meeting was adjourned.

--Bernice

Monday, August 17, 2015

Tax Break Hinges on Council Approval

The council and the public are promised a brief presentation from the administration on the proposed South Avenue redevelopment, but what the developer probably wants to hear is whether the governing body will approve a "payment in lieu of taxes" plan for the project.

As previously reported, the council did not have a consensus to move the PILOT ordinance to the regular meeting for a vote, despite having approved numerous steps advancing the South Avenue Gateway proposal for 212 residential units with many amenities. A majority had to agree to put the ordinance on, but only Cory Storch and Rebecca Williams said yes. Tracey Brown abstained, Diane Toliver, Gloria Taylor and Council President Bridget Rivers said no and Vera Greaves was absent.

The 30-year PILOT would bring in a percentage of revenue based on a complex formula. The city already has nine entities with PILOTs. As former Comptroller A. Matthew Boxer points out in his 2010 study of municipal tax abatements, care must be taken when establishing PILOTs and they must be monitored over the years for compliance and changed circumstances.

At last week's meeting, Deputy City Administrator for Economic Development Carlos Sanchez said city officials had already gone "back and forth" over terms of the PILOT and had also hired a financial consultant to go over the numbers.

A Planning Board hearing on the developer's request for approvals began on Aug. 6 and is scheduled to be completed on Aug. 20. As Storch said on Aug. 10, "We're at the finishing line here."

The outcome may depend on whether the administration can convince a council majority to approve the PILOT. If council reservations are not adequately addressed at tonight's meeting (Monday, Aug. 17, 8 p.m. in Municipal Court), there may not be the five votes now required to put the matter back on the agenda and then the votes to pass it. It would be interesting to hear each one of the council members give the reason for how they vote, for the benefit of constituents watching in the courtroom and on television.

--Bernice

Saturday, August 15, 2015

New Apartment Count Exceeds 800

Residents soundly rejected the notion of 600 apartments on the former Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center site, but an informal tally of other apartments - new, under construction and proposed - comes to more than 800.

The harbinger of the current rental surge may have been a modest Park Avenue project with eight apartments that was approved in 2008. Parking was a big issue then and was resolved by use of permits for nearby city parking lot. It is still a concern with almost every subsequent apartment proposal, despite developers' assertions that occupants will likely use public transportation to get around.

The city web site has a set of maps on development at the Planning Division link. Scroll down to see the maps dated March 2015.

Here is a list of apartments that are here or on the way in transit-oriented development:

North Avenue Historic District

8 units completed - The Courier News building on Park Avenue.

4 units completed -The Espinosa Building on Park Avenue.

6 units under construction - 177-185 North Ave.

8 units completed -138-144 North Ave.

6 units completed - 134-36 North Ave.

6 units under construction - 130-32 North Ave.

Netherwood

72 units proposed - 829-881 South Ave.

25 units completed - Netherwood Pointe, 921-926 South Ave.

34 units under construction - 1024-1034 South Ave.

212 units proposed - South Avenue Gateway, 11 lots by Plainwood Square Park

Downtown

8 units completed - 109 E. Fourth St.


20 units under construction - Art Lofts, Gavett & E. Second

9 units under construction - 400 W. Front St.


80 units under construction - Bella Vista Estates, 40 Roosevelt Ave.

12 units  under construction - 326 W. Front St.

148 units proposed - 101-209 West Second St.


14 units proposed - 701 W. Seventh St.

158 units proposed - East Third/ Richmond

And lest we forget, the 63-condo development known as The Monarch began renting unsold condos several years ago. The building at 400 East Front Street currently has 40 or so rental units. By the way, I'm told one condo purchased for $205,000 in 2010 just sold for $120,000. From what I understand, other owners are displeased at the the way things have turned out.

Elmwood Gardens is being redeveloped and will have 60 units eventually, so add that to the rental roster as well.

Each one of these projects has a story. If you want to follow along with the biggest proposal so far, attend Thursday's Planning Board meeting where the South Avenue Gateway development will be on the agenda.The meeting will be 7:30 p.m. in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave.

Finally, having covered development in Plainfield since the days of PEDCO and the PRA, I have seen a lot of projects come and go. You can read my insouciant take on the vagaries of development here.

--Bernice

Friday, August 14, 2015

Rivers Seeks Council Newsletter

The only discussion item at Monday's meeting was about a newsletter for the City Council, something Council President Bridget Rivers advocated previously this year.

The discussion was quite brief, with Rivers saying she thinks the governing body has enough money in its budget to cover a newsletter that would "let the wards know what we are doing." It could also be used to announce ward forums, she said.

Councilman Cory Storch suggested that two or three council members should be asked to come back with ideas on the format, such as whether the newsletter would be monthly or quarterly. He said perhaps the corporation counsel could help with the public contract side (if the council hired someone to produce a newsletter).

Mayor Adrian O. Mapp publishes a weekly online newsletter. In talks related to the 2015 budget, Rivers and others questioned who was putting it together. The suspicion was that a grants coordinator was doing it, but the administration said the mayor's chief of staff produced it.

Some background:
The council has two budget lines, salary & wages and other expenses. The salary line is $63,000, representing $9,000 annually for each council member. It had been $10,000 a year, but the council took a cut one difficult year to show solidarity with taxpayers. The expenses line was $45,500 for 2015. It was $35,000 in 2014 and $33,500.45 was spent. According to the 2014 budget statement, it was $75,000 in 2013, but only $26,094.91 was charged.

In past years, the expense money was used for such items as travel and conferences. Council members submitted proof of expenses and the council president signed off on them. I don't know whether that is still the procedure. The available balance would have to be determined, and upcoming costs such as the League of Municipalities Conference and the Black Issues Conference factored in.

Some considerations:
As Councilman Cory Storch noted, several aspects of the newsletter have yet to be decided, including the format (print or electronic), the frequency of publication and the cost, which for a print version would also include postage and handling. It would also include pay for someone to produce it. All the details would be needed for bids or advertising for a contract. Some parameters might have to be established for content. No ward meetings have been held so far this year, so that aspect might be off the table for 2015. 

The council meetings are televised, so the public already has some idea of the governing body's work. A newsletter could highlight ward news, but so could updates given at the meetings. All these things need to be explored and there are just four months left in 2015.

Maybe we'll hear more on the newsletter Monday, when the council holds its regular meeting, 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Fleet Manager A No-Go, Case Pressed on City Website

An ordinance creating the "Manager Motors" position failed again on Monday to get City Council support.

Mayor Adrian O. Mapp has proposed establishing the job three times previously.

Both Councilman Cory Storch and resident Alan Goldstein have asked for more information to provide a rationale for the position. The city web site now has a post entitled, "The Case for a Fleet Manager of the City's Motor Pool" which breaks down various aspects including a detailed list of vehicles, costs of supervision currently and the official job description from the state Civil Service Commission.

The list includes the recently acquired military vehicles, some of which are pictured above.

Because there was no consensus to move the item to the regular meeting agenda for a vote on Aug. 17, the governing body, if so inclined, would have to add it and an accompanying salary ordinance as new items.

The meeting is 8 p.m. Monday in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice

A Downtown Surprise

What a surprise to see this alley between East Front Street and Municipal Parking Lot 6 being refurbished with landscaping and new paving!

Originally constructed many years ago by Queen City Savings, the "Queen's Courtyard" suffered a decline and then in 2012 a major blow in Hurricane Sandy. See photos of the storm damage here.

I hope to get photos of the finished project later and more details on it from city officials, but I just wanted to share this glimpse.

--Bernice

Mantises on the Prowl


Mantises that emerged by the hundreds in Spring have faced many hazards, starting with cannibalism by their hungry fellow nymphs and going on to predatory spiders, birds, cats, lawn mowers, string trimmers and more.

The survivors are now looking for mates and the females need to make egg cases before cold weather sets in. Males may not come out of the mating process alive, as the females are known to devour them.

This one is a female and already has the swollen abdomen that indicates eggs have been fertilized. For some reason, this one has been spreading her wings. I hope she has not been injured by a cat or bird.

All the mantises will die at the end of the season and then those of us who are fascinated by them must wait until late April or early May for the next generation to appear.

--Bernice

Police Aide Flap Invoked to Reject Dispatch Trainees

A proposed ordinance establishing a trainee position for police dispatchers drew fire Monday from Council President Bridget Rivers based on what she described as unfair treatment to police aides.

Rivers said she received "phone calls after phone calls after phone calls" from police aides who took training for almost a year and were now out of a job because outsiders scored higher on a Civil Service exam for the job.

"The city has wasted a lot of money," she said, suggesting the police dispatcher trainees might meet a similar fate.

Councilwoman Gloria Taylor said she also received phone calls regarding "inequities or the perception of inequities" in the police aide situation. Rivers said the aides had planned to attend Monday's agenda-fixing session, but she "begged them not to come."

Taylor made additional lengthy comments about "glaring inequities," but City Administrator Rick Smiley said one situation would not preclude looking into the other.

Police Director Carl Riley summed up the need for the trainee titles by calling it "real simple."

"Everyone said they wanted officers out in the street," he said, but now he has two officers assigned full-time to dispatch. Based on the city's population shift to 40 percent Hispanic, he also needs bilingual dispatchers, he said.

Riley said the city uses a Language Line translation service, but it takes time to relay calls for translation and get responses.

"We need somebody to speak Spanish," he said.

The trainees would start at a pay rate much lower than that of a police officer and after a year would be promoted to the title of "telecommunicator." In a memo on the proposal, Personnel Director Karen Dabney said public safety telecommunicators were required to have one year of experience in all aspects of emergency dispatch.

Rivers said at one point that she had a conflict on the police aide matter in which someone from the outside scored higher on the test, but Riley said the aides were not yet off the list and nobody had been released.

Taylor again raised a concern about "preferential treatment."

City Clerk Abubakar Jalloh reminded the council that the ordinance was up for second reading and a public hearing had been advertised. The ordinance required tabling at the Aug. 17 meeting, he said.

Councilman Cory Storch said the council was in a difficult position, as they were hearing from Riley that police are needed in the street, while others raised an issue of fairness. He said he did not receive any calls about the issue and he was in favor of moving it to the agenda. But as Rivers and Riley went back and forth over the facts, she said, "Let's be clear - this council is about public safety. We have to tell the whole story."

"I think the issue just got confused," Storch said, "Words were put in my mouth."

Finally, Brown said the council will move to table the ordinance on Aug. 17

Two other new titles in the ordinance were not even mentioned at all Monday. Both were related to the federal Women, Infants & Children nutrition program. One title was peer counselor and the other was lactation counselor. The jobs were needed as a result of the WIC grant audit finding, Dabney said in a memo. The jobs would be funded by federal grants. Unless the public safety and WIC titles are somehow bifurcated, it seems a council rejection would affect all four titles.

--Bernice

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Bad Fuel Triggers Cost-Saving PMUA Plan

When PMUA trucks began breaking down on the road, some sleuthing revealed a problem with the vehicles' fuel. On Tuesday, Executive Director Daniel Mejias displayed a bottle of fuel contaminated with algae, water and sediment and suggested a solution that would also save the authority thousands of dollars a month.

Mejias said instead of having PMUA vehicles drive out to a fuel station, trucks could be filled at night on-site at great savings, perhaps as much as $8,000 to $10,000 a month. Besides the cost of fuel, he said, there was a labor cost in having drivers wait for trucks to be filled, which he calculated to be $10.08 for 30 minutes.

Mejias said he was also looking into whether the authority was exempt from taxes on fuel. If so, that could mean saving another 65 cents to $1 per gallon. The authority could also go back two years to recoup savings, he said.

When Mejias said his analysis was done because trucks "just conked out" on the road, PMUA Chairman Charles Tyndale asked, "You wouldn't have known otherwise?" and Mejias said no, if the trucks hadn't kept shutting down.

Tyndale asked whether the vendor was notified about the quality of the fuel. Commissioner Carol Brokaw, who serves on the finance committee, said there were two vendors. Purchasing Agent Dollie Hamlin said the authority discovered the other one was overcharging the PMUA. That vendor is no longer being used and owes the PMUA $7,000, Hamlin said.

Among other items, the authority hired a firm to study whether the sewer system has the capacity to handle the proposed 212 new residential units on South Avenue. If the capacity is not there, the developer can't get a permit to hook up to the PMUA system. The study will cost $12,000, which will be paid out of the developer's escrow account.

In public comment, former Chief Financial Officer Duane Young urged the board to keep up the recent record of rate decreases, to which Brokaw replied, "We'll do the best we can."

The board also honored former Commissioners Harold Mitchell and Charles Eke for their service. Mitchell served from 2008 to 2015 and was chairman for four years. He was not present Tuesday. Eke received a commemorative desk clock for his two years of service, and both will receive framed resolutions from the PMUA.

The PMUA's annual Environmental Fair will take place on Sept. 5 and officials said donations are still coming in. Mejias said the authority may be "netting out the cost" this year.

PMUA

--Bernice

Council Declines Action on South Avenue Tax Break

Despite having passed legislation related to South Avenue development for a year and now having a 28-page proposed "payment in lieu of taxes" plan in the meeting packet, a council majority Monday claimed to be left out of the loop and refused to put the tax matter on the Aug. 17 agenda.

The 30-year PILOT plan would give the city a fixed amount of taxes on a $50 million, 212-unit development that would be the city's largest investment yet. It was unveiled as a concept at a July 2014 meeting of business and community leaders and in August 2014 the council approved an "in need of redevelopment" study for the proposed site. A public hearing on the study was held in September 2014.

In February, the Planning Board recommended a redevelopment plan to the council, which passed it on two readings in March and April. The Planning Board is now at the point of considering site plan approval for the development. The developer also agreed to establish a $25,000 escrow account to pay for expenses associated with negotiating the redevelopment agreement.

Councilwoman Gloria Taylor spoke at length Monday about how she felt the council was "left out of the loop."

"It's not right," she said. "I'm not voting for it. It should not be put on the agenda."

Council President Bridget Rivers said she received a phone call Monday regarding a presentation to be made that night, but she said, "This is not how we do business." As other council members complained about the perceived lack of information, Rivers called a recess so the discussion could continue off-camera. When the council returned and was polled, Rivers, Gloria Taylor, and Diane Toliver said "no" to putting the tax break on the Aug. 17 agenda. Rebecca Williams and Cory Storch said "yes" and Tracey Brown abstained. Vera Greaves was absent.

Rivers chided the administration regarding the PILOT, saying "It's extremely important for you to include the council members."

Economic Development Director Carlos Sanchez reviewed the sequence of events, starting with the July 2014 to which all council members were invited. He said eleven properties were being assembled to form the development site and that he did email all council members with a "simplified overview" of the plan. In addition, he said he offered to meet with any council member.

Sanchez said the city is "going back and forth" with the developer over terms of the agreement and the city even had a financial consultant look at the figures. He described the proposed PILOT plan as representing $7 million more than what the city could expect in revenues without the $50 million investment.

Councilman Cory Storch, the council liaison to the Planning Board, said, "Every critical step of this process had to come before the council."

Now, he said, "We're at the finishing line here."

Balking now could mean not only loss of $7 million, but could also be a blow to the city's reputation, he said.

Toliver challenged him, saying no one told the council about the tax abatement.

"Were you aware of that?" she asked.

"Of course," Storch said.

"So why are we all so shocked up here and nobody knows anything about it, except for you and my colleague to the right?" she asked referring to Williams.

Storch said it was mentioned from the beginning, but Toliver said it should have been brought to the council's attention again, adding if she knew about it, she wouldn't be "sitting up here looking stupid."

As the dissension increased, Rivers called for a recess and the governing body left the courtroom. Upon their return at 9:15 p.m., the consensus as noted above was not to move the PILOT plan to the Aug. 17 agenda for a vote. But Brown said there would be a presentation by the developer and it was not "off the table."

City Clerk Abubakar Jalloh reminded the council that five votes will be necessary to add the PILOT ordinance back to the agenda on Aug. 17, but Rivers said, "We're not adding anything to the agenda."

--Bernice 


Sunday, August 9, 2015

Tax Appeals, More on Monday's Agenda

Nearly 200 property owners have won tax reductions totaling $327,405, meaning the city will receive that much less future revenue while facing a payout of $682,600 in 2016 for partial settlement of the Halsey false imprisonment case.

Monday's agenda-fixing session includes a resolution authorizing the adjustments due to 199 appeals to the Union County Board of Taxation.

A taxpayer may seek a reduction by such means as presenting "credible evidence" that an assessment is too high compared to that of surrounding properties. The process is described in a state booklet,"A Guide to Tax Appeal Hearings."

Among other items on the agenda:

- The governing body will discuss possible creation of a City Council newsletter. This matter came up in June when council members challenged the administration of Mayor Adrian O. Mapp on several issues, including National Night Out. While that event took place amicably with the executive and legislative branches collaborating on Aug. 4, it appears that the council may still want its own newsletter. Mapp publishes an online newsletter that is sent to residents by email on Fridays.
-A resolution supporting the Plainfield Local Organizing Committee's participation in the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March, which will take place on Oct. 10.

- Final passage of several ordinances, including one for $2 million in capital improvements, two establishing four-way stops at intersections on Hillside Avenue, new parking limits on Cleveland Avenue and lower insurance requirements for taxi companies.

- A transfer of the Dudley House lease from Sunrise House Foundation, Inc. to American Addiction Centers, Inc. Sunrise House has had the lease since 2010, when it took over the formerly city-operated program for male recovering substance abusers from Union and Middlesex counties. See a commentary on the Dudley House lease here.

The agenda-fixing session Monday (Aug. 10) is 7:30 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice

Fleet Manager Back on the Agenda

Monday's agenda fixing session will include yet another look at creating the "manager motors" position to monitor the city's fleet, and a salary ordinance to go with the post.

The history of these two ordinances started in January. In all, the administration has made three tries to get the governing body's approval. The nearest the legislation came was passage on first reading at a controversial special meeting that took place in a massive snowstorm on Jan. 26, but the council did not pass the ordinances on second reading and final passage.

The third try came on March 2, but the ordinance creating the title did not get consensus to move it to the March 9 regular meeting, so the salary ordinance was then moot. (There is no record of this on the blog, only in my notes. The March 2 meeting was taken up with with nearly two hours of discussion on the proposed sick leave ordinance.)

The twists and turns leading up to March 2 are all detailed in a preview on the "manager motors" ordinances, with links to prior posts. Rather than rehash them all, I suggest reading the March 2 preview at the link above for the background on why the administration wants a fleet manager and a council majority so far has not agreed that it is needed. The first step now is getting a consensus to put it up for a vote on Aug. 17. Next would be passage on first reading at that meeting. There would have to be consensus on Sept. 8 to put it up for a vote on Sept. 14. If it got that far and passed on second reading, it would take effect by mid-October.

--Bernice

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Lalo and the Lowdown

So here commenter Lalo is fretting about who might be running for office in 2016 and I couldn’t even remember who is running locally in November 2015 – I had to look it up.

Lalo thinks something is up because a certain person, a relative newcomer to the city, received an award and has appeared before the public on other occasions lately. When the filing date for 2016 elections will not happen until late March or early April next year, could Lalo be overthinking?

Let’s see – the local races go like this: Ward 1 plus the Second & Third Ward at-large seat; Ward 2 plus the First & Fourth Ward seat; Ward 3 and the Citywide at-large seat; Ward 4 and Mayor. So if the primary in June was for Ward 2 and the 1&4, Lalo must be concerned about the Ward 3 and Citywide at-large races next year.

Well, guess what? Candidates nowadays do try early for name recognition, so maybe Lalo is on to something. Imagine those calendar pages flying away like they do in a Forties B-movie and after seven or eight are gone with the wind, we’ll see if Lalo got it right about the Third Ward.

Hey Lalo, got any hunches about the Citywide at-large?

Getting back to November 3, 2015, I saw on the Union County Clerk’s list that for the Second Ward it will be Democratic primary winner Cory Storch against Independent John Campbell in the Second Ward race and fellow Democratic winner Barry Goode against Independent Norman E. Ortega in the First & Fourth Ward at-large contest. No Republicans filed for the City Council.

The school board list has four candidates vying for three seats and one is also a Campbell, namely John C., the daddy of John the council candidate.  Talk about name recognition. Then you have Jackie Coley, Richard Wyatt and Emily Morgan.

If Lalo or anyone else wants to learn about electioneering, a good way is to volunteer for a campaign and see what goes into it. There is a lot more to it than earning name recognition. It takes money and time to wage a campaign and then after all the publicity and attempts to impress voters, there are no guarantees of winning. Opponents may play dirty tricks and test your faith in humanity. And say you do win - the prize is several years' worth of sometimes tedious meetings and endless service to your constituents.

Meanwhile, Lalo, by your provocative questioning of this person's qualifications and motives you are actually amplifying his exposure to the public. LOL, Lalo!

Friday, August 7, 2015

Muhlenberg Hearing Deferred for Faulty Notice

A Planning Board hearing to determine whether the former Muhlenberg hospital site qualifies as an "Area in Need of Redevelopment" fell through Thursday due to a technical eror in the public notice for the meeting.

The site, known as Block 13, Lot 38.03, was the subject of a city-backed study by Heyer, Gruel & Associates. The shuttered hospital contains a Satellite Emergency Department operated by JFK Health. The SED is in the process of being relocated to another building at the cormer of Park Avenue and Randolph Road.

The parent company had suggested in 2012 that 600 apartments were the best use for the Muhlenberg campus, an idea soundly rejected by a large number of city residents. The City Council later ordered a separate study of the best use for the site

The study drew a large crowd when unveiled about a year ago. The same firm was later hired to determine whether the site met criteria as an area in need of redevelopment.

--Bernice

Planners Hear South Avenue Proposal

Details on the city's largest development proposal emerged Thursday at a Planning Board hearing, including the news that the developer will be seeking a tax break.

Sleepy Hollow Developers LLC proposes 212 luxury apartments in two four-story buildings on South Avenue next to a popular small park. Amenities will include a fitness center, a meditation room, indoor and outdoor fireplaces and a dog walk. Attorney Andy Norin described the expected residents as affluent, a type known as "walking wallets" who will spur further development in the city. The parent company, JMF Properties, owns 1,200 residential units and will be making a $50 million investment in Plainfield, Norin said.

Before Norin and others made their presentations, Mayor Adrian O. Mapp's chief of staff, John Stewart, gave a "message from the mayor" noting the development will bring seven full-time jobs and 300 construction jobs and the company will make a $10,000 annual contribution for upkeep and programs at the park. Stewart is the mayor's designee to the board.

Architect Angela Kostelecky explained the design was intended "to create a sense of place"and a "village-like appearance" for the target demographic of young adults and empty nesters, and engineer Brett Skapinetz testified on green space and storm water management. Planning Director William Nierstedt said the PMUA wants a capacity analysis for sewage because they are "very uncertain" that the existing system can handle it.

"Do it, or they will do it and bill you," Nierstedt said of the analysis.

As the evening wore on, Scott Bey told Norin the engineer would be his last witness.

"We're going to finish at 9:30 tonight, because we're not getting to the report," Scott Bey said, referring to a long list of variances to be addressed.

Board engineer James Giurintano then questioned Skapinetz on technical issues including garage design and parking.

Developer Joseph Forgione said from the sidelines, "We're not trying to solve anything that we believe works."

"This is my meeting," Scott Bey said.

"This is my meeting, too," Forgione responded.

Giuruntano continued with his list, including landscaping, lighting and trees to replace those that will be removed during construction. The board also heard from traffic engineer Craig Peregoy on peak travel times and reasons why only 1.4 parking spaces per unit were allotted, mainly the access to train and bus travel. Occupants will be assigned one space per unit and the rest will be first come, first served. Overflow parking will be on the street. Planner John McDonough said all the lots on the 4.74 acre site will be merged into one, and Forgione described a bike share plan for residents.

Residents' questions revealed more details. Robin Bright asked about rental rates and Forgione said one-bedroom units would go for $1,650 to $1,800 and two-bedroom units would be $1,875 to $2,000. Bright also asked about tax breaks and Economic Development Director Carlos Sanchez said a "payment in lieu of taxes," or PILOT agreement will be up for discussion at the Aug. 10 City Council meeting and up for a vote at the Aug. 17 meeting.

Donna Albanese, whose family has operated the Dairy Queen near the site since 1975, said in public comment she was thrilled by the development proposal. As a leader of the Plainwood Square Merchants Association and the Special Improvement District, she said businesses are also "thrilled to see a high-scale development on South Avenue."

The meeting ran on past 11 p.m. without a vote. Scott Bey said it will continue without further notice on Aug. 20 and the board will only hear further testimony from the engineer.

--Bernice

Thursday, August 6, 2015

From the Garden

 Chinese Forget-Me-Nots are intensely blue compared to their springtime American cousins.
Click images to enlarge.
 Sunny sunflowers are so pretty!
This one is an Eastern Goldfinch buffet.
A Wild Opium Lettuce puffball.
 Purple Oxalis with a Praying Mantis.
Queen Anne's Lace in Municipal Parking Lot 7.

--Bernice

Queen City Academy Adds Classrooms

One of the city's original charter schools will be expanding, having won Zoning Board of Adjustment approval to convert an auditorium into four classrooms.

From a 2007 Plainfield Plaintalker post: Queen City Academy Charter School won state approval in 1999. It opened in 2000 with 177 children in grades K-8 and had 198 students in the 2004-05 school year. Having won renewal of its charter this year, the school is moving toward a maximum of 234 students.

On Wednesday, architect Richard Schiek described the school's plan to convert the auditorium to two kindergarten rooms with bathrooms and two first grade classrooms, each with 18 students for a total of 72. The classrooms will bring enrollment  to 324 students.

The school is housed in the former Temple Sholom building. Schiek said the building's footprint will not change, as the alterations are internal. Zoning Board member Jim Spear questioned the lack of windows in the new classrooms, but Schiek said they will have air-conditioning and heat. In answer to board member Mary Burgwinkle's question about lighting, Schiek said the rooms will have LED lights, Board Chairman D. Scott Belin suggested using light that mimic sunlight.

School Director Danielle West said the children have recess and various activities outside the classroom and are so engrossed in learning that they don't notice the lack of windows. In public comment, resident Nancy Piwowar recalled that during the 1950s, students were told to keep away from windows during the Cold War.

School officials do not anticipate an increase in traffic from parents dropping off children. West said she expected many of the additional students to be siblings of those already enrolled, so the same parents would drop them off or they would walk to school with older children.

The school wants to open the new classrooms in September, but the board will not be able to memorialize the resolution before then. Board attorney Peter Vignuolo said the project could go forward at the school's own risk.

Charter schools are funded through the public school district. All four Union County charter schools are in Plainfield. The district paid over $17 million in tuition to charter schools for the 2014-15 school year.

--Bernice

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

National Night Out 2015

Police Director Carl Riley and officers
Plainfield's finest and honorees from each ward were recognized Tuesday as a large crowd gathered at City Hall to mark National Night Out 2015.

Elizabeth Urquhart, Rick Smiley, Diane Toliver
The tradition of gathering to show solidarity against crime began here about 29 years ago when former Councilwoman Elizabeth Urquhart launched the first National Night Out.

Urquhart, who served four terms representing the First Ward, received a kiss Tuesday from the current First Ward Councilwoman Diane Toliver. Mayor Adrian O. Mapp recreated one of Urquhart's initiatives with a caravan through the city's four wards.

Urquhart, youth sports activist Nancy Jordan, city employee and community volunteer Rose Marie Cathcart and Plainfield Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs member Carlos Ponton received plaques from the mayor for their service.

Block associations from each ward were also recognized by thier respective council representatives as part of the program. The work of the Plainfield Police Division was featured in a short film shown on a large screen set up next to City Hall plaza.


Rose Marie Cathcart, Carlos Ponton, Nancy Jordan, Liz Urquhart
The evening also featured jazz singer Miss Cici, free food and drinks for attendees, information from community groups and a lot of socializing among friends and neighbors.
Miss Cici
More Photos







Tuesday, August 4, 2015

A National Night Out Message

Someone asked at the Community Forum whether crime was really down.

If you want to check for yourself, you can go to the state web site, then under Departments & Agencies go to the Department of Law & Safety, Office of the Attorney General and from there to the Division of State Police and finally to Uniform Crime Reports.

Well, maybe not finally - you still have to get the Plainfield report out of a very long list of municipalities. Hint: It's on Page 512 of the report, though the page itself is numbered 511.

Anyway, once you get there, you will see categories of crime and year-over-year numbers, along with a comparison to New Jersey totals. So yes, you can see that for Plainfield Total Crime dropped by 6.1 percent, the Crime Index dropped by 8.1 percent, Violent Crime was down by 15.5 percent and Non-Violent Crime was down by 5.7 percent. So lift a drink of water, soda, juice or what former Police Chief John Driscoll used to call an "adult beverage" and make a toast to the Queen City on National Night Out!

These percentages are based on figures for Jan.-Dec. 2013 vs. Jan.-Dec. 2014. Some quarterly figures for 2015 are also posted and for the first half of 2014 compared to the first half of 2015, figures show even higher percentages of decline in crime:

Total: -30.0%
Crime Index: -36.9%
Violent Crime:  -10.3%
Non Violent Crime: -42% 

Crime is down in general statewide, as indicated in the first chart on the list for 2013 versus 2014. However, the perception of crime tends to persist in urban centers. But you can see by the numbers that when Mayor Adrian O. Mapp says Plainfield is a safe city, he has a factual basis. That doesn't mean you can leave your house or car unlocked or otherwise ignore simple precautions when you go on vacation - there are always some criminal types looking for opportunities anywhere. Still, Plainfield appears to be doing well, and with the combined efforts of residents and police, will likely do even better in days to come.

--Bernice