Planning Board members took a five-minute recess Thursday to review a draft document on redevelopment of the 10-acre Muhlenberg site before half a dozen residents peppered the board with concerns, the main one being any residential uses at the site.
Both Planning Board Chairman Ron Scott Bey and Planning Director William Nierstedt stressed the preliminary nature of the report by Heyer, Gruel & Associates and said it will be further discussed at the board's April 20 meeting. Nierstedt said the report will be available to the public Friday, possibly on the city website.
Although medical-related residential uses are mentioned in the draft plan, resident Robin Bright objected to having a facility for veterans with PTSD, but Bey said it was "very possible." He said housing occupants will have to "be able to maintain themselves." He said there would "not in any way or fashion" be a group home and he did not want residents "walking down the street in their bathrobes."
Although the report included a long list of medical-related permitted uses, resident Elizabeth Faraone said, "We need a real hospital."
Faraone cited shootings and maternity care as needs that a hospital could serve and called it "criminal" for JFK Health "to say we can't have a hospital."
Bey said the only restrictions for the site are on "things currently provided" on the campus adjoining the 10-acre site, which include an emergency room, a dialysis center and a nursing school.
Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center closed in 2008. Resident Rowand Clark recalled it as the city's largest employer, offering valuable medical services and having many doctors nearby. He said it was "taken over by a for-profit" who decided to close it. (Resident Nancy Piwowar said later it was not-for-profit.)
Clark further characterized JFK as accountable to shareholders "to make as much money as possible" but said the starting point in future plans should be "what's best for Plainfield." He said there is a "woeful lack" of small single-family homes "because builders can make more money on Mcmansions" and suggested building 120 affordable new single-family homes on the 10-acre site.
Nierstedt said the lots would be below the required size for a single-family home and Bey said developers are shying away from building homes of that size.
Piwowar, one of the original "Save Muhlenberg" activists and a close watcher of JFK's actions, stressed the need for caution in setting restrictions on future use of the campus. She cited expensive litigation when the city tried to bar a home for recovering alcoholics on Evergeen Avenue and also mentioned recent attempts to bar a mosque in Bernardsville.
"We follow the land use laws, which are federal laws," Bey said.
Piwowar also mentioned a possible "non-compete" situation, but Bey said the only non-compete issue is with "just the things that exist there now." She also suggested inclusion of holistic medicine, saying alternative medicine advocate Deepak Chopra did his internship at Muhlenberg.
The news that Heyer, Gruel & Associates would be writing the redevelopment plan for the Muhlenberg site came out at a joint meeting of land use boards last month.
Anyone interested in attending the April 20 meeting should check closer to the date to confirm the location. Meetings are normally held in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave. After the meeting adjourned, Bey and Nierstadt were discussing how best to handle an anticipated crowd on April 20.