Thursday, September 30, 2010

For Rebecca

When I saw this wraith-like praying mantis in early September, I thought she was at death's door. After all, once the female is ready to lay eggs surrounded by a special protective mass for hatching next spring, her work is almost over.

Her swollen abdomen, full of next year's offspring. seemed to portend the end of her life

But weeks later, I saw a female mantis in my butterfly bush, all the more gravid.
So this is the latest news of the mantid world in my back yard, something Rebecca claims she considers an attraction to Plaintalker II.

Flagpole: Fail

I was wondering why there was yellow tape around a portion of City Hall grounds recently and today I discovered the reason.

The big flagpole now lying on the ground apparently had rotted at the base (look at it next to traffic cones at right) and had to be taken down. I had a few questions, such as how the city found out about the possible danger, how old the flagpole was, whether it could be re-used or at what cost might it have to be replaced.

However, my call to City Administrator Bibi Taylor got no response. I'm sure my request was way down the list of callbacks for Ms. Taylor, who has her hands full with many other issues. But that was the protocol, and at least I tried.


Seen Around the City

From Cleveland Avenue, one can see workers converting an old commercial building on Park Avenue for residential use, one of two conversions on the same block by Paramount Assets.

One part of the old senior center rental space on East Front Street is being converted to a chicken restaurant, and it looks like the owner has made a couple of new storefronts out of the remaining space, which also included the Community Policing unit. Both the senior center and police unit are now at 400 East Front Street.

I have been curious about plans for the rooftop terrace at The Monarch, the 63-unit condo complex also at 400 East Front Street. But it was too hot this summer to gad about on foot. I finally got over there and saw what looked like a barren space, even though the developer agreed to a design by April Stefel of the Planning Division some time ago, before she was laid off. I didn't even see the potted arbor vitae that are on the developer's ad for the condos. Maybe next year.

East Front Street will soon have "La Casa del Pollo" to add to the other chicken joints.

A new Mexican grocery on East Front Street is festooned with pinatas.

Changing of the guard - Marshall & Moran are now in charge at 128 East Seventh Street.

Back home and taking yet another fond look at the Thunbergia. I recommend this plant to anyone who wants a lovely trailing or climbing vine.
Hoping to get around more now that cool days are arriving!

Event Changes Venue

A month-long publicity campaign aimed at attracting 10,000 gospel singers to break a world record has now changed the venue on short notice.

The campaign started with teasers and a call to meet at Emerson School to learn more. It was then revealed to be both a challenge to the Guinness Book of World Records for gospel singing and signing as well as an event to bring peace to the community. Over the month, a wave of shootings continued, most recently with a fatal attack on a taxi driver.

Now the location for the Oct. 2 event has been changed from Cedar Brook Park to the considerably smaller grounds of City Hall.

Having once lived for a year next to Cedar Brook Park, I was wondering how county park police were going to handle such a large anticipated crowd when news of the new location broke. According to Ron Zuber, deputy director of Union County Parks, a meeting had been scheduled to talk about just such issues when organizers dropped the idea of using the park.

So now it will be up to city police and possibly Public Works to make logistical arrangements on short notice for the event at City Hall.

However worthy the goals of the event, it is unfortunate that the responsibility for managing it is now a city chore. Those of us who attend City Council meetings know that city event organizers are expected to make their plans known well in advance, in addition to paying for police coverage and showing proof of liability insurance. Has all this been waived, and if so, by whose authority?

Call me a nitpicker or spoilsport, but these are questions that need to be asked and answered. How can there be two sets of rules for events, one for the general public and one for a select few who can make the city turn on a dime to come up with support at public expense?


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A Chilling Loss

The cold-blooded daylight murder of a city taxi driver fills us with horror and a sense of helplessness to avert such crimes. A family is fatherless and for what reason? The notion of getting a few dollars at the cost of his life?

Let us hope that the Union County Homicide Squad will be able to find the perpetrator quickly and take that individual off the streets.

Our thoughts are with the friends, family and co-workers of Isidro Leonardo.


Shoutout to Mark

Hey Mark, I will be bird-watching this fall from my porch window, where I can see little visitors in a big pine tree. It helps that I'm on the second story, as peering up from the ground makes identification more difficult. Here in the middle of Plainfield, I have seen the Brown Creeper and the Ruby-Crowned Kinglet in this tree, among many more common birds like the Black-Capped Chickadee and the Tufted Titmouse. When I used to pick up cop news in Westfield, I checked the pond in Mindowaskin Park for sightings of the Double-Crested Cormorant, which could be seen diving and swimming.

Seeing an unusual bird is always a treat and brightens up the day! Happy birdwatching!


Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Community Outreach Will Precede Historic Designations

In a presentation Tuesday, city preservationist Gail Hunton used a map to highlight prospects for new historic districts, but recommended to the Historic Preservation Commission a program of neighborhood outreach before making any formal designations.

The city now has six residential historic districts and several others. Hunton prefaced her presentation with comments on the “institutional history” of the city’s preservation movement, noting that residents initially raised the issue of protecting historic buildings from neglect by absentee landlords or deterioration from lack of repairs. In addition, without protections, owners of historic dwellings sometimes found large apartment complexes springing up next to their homes.

The response was a Historic Review Committee in 1979 and the establishment of four historic districts, including Crescent Area, North Avenue, Van Wyck Brooks and Hillside.

Hunton cited Plainfield as an “early leader” in the preservation movement. The city’s Historic Preservation Commission dates back to 1985, when state legislation first allowed such bodies.

But with no new designations for several years, the notion of possible new districts brought a public reaction similar to the early days – fear of outside impositions on changes to one’s own property being the main complaint. At an August meeting of the HPC, members of one neighborhood presented petitions opposing designation of their homes as historic. Click here for Plaintalker's post.

Tuesday’s meeting revealed that their Marlborough Avenue neighborhood was not under consideration, but that did not prevent one resident from seeking extra assurance that a designation might not come anytime soon.

Hunton said now each property targeted for possible designation has to be researched for its value for an historic designation. The initial survey she completed did not indicate whether a property within a possible district was “contributing” or “non-contributing” to historic designation.

Of those in favor of historic preservation and district designation, one former Brooklyn resident said he saw preservation consciousness begin there in the 1950s and “brought that mentality with me to Plainfield.”

He expressed regret that “more people don’t know what we do here.”

Calling his block a “Whitman’s candy box” of architectural styles, he said he was fully in favor of his house being in an historic district.

But resident Oscar Riba voiced fears of the financial aspect of being told to do expensive renovations consistent with historic guidelines. Several commissioners reassured Riba that repairs for an older home would have to be made anyway and that those following historic guidelines were most likely less costly in the long run.

--Bernice Paglia

New Districts, New Prestige?

Residents who are concerned about the designation of new historic districts may want to consider the fact that the city’s housing stock is still its main ratable base and its distinctive older homes are a key part of the city’s character. Shouldn’t it follow that preservation is warranted?

Even so, homeowners collectively in any proposed district have a voice in whether the designation actually takes place. A survey by a preservationist yields only recommendations and is not binding. At tonight’s Historic Preservation Commission meeting, the findings will be discussed and perhaps the next step will be outlined.

In the absence of significant industry in the city and with only one major new tax-producing development in the past decade, why not look to preserve the architectural treasures within the Queen City’s borders?

Some individuals have taken that task on personally, restoring former one-family mansions to that status even though more money might be made by retaining multi-family uses that have split up the interiors. There was a strong wave of interest and activity in several of the six current residential districts about 20 years ago, fueled by an organized approach to marketing the city as a treasure trove. Since then, only a couple districts have managed to keep up the camaraderie and excitement of living in historic homes.

The success of any new designated districts will depend on both individual and collective enthusiasm for the responsibility of stewardship for historic properties. Historic preservation put Plainfield on the national map in the 1980s. New districts could engender new interest and prestige for the city.


Sunday, September 26, 2010

Bank Proposal Raises Issues

Image: Icons outside PNC (formerly United) Bank Building

One of the recent issues with development proposals by Frank Cretella has been his liberal interpretation of the “retail” designation for portions of his multiple Plainfield projects. Some aspects have turned out to be restaurants or other uses not foreseen by the general understanding of the term.

In the legal notice for a new application Oct. 6 before the Plainfield Zoning Board of Adjustment for use of the PNC Bank building, attorneys for Cretella frame the issue thus:

“The applicant proposes to convert an existing building from a bank and office use to any permitted non-residential use (simply called "retail" on the plans and in the balance of this notice (18,276 square feet) and facilities for the service of food and drink (including alcoholic beverages) with or without live entertainment/nightclub/banquet hall/catering/themed event/entertainment (all called simply "nightclub" use on the plans and in the balance of this notice)”

The notice indicates the first floor (13,210 square feet) will be “retail” use; the second floor will have 5,066 square feet for nightclub use; the third floor will have 4,831 square feet for nightclub use; the fourth floor will have 5,074 square feet of nightclub use; and there will be a new fifth floor addition of 5,473 square feet for nightclub use.

The applicant, The Bank on Park LLC, needs several variances, but to this writer, the big question is how this project will fit in with other Cretella projects in various states of approval for the PNC Bank block. They include the 148-unit West Second Street Commons residential project that also includes retail uses, the Certified Green property One LLC project at 212-16 Park Avenue that includes four apartments and the Next Step to Collins Avenue LLC project at 226-32 Park Avenue that includes 12 apartments.

At the last Planning Board meeting on Sept. 16, no formal traffic report was offered for the massive West Second Commons project. Nor was any correlation offered for all the other projects on the block, maybe because the Planning Board and other land use boards only deal with one application at a time.

Maybe it is time for a sit-down on the whole picture (as the law allows) to deal with these multiple projects. In all, Cretella’s Landmark subsidiaries have eight projects proposed for downtown Plainfield. The effects of all on the existing infrastructure must be assessed objectively if officials are to understand their roles in this decision-making. It could be transforming if well thought out, or just a mish-mosh of intent if not.

--Bernice Paglia

On Bikes

At one Planning Board meeting on the West Second Street Commons, somebody joked that there was no bike parking for the likes of Planning Director Bill Nierstedt, who practices what he preaches when it comes to transit-oriented development. At the next meeting, a 34-space bike rack had been added to the parking scheme for the 148-unit development, and everybody looked at Nierstedt, who quipped, " I don't have 34 bikes - yet."

The next time I approached the North Avenue train station from Cleveland Avenue, I noticed the bike rack for four had one empty space and a sawed-off cable lock on the ground. Apparently urban bike parking requires steel chain or U-locks if the rider expects to see the bike again.

That reminded me of the bike boxes that used to exist in Municipal Parking Lot 7, next to my building. Over several years, I never saw anyone use a box for bike storage, but I did see someone attempting to live in one. He was an older man who apparently didn't like the rules at the Park Hotel, so he would slip into one of the boxes with a bottle to indulge his drinking habit. In one lucid moment on the street, he explained to me that he was a Magyar king. But when I greeted him by name later on, he was puzzled.

"How know me?" he asked.

This became a family joke with my daughter and son-in-law, who would ask the same when a bank ATM screen welcomed one of us by name. But the Magyar king's reign over the bike box came to an unhappy end when Public Works employees arrived one day to roust him and clean out the filthy box. Not long afterward, all the boxes were removed.

Plainfield has plenty of bike riders who are on the street at all hours. I recall returning from a trip to Seattle late one night to see riders out in a snowstorm. But these are not commuters who need bike racks or storage.

Until bike owners can have more confidence in parking, they are not likely to use bikes as part of their commuting strategy, even though various officials have noted how easy it would be to bike from a given development to the train station. It would take even a further leap of faith to establish a free "green bikes" project to help folks get around the city. As a dedicated pedestrian, I can vouch for Plainfield's "walkability," but it would be nice to hop a bike now and then to speed travel between points.

What do you think? Will bikes be part of commuting in the near future? Do you bike around the city? Please share your stories.


Friday, September 24, 2010

Honor Plainfield's History Makers

(Note: I inadvertently posted this earlier on Plainfield Plaintalker instead of Plaintalker II.)
Recently some of Plainfield's own who have made history at local, national and worldwide levels have been remembered here at home. On Saturday, baseball hero Joe Black will be so remembered in a ceremony at Hub Stine Field. Click here to read about it.

Whether someone is a sports legend, a groundbreaking public servant or even a revered block captain, these individuals deserve our ongoing recollection and honor. Milt Campbell, Everett Lattimore and Charles Billups all mean a lot to Plainfield for their different achievements and contributions. Young people especially need these role models all year round, not just at times on the calendar dedicated to remembrance of historic persons.

Now it is Joe Black's turn for the tribute his family has long wished for. Plainfield native Steve Selzer was a student of Joe Black and wrote a biography that sums up the many facets of his personality. Click here to learn more about the author and the biography.

There is a Kwanzaa custom of pouring a libation and calling the names of ancestors we want to remember. I for one always think of Pepsi Charles. With Selzer's book ("Meet the Real Joe Black: An Inspiring Life: Baseball, Teaching, Business, Caring") and the hard work of many people to put together Saturday's ceremony, I'm sure there will many more people, young and old, who will sincerely remember Joe Black this year and in years to come.


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Connolly Moves Out

My next-door neighbor for the past seven years had to pack up and move, as reporter Mark Spivey detailed in a recent article.

Connolly Properties had its headquarters at 128 East Seventh Street and after workers removed railroad ties separating our driveway from theirs, nobody could tell the difference. People stopping by to pay their rent parked on our side, two wheels on the lawn. Huge deliveries arrived and were unloaded just under my window. Workers arrived an hour or so early to hang out and schmooze. Connolly employees and visitors used their driveway as a parking lot, adding further to traffic on our side. PMUA trucks barrelled up, sometimes two or three a day to service the two buildings.

All this tsuris eventually convinced me that the best time to write was in the middle of the night, when all was quiet. Now once again it is mostly quiet all the time.

You never know how your neighborhood will change. A rock band or a tuba student could move next door, or a family with five rowdy kids. You can't always get what you want, as the Rolling Stones will tell you, but even if you don't try sometimes, you might get what you need - in this case, a little peace and quiet.


Lion Gets Bad Makeover

Park Avenue strollers know this lion. He was one of a pair flanking the entrance to the old Courier News building until a car took out the other one. His handsome visage projects power and dignity.

Well, maybe not any more. Somebody with a Sharpie came along and messed with his image, adding some choice words on his forehead. Poor Leo.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Scary Cat Portends Halloween

The holiday is more than a month away, but Walgreen's on South Avenue is ready to furnish all the costumes, lawn ornaments and candy you need for Halloween.

Despite some efforts in recent years to recast the pagan holiday as a harvest festival, it seems there is still a big demand for black cats, witches, skeletons and other spooky accoutrements. And so far broccoli florets have not replaced candy corn.

Look for a lot of Halloween safety tips as the holiday gets closer. And keep an eye out for those "Trunk or Treat" events that are replacing door-to-door visiting in some communities. The Salvation Army on Watchung Avenue has held them in past years.


Candidates' Forum in the Works

The League of Women Voters of Plainfield is planning to hold its traditional candidates' forum on Oct. 27, about a week before the Nov. 2 general election.

Two City Council seats are up for election on Nov. 2. Contenders for the Second and Third Wards at-large seat are June Democratic primary winner Rebecca Williams and Republican James Pivnichny, who ran for mayor in 2009. The First Ward contest pits Democratic incumbent Councilman William Reid against Republican challenger Sean T. Alfred.

The forum will be conducted by a League moderator and will follow guidelines established by the League to ensure fairness and impartiality. The Plainfield League will compile a fact sheet on the candidates, along with their responses to three questions on current city issues.

Details on the time and location of the forum will follow.


Trim Bushes, Cut Petty Crime

Overgrown shrubbery that conceals this porch from the public eye is fostering various kinds of mischief. Most recently, a man could be seen ducking up and down. Turned out he was trying on clothes apparently filched from the Salvation Army drop-off. Finally pleased with a jeans selection, he zipped up and came down the steps with a bag still in hand. Contents of another bag were strewn across the City Hall lawn and some shoes were on the sidewalk.

Rejected clothes are tossed around the porch. While this person was obviously in need, the clothing collection is intended for others in need. The castoffs here are now dirty and spoiled.

Several city churches used to advertise free "closets" where those in need could browse and select garments, whether for business attire or just to be adequately clothed. On my way to City Hall, I am seeing more and more piles of clothes recently. Perhaps churches that offer clothing could make a bilingual outreach to avoid the kind of wastage pictured above.
I brought this porch situation to the attention of an official who told me the owner of the building was aware of the issue of its improper use and wanted to solve it. Getting those bushes cut back would be a start.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Let Facts Guide Council ShotSpotter Decision

A gunshot detection system unveiled on July 28 and touted at an Aug. 1 Town Hall meeting might have rolled on to Planning Board endorsement on Aug. 5 and City Council approval by Aug. 16. But somehow its unannounced presentation Aug. 5 gave Planning Board members pause and they asked for more information at their Aug. 19 meeting. And as early as Aug. 2, a flurry of OPRA requests began, asking how much it cost to stage the on-air Town Meeting, simulcast on WBLS and WLIB and featuring The Rev. Al Sharpton.

Some residents also took issue with letting the entire metropolitan listenership know about Plainfield’s wave of gun violence starting in May that the ShotSpotter system was supposed to help alleviate. When the $1 million tab for the system became known, another rumble of concern arose. The city had just had two rounds of layoffs in order to wrap up the FY 2010 budget.

The Planning Board voted on Aug. 19 to recommend the ShotSpotter project to the governing body as a capital item, though member Horace Baldwin remained unconvinced of the plan’s usefulness. The detection system would place 40 sensors in a two-square-mile section of the city identified as having the most gunfire. The exact location of any gunshot would be conveyed to laptops in patrol cars.

But before the council met on Sept. 7, Plaintalker received and posted images of documents showing WBLS received $20,000 for the Town Meeting and that funds were drawn from the hardware and software maintenance account of the city’s new Information Technology division. Council members expressed concern at their meeting and called for an investigation.

At the Sept. 13 regular meeting (which Plaintalker could not attend), representatives of the ShotSpotter company gave a presentation on the system, but no action was taken.

Now West End Heights residents are questioning a possible stigma on their neighborhood if the system is installed there, and are planning a Town Hall meeting in early October.

So instead of being an easily understood and accepted project, the gun detection plan now seems itself to be under fire.

As a former reporter, I read about the initial July 28 demonstration with some sympathy for those who got assigned to cover it. Obviously, there had been a request for coverage that the editors could not ignore, but it seemed to be more PR than news. The Town Hall meeting following on the heels of the demonstration came across to several blog commenters as a big show and not much more. In the cold light of day after the Town Hall meeting, people wanted to know how much it cost.

My first clue that major hype was involved came at the end of the Aug. 5 Planning Board meeting, when one of the law enforcement officials asked me to suppress information on the blog, specifically the scope of the detection system. I responded that the facts in question were given in testimony at a public meeting. It was one of the very few times as a reporter or blogger I had been asked to do such a thing and I found it both offensive and somewhat intimidating,

Well, never mind. The hype didn’t fly and now more and more questions are being asked. Those who called for a fast approval in early August argued that lives were at stake. But of all the strategies that can be brought to bear on gun violence, and there are many in effect right now, the use of a costly and sophisticated gunshot detection system has somewhat lost its glamour amidst the ensuing controversy.

Whatever the governing body decides, it is now more than ever likely to be based on facts, not emotion or pressure. And that’s a good thing.

--Bernice Paglia

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Derby to Share Park with Anti-Violence Events

Pity the poor Fishing Derby.

The annual fall event in Cedar Brook Park this year will coincide with a broadscale event on Saturday, Sept. 25 and if it goes to the Oct. 2 rain date, an even bigger event.

The city's Annual Fall Fishing Derby will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday, overlapping a run/walk event called "Walk it Out for Peace - Taking Steps to End Violence." Onsite registration begins at 7:45 a.m. and the run/walk starts an hour later, ending at 10 a.m. Then there will be an "outreach event" hosted by Men United in Christ. Proceeds of the run/walk event will benefit Eagles' Academy Mentor Program, the Youth Council Teen Center and Under Our Wings, an organization for children of foster care/incarcerated parents.

If the young fishers need the Oct. 2 rain date, they wil be joined in the park by up to 10,000 people in an event billed as "Taking It to the Streets, A Rally for Peace." Organizers hope to have enough of a crowd singing and signing gospel songs to break a Guinness World Record for such events.

With any luck, the hubbub won't scare the fishes and the junior anglers will enjoy the normally tranquil derby.


PMUA Meetings Moved Up an Hour

The Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority, whose officials begged off a September session with the City Council, has changed its monthly meeting time from 7 p.m. to 6 p.m. until its annual reorganization in February 2011.

The change is likely to make it harder for members of a watchdog group, DumpPMUA, to attend. The notice appeared in the Courier News Friday. The change was to have begun with the September 9 meeting, which predated the notice. According to the authority's web site, the next regularly scheduled PMUA Board meeting will be 6 p.m. Tuesday, October 5th at 127 Roosevelt Ave., Plainfield.

The authority may receive three new commissioners in October and a possible reappointment of another. Nominations are expected from Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs for advice and consent by the City Council. The governing body meets Oct. 4 for agenda setting and will hold its voting meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 12.

Former Mayor and Councilman Harold Mitchell, chairman of the PMUA board of commissioners, asked the council to defer the proposed joint meeting until after the November general election.

--Bernice Paglia

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Getting the News: Wheels Within Wheels

The addition of a Courier News microsite on Plainfield gives city news seekers a new portal, but one that echoes existing sources, including numerous online blogs and aggregators. It's a far cry from opening the daily newspaper and settling down with a cup of coffee to turn the pages.

The daddy of aggregators is Dan Damon's CLIPS, whose author says it dates back to the days when he assembled items of interest for council members under the rubric "Clippings." Damon had been the city's public information officer under the administration of the late Mayor Albert T. McWilliams. Damon also publishes a blog, Plainfield Today, in the old muck-raking tradition ("Turning things over with a pointy stick," "The needler in the haystack").
At present, Damon follows the Plainfield blogroll, which has burgeoned to 20 or more posters on varied subjects. He also posts what appear to be Plainfield items gathered by a web crawler, which sometimes results on those originating in out-of-state places named Plainfield.
While CLIPS is valued by many, the frequency of posting by bloggers results in situations such as Saturday's nearly page-long roster, two-thirds of which were stale. Only a handful of bloggers post daily.
Rather than clicking on CLIPS innumerable times every day, this writer prefers to check Saul Qersdyn's aggregation of Plainfield blogs that has a feature where the viewer can roll over the last post and see the date without clicking on it. This sorts out the old news from the new news without giving somebody a bunch of futile page views.
Of course, if you have bookmarked your favorites and know they generally post daily, you have your own virtual blogroll.
The addition of the Plainfield InJersey site does not include news from other legacy print media, as Damon points out, but on the other hand, only the Courier News consistently reports on Plainfield news.
There are still other changes and innovations in news delivery. Sometimes clicking on a newspaper story link yields only a one- or two-sentence teaser. Maybe that's all one needs if checking a Blackberry or other device: "Two shot in Plainfield. More later."
I for one am looking forward to Mark Spivey's new Courier News microsite venture, even though my news reporting on the blog sometimes parallels for free what I might have gotten paid for if still freelancing for the newspaper.
In my opinion, the main factor in evaluating all these news sources is how factual and reliable they are in order to advance the average citizen's understanding of civic events and issues. Empowering the citizens with relevant information is always my goal (with the occasional foray into cat, garden or praying mantis news).

Friday, September 17, 2010

Mark Spivey Joins Blogger Ranks

Courier News reporter Mark Spivey is the newest member of Plainfield's small army of bloggers as he assumes editorship of the new Queen City microsite.

Designer Leonard Benjamin's T-shirt design sums up the challenge: "Everything's Real In Da Field." Mark has done an extraordinary job of dealing with the realities as well as the possibilities of life in Plainfield in his previous role. I'm sure he will do the same in this expanded venture.

Best of luck!


The New Generation

Something I saw online today made me think about how my son used to spend a couple hours watching DVDs on the television set but now sits in front of the computer checking videos. He has gone from a couch potato to a You Tuber!!


Transparent, Yet Fishy Redux

In light of the current controversy over transparency, I am offering a link to an old Plaintalker post on the FY 2009 budget process - you know, the one where nobody in the administration spotted the $1.7 million typo until a blogger pointed it out.

Here it is, for your amusement and edification.


West Second Street Project OK'd

Developer Frank Cretella won final site plan approval Thursday for what will be the largest downtown residential project in the city’s history.

West Second Street Commons will bring 100 rental units and 48 condos, plus retail uses, to the block now anchored by PNC Bank. Planners wrested some concessions on traffic, landscaping and parking from the developer before giving unanimous approval to the plan.

A proposed new two-way exit onto Park Avenue will be modified to permit only a right turn south after planners questioned the impact on traffic flow of vehicles crossing lanes, especially at peak hours. Cretella spoke in favor of giving drivers the most options possible to get in and out of the development, but board member Ron Scott-Bey was most outspoken on the need to avoid backups on the city’s busiest north-south road.

“Giving people choices is not always the best way to go,” Scott-Bey said.

While no parking is required for residential development in the central business district, the developer had proposed 132 spaces for all uses and on Thursday increased the number to 141. Expert witnesses for the developer leaned heavily on the notion that residents of the new project and shoppers would use public transportation or walk downtown, Scott-Bey said, “We’re not a walking village yet.”

On one idea to improve parking, Cretella said he was interested in using the currently under-utilized parking garage next to the Park-Madison office building, but ran into “stupid nonsense” in trying to talk to the owner. Constructed by the Union County Improvement Authority, the garage was supposed to be open for other than office use at times, but talks over several years have yielded no results.

Planning Board Chairman Ken Robertson urged Cretella to “put as much pressure as possible” on the authority for use of the garage, saying, “They walked out on this board.”

The developer will also allot 55 of his proposed parking spaces for “compact cars,” which traffic expert Paul Gowing said would include vehicles such as the Prius, Cooper Mini and SmartCar. Board member Barbara James also suggested use of the shared-rental ZipCar to alleviate parking issues.

The project has only a 10-foot driveway abutting the Raritan Valley line at its south border, but planners asked for a buffer of trees alongside the embankment. Trees and shrubs will also be planted along the western property line, which abuts a PSE&G power station. Trees will be of a columnar type to suit the narrow space.

Cretella plans to erect 100 rental units first, for which he is seeking completion of an HMFA financing agreement and a payment in lieu of taxes plan with the city. The 48 other units will be built later and sold as condos. The PNC Bank will move from its historic building at Park Avenue and West Second Street to new quarters in the retail portion of the project. Cretella is seeking to buy the old building and transform it for hospitality and commercial uses.

One last item is the disposition of the historic Titsworth-Sutphen building, which will be moved off the West Second Street site to make way for construction. Although a city-owned lot at West Second Street and Madison Avenue was mentioned as a possible new location in past talks, other options are still being explored. Cretella will have to seek the endorsement of the Historic Preservation Commission for the final decision on where the pre-Civil War building will be relocated.

--Bernice Paglia

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Ahem ...

Dan is all over the Park-Madison/Cretella story today, but at the risk of reviving a feud, I must point out that Plaintalker broke the Park-Madison story on Oct. 8, 2006 and Dan followed with three expatiations. He even refers readers to my post here.

My stick may not be as pointy as Dan's, but then again I was working from an original document and didn't need a pointy stick.

I know, you are saying temper, temper, there is room for all flavors of bloggers in Plainfield. It must be the Irish genes from my grandfather, Paddy McLaughlin, that makes me get this way.


Hispanic Heritage Month Underway

September 15 was the start of Hispanic Heritage Month, as noted in this proclamation by President Barack Obama.

Locally, there will be a two-day fiesta downtown in the municipal parking lot between Somerset Street and Watchung Avenue, on Saturday and Sunday.

Click here to see what the Newark Public Library is offering for the celebration.

The Plainfield Advisory Commission on Hispanic Affairs, on the books since 2005, finally received appointments in June.

The city calendar makes no mention of the fiesta or the start of the month-long celebration. But you do not really need an official word to learn more about Hispanic heritage. Maria's blog has a list of Latino authors, the city is full of restaurants with traditional foods of many Latino countries and you could probably just chat with a neighbor about growing up Hispanic.

The Census Bureau has posted some interesting facts about the celebration and our current Hispanic population. Click here to see the page.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Pallone Staff in City Hall

Stopping in at City Hall Tuesday, I noticed several signs heralding "Plainfield Office Hours" for Congressman Frank Pallone Jr.

Turns out the District 6 Congressman has reserved City Hall Library from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on second Tuesdays of each month for the rest of the year. No appointment is necessary, just stop in with your "constituent concerns and issues related to federal agencies."

I couldn't think of any questions, but anyway it wasn't the man himself sitting in the library, it was a staff member. However, if you have a problem that only the feds can solve, mark your calendar for Oct. 14, Nov. 9 or Dec. 14.

If you look at a map of the district, you will see that Plainfield is at the tippy-top of the territory that meanders down to Asbury Park. Pallone's offices are in Washington D.C., New Brunswick and Long Branch, so having a representative right here on Watchung Avenue is probably a plus.

Pallone, a Democrat, will be seeking his 12th term in the November general election. His opponent is Republican Anna C. Little.

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Bethel's Biggest Garden

Last year, Bethel Presbyterian Church planted a community garden on half a vacant lot the church owns. This year, gardener Lascelles Walters not only expanded the garden to the entire lot, he added many more varieties of produce to benefit nursing home residents and seniors.

Walters added a fence and borders of sunflowers to the East Sixth Street site. Flocks of New Jersey's state bird, the Eastern Goldfinch, visit to eat the seeds and cheer Walters on with their chirping.

The garden started out with Jamaican favorites, including callaloo and thyme. Now it is his most ambitious effort since he started gardening in 2002. Besides the usual tomatoes, cabbages and peppers , his crops include red, green and yellow Swiss chard, eggplants, cantaloupes, pumpkins, watermelons, potatoes, corn and more.

Walters said the garden has had some challenges from animals that wanted to sample his wares.

Still, Walters passed on lots of vegetables to church members Agnes Talbot and John Haws for the charitable distributions.

Beetles are currently attacking the callaloo, but Walters expects them to clear out as the weather cools.

Talbot added some of her signature giant marigolds to the garden.

A whimsical scarecrow stands guard.

The fence is full of climbing vines. Here is a cucumber vine.

Peeking among the leaves, one can also see stringbeans.
Walters has started a fall crop of cabbages and other cool-weather crops.

Agnes Talbot proudly shows off her special marigold display next to the church entrance.
Kudos to gardener Lascelles Walters and the church family that supports his efforts!
--Bernice Paglia

West Second PILOT Plan Tabled

A plan to permit developer Frank Cretella to pay a fixed amount in lieu of taxes on a proposed 148-unit new residential project was tabled Monday, according to the City Clerk's office.
A "global" agreement involving Union County, the Union County Improvement Authority and Landmark Developers would authorize a payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, with the city receiving $44,977.99 annually until there was "substantial completion" of the West Second Street project, then $170,000 annually plus a 2 percent administrative fee over the 30-year term of the agreement. No affordable housing would be included.
Although the project was first described as 100 rentals and later as 148 market rentals, the new agreement spells out a first phase in which 100 rental units would be constructed, then 48 units will be built for sale.
The Appliance Arama showroom, now on the PNC Bank block known as the North Avenue Extension, would be relocated to the former Romond's Jeep building on East Second Street, one of several properties acquired by Cretella at an overall cost of $4.3 million, according to the agreement.
Landmark would receive conditional designation as the developer of the North Avenue Extension, having previously been named developer for the North Avenue Commercial Historic District.
PILOTS and tax abatements have been used to spur development. The 75-unit Horizons at Plainfield building, formerly the Tepper's department store, received a 30-year tax abatement.
Click here to read a past post on PILOTs with a link to a League of Municipalities overview of such plans.
The Park-Madison office building developed by the UCIA also has a pilot. Here is an excerpt from an October 2006 Plaintalker post:

The Park-Madison building was the first new downtown development in several decades. It houses numerous state and county offices that had been scattered around the city and the county. On its web site, AST describes it as a $28 million project. The governmental office portion is tax-exempt. Under a “payment in lieu of taxes” deal with the city, the city will receive $100,000 in taxes on the commercial portion for the 2007 fiscal year.

Among issues still to be worked out:

-Repair of cracks in the stamped brick streetscape.
-An agreement between the city and the county for public use of the parking deck on weekends.
-Public use of the plaza in front of the building and maintenance provisions.
-Reconstruction of Park Avenue between Front and Second streets.
-Repair of the old Park Jewelers street clock and installation in the plaza.

The letter also details the need for screening waste receptacles and notes various discrepancies in window and door details from what the original plans showed.

Until all the conditions are met, the project will not get a final certificate of occupancy.

As Plaintalker previously mentioned, the PILOT for Cretella's project only came up last week and as reported by Mark Spivey, the developer considers it essential to going forward with the project.

--Bernice Paglia

Sorry for the Disruption

Dear Readers,
I missed last night's City Council meeting due to illness, but even if I had attended, I could not have posted due to my DSL line failing. Verizon tells me there is trouble in Plainfield and engineers are working on it. Thankfully the Plainfield Public Library's lines are operative, so I can at least let you know the circumstances.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Developer Seeks Tax Breaks

To inquiring readers, yes, there are two items up for votes Monday related to the Landmark Developers subsidiary, "West Second Street Commons," including one to receive a Payment in Lieu of Taxes agreement for the proposed 148-apartment complex and retail development on the PNC Bank block off Park Avenue

Here they are:



The first refers to redevelopment of the PNC Bank block as an extension of the North Avenue Commercial Historic District redevelopment proposal that dates back many years. Originally, the concept was to retain the historic facades of the city's first commercial district next to the main train station and to build modern high-rise structures behind them. Early on, more than 400 residential units were touted as being the "critical mass" needed for revitalization of the district.

Meanwhile, the "critical mass" number later dwindled to 100, but recently grew to 148, and the site shifted to the PNC block. I believe the first resolution is based on the need to fix lapses in steps to designate Landmark as the developer of the PNC block.

As for the PILOT agreement, it has never been mentioned in the 17 months preceding the current push for development of the PNC block. Its emergence now after the developer has received various approvals for the project happens to coincide with a new report from State Comptroller A. Matthew Boxer on the efficacy of tax abatements. This report is worth review by voters, as it spells out the impact on school districts, among other ramifications.

It will be up to the governing body to decide whether to grant the PILOT. The full resolution was unavailable Saturday at the Plainfield Public Library, either because the council packet was not delivered or because library staff could not locate it as was the case last week.

If after reading the Boxer report you have reservations about the PILOT, make sure you are on time to comment on the resolution before the vote Monday. The meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice Paglia

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Four Slain Officers Remembered

Marion Bumpas Holmes had a special mission at Saturday's memorial service for four Plainfield police officers. A schoolmate of Police Officer John Vincent Gleason Jr., she wanted to give the family Plainfield High School yearbooks and other memorabilia of his life before his tragic death at the hands of a mob in 1967.

Gleason's death was the first of four in the line of duty memorialized in the unveiling of a granite sculpture on the grounds of Police Headquarters Saturday. More than 200 law enforcement personnel, family members, officials and friends of the officers attended ceremonies that included touching remembrances and accolades for the four.

Police Officer Robert Michael Perry did not survive a 1970 shooting that left his partner, Officer Robert Beck, injured but able to serve to retirement. Police Officer Frank Buczek was shot by an unkown assailant in 1971. Police Officer Abigail Powlett was shot by a drifter with her own gun in 1985.

Speakers praised all who serve, not knowing whether a routine tour of duty might end in the ultimate sacrifice.

Former Police Chief John Propsner knew all of the slain officers and came to Plainfield from Delaware Saturday for the ceremonies.
"This memorial is going to make sure we don't forget officers who worked here and made the ultimate sacrifice," Propsner said.
Susan Gleason was only two months old when her father was killed. Now an assistant Union County prosecutor, she said she sought her profession "to honor my father." Although she has accepted his death, she said, she still "cannot accept the brutality" of it. Her mother's last words to her father were, "John, don't be a hero," she said.
"But that's what he did."
Despite his horrific fate amidst racial rioting in the city, his wife wrote a letter to a local newspaper asking for the community to come together, Susan Gleason said.
Officer Perry's sister, Susan Clark-Perry, recounted his life, citing his love of baseball, his Marine service in Vietnam including capture by the Viet Cong and their mother's vigil with an artificial Christmas tree until his return to Plainfield as a decorated veteran. His shooting on June 30, 1970 at a fire scene in the West End was described at the time as a "wanton attack" that was deliberately staged. He had been a Plainfield Police officer for just 331 days when he died, robbed of the chance to prove himself as an officer and to have a family of his own, his sister said.

Officer Buczek served in the U.S. Navy before joining the police force and was a "loving husband and a devoted father," his oldest daughter Pamela Luther-Buczek said. The night before he was shot, he had helped her select names for his first grandchild, she said. On patrol at a bingo game at St. Mary's Church on Sept. 22, 1971, he was fatally shot and his family was never able to say their last goodbyes, she said. He had served the Police Division more than 24 years.

Jayson Powlett traveled from Montana with the help of local law enforcement for Saturday's ceremony, but was overcome with emotion while recounting the life of his mother, Officer Abigail Powlett. His sister Noreen joined him at the podium to describe their loss.
"We miss her just as much now as we did then," Noreen said.
Her cruel shooting denied the family all the special moments of life and knowing her seven grandchildren, Noreen said. Those who knew her have always remembered her smile, said her daughter, a fact backed up by Captain Edward Santiago, who said Saturday, "When she smiled at you, you just had to smile back - she had a gorgeous smile."
Each family received a memorial flag and a white rose to place on the memorial, which was erected by Policemen's Benevolent Association Local 19. The group raised $20,000 through various fundraisers.

Speakers included PBA President Andre Crawford as well as numerous state, county and local officials. The fallen officers will also be remembered at ceremonies on Oct. 9 at the John Stamler Police Academy in Scotch Plains.
Although the four have long been honored by a display of plaques inside headquarters, fellow officers wanted a permanent memorial on the grounds at Watchung Avenue and East Fourth Street.
--Bernice Paglia