Sunday, July 31, 2016

Stop the Cycle of Violence

Memorial for a young man in the 1980s
I  believe Police Director Carl Riley when he says a small, isolated group of people is responsible for the rash of homicides the city has seen since May.

And there are people who know what might happen next in the pattern of killings. But most likely their code forbids talking about it with others, especially law enforcement. The concept of silence dates back many decades and has been called "omerta." Those who break it today are called snitches and are targeted for retribution. Still, a lot of street people can tell you the players, if not the next act, because they keep the same late hours when gang members may be active.

There are ways that gangs make their presence known. We have all seen the signs on walls, which the authorities try to cover as soon as possible. One such wall sign on East Front Street was painted over just before the July 4th parade took place. The Special Improvement District helps merchants by erasing or covering up graffiti that appears in the district.

Hand signs and tattoos can be indications of gang affiliation.The Office of the Attorney General has an online guide to signs of gang affiliation.

While gang members might not speak to authorities, certainly community members who become aware of gang activity can call an anonymous tip line or confide in a police officer about their concerns. Once a young person is in a gang or part of a criminal enterprise, whether by joining voluntarily or by being forced to join, they may be lost to society. Prevention and intervention can save lives. I remember one July 4th parade here that included a float with photos of more than a dozen young people killed by others of their own generation.

The larger community may never know what causes violence to flare up and take lives. It might be lack of legitimate opportunities for young people or maybe just being captured by the false glamour of criminal activity. The "live fast, die young" motto dates back to the 1949 film, "Knock on Any Door." More recently, Star Trek gave a better choice: "Live long and prosper." Let us hope all young people will believe more in the latter.


Saturday, July 30, 2016

Summer 2016 Images

I am still fatigued from the hot spell. I can't think of anything to say, so here are some images. 
Here's one of our backyard mantids, now about two inches long. I don't see as many as in past years, mybe to to the scorched earth "landscaping" we had in late Spring. (Click to enlarge)
Our dear neighbor Edna moved South several years ago, but we remember her often and still appreciate the flowers she left behind, like this triple Daylily.
"Downtown Guy" is still watching over East Front Street, where many changes have taken place. Stores and restaurants have come and gone since the downtown was created in the 1880s.
Here's a flash from the past - Miron's Furniture on Front Street. The warehouse on East Second Street is now a 12-family dwelling, with a restaurant planned on the ground floor.
On the Gavett Place side, the former Miron's warehouse will have a restaurant on the ground floor.
Across Gavett Place, a 20-unit residential building with commercial space on the ground floor is nearing completion. Plans call for an entertainment center as well.
Last but not least, I saw something in the window of a boarded-up, fire-damaged house on East Sixth Street recently. I thought it was a person, but when I enlarged the photo, I saw it was a stuffed tiger. This house has been boarded up several times, but people (and tigers) keep getting in. On the same block, two or three homes have been renovated and reclaimed for occupancy. I'm hoping someone will take this one on someday as well.

Enjoy the weekend and don't forget, it's National Night Out on Tuesday!


Friday, July 29, 2016

Blogging Later

Watching the Democratic National Convention online took up all the energy I had left after eight days under the Heat Dome. I hope to post later today.


Thursday, July 28, 2016

Wednesday's Accident A Reminder for Caution

A helicopter clattering over the neighborhood Wednesday morning foretold news of a tragedy - the death of a young child and a mother's serious injury when both were struck by a car at Park and Second.

Details were few yesterday, but it reminded me of a near-miss a couple of days ago at Park and Seventh. A driver was so intent on beating the oncoming traffic when the light changed that he gunned the engine for a left turn onto Park. Meanwhile, a young woman had started across the street and I was right behind her. She narrowly missed getting hit by the speeding car. I stopped in my tracks and let loose an expletive, which is getting to be a frequent reaction when trying to negotiate that intersection. It already has a reputation as one of the most dangerous in Union County and it has special cameras for that reason.

We must wait on results of an investigation to learn what happened at Park and Second, but I can tell you why pedestrians in general are endangered. Many drivers are so impatient that they can't stand to wait to turn left safely. Sometimes two or three drivers turn left after the light changes, because they feel entitled to do so. Mere human pedestrians are no match for 4,000 pounds of metal (or even plastic) hurtling at high speed around a turn. I have waited through many a traffic light change just to avoid being in the crosswalk when drivers get up to such stunts.

Unfortunately, what the older generation calls "common courtesy" has become less common or nonexistent when it comes to driver-pedestrian interactions. It's bad enough at traffic lights, but worse at unmarked corners. Even though the city created four-way stops at several intersections, now they will be augmented with flashing lights to remind drivers to be considerate of others. Someone suggested that the city just try for actual traffic lights at some intersections, but if Park and Seventh is any example, drivers may run the lights anyway.

Our condolences to the family on the loss of the child and we hope the mother pulls through. Sometimes these things cannot be explained, and the outcome is simply sorrow all around. Still, this accident is a sad reminder for pedestrians to be cautious - and for drivers to be alert and considerate at all times.


Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Plainfield's Female Political Trailblazers

Listening to the Democratic National Convention today made me think of some of Plainfield's female political /activist/feminist trailblazers. Here are some names that came to mind:

Nelly Suratt
Helen Miller
Liz Urquhart
Lillian Jamar
Angela Perun
Donna Vose
Linda Carter
Dottie Gutenkauf
Joanne Hollis
Nancy Piwowar
Annie McWilliams
Flor Gonzalez
Eva Rosas-Amirault

and on our present City Council
Rebecca Williams
Bridget Rivers
Gloria Taylor
Tracey Brown
Diane Toliver

and the first African-American female mayor, Sharon Robinson-Briggs.

If you don't know some of these names, ask somebody. If you know and remember these women, tell somebody. And feel free to add more, so we can celebrate them all.


Evening of Summer Bells & Ice Cream

Two of my favorite things in Plainfield are the Shakespeare Garden in Cedar Brook Park and the Grace Church Carillon.

You can visit the Shakespeare Garden anytime now through the Fall closing, when the Plainfield Garden Club takes a break until Spring. But if you want to hear the Grace Church Carillon played by internationally acclaimed carillonneurs, your big chance this Summer is 7 p.m. Saturday, when Toru Takao and Katarzyna Takao-Piastowska will perform. And there will be ice cream!

The event is free and will be held rain or shine. The best place to listen is on Cleveland Avenue, next to the church on East Seventh Street between Park and Watchung. Parking is available in Municipal Lot 7, across the street.

See more details on the Grace Church "Evening of Summer Bells & Ice Cream" and mark your calendar now!


Tales of the Plainfield Democrats

In Plainfield, Democrats now outnumber Republicans by about 15 to 1, but they're not always one big happy family.

After being assigned to the Plainfield news beat around 30 years ago, I realized there were three rivals among the Democrats: Jerry Green, Harold Mitchell and Rick Taylor. All held public office. Mitchell and Taylor served terms as mayor and as members of the City Council.. Assemblyman Jerry Green could not be mayor, due to a prohibition on dual office holding in the city's special charter, but as the longtime Democratic Party chairman, he had considerable say in political outcomes.

The Regular Democratic Organization of Union County locally once had 84 City Committee members, a male and female in each district in the city's four wards. Lack of voter turnout resulted in a reduction of voting districts, so currently there are 68 committee seats. In the 1980s, I used to annotate the committee member lists to show the political alignments and the occasional shifts. The rivalries could be intense. I recall Mayor Taylor giving a State of the City address in which he invited Councilman Mitchell to walk the plank off the Good Ship Plainfield.

More recently, the power struggle has been between Green and Mayor Adrian O. Mapp, a former councilman and leader of the New Democrats. Mapp retained his leadership even as he served as a Union County freeholder, although winning the seat made him a member of the RDO. In 2015, Mapp's New Democrats captured enough seats on the City Committee to unseat Green as chairman of the Plainfield Democratic City Committee, though Green is still in charge of the RDO County Committee.

The irony of challenging the RDO is that by winning in the June primary, a New Democrat or other independent candidate then goes on the November ballot on the RDO party line. It's confusing,  though not as much as the electoral college system.

Perhaps even worse than having one's true political identity clouded by winning the party line, occasionally a faithful RDO member is simply cast out, denied the party line in the primary or the chance for a seat on the city committee. That's when the spurned one defiantly runs anyway a "Real Democrat."

Nonetheless, as November approaches, city Democrats of all stripes will no doubt band together to support the party line in this most important election.


Monday, July 25, 2016

Taking A "Heat Dome" Day

It's too hot!

I took three books out of the Plainfield Public Library to read while waiting for the "heat dome" weather condition to dissipate, but it's almost too hot to pay attention. The default is listening to the radio while making origami stars - less effort than trying to read.

Mau is also suffering from the heat. 
He tends to become more lively when it cools off at night, but mid-afternoon heat knocks him out.
He likes to nap with a pillow made of of a freezer-pack wrapped in a washcloth when the heat is at its peak.

I hope all Plainfielders, especially elders, as well as all companion animals, get relief soon.


Saturday, July 23, 2016

Charter School Seeks to Build on Dunn Property

On Aug. 3, the Zoning Board of Adjustment will hear a proposal for a charter school on Central Avenue for 240 students, 30 staff members and two administrators.

The site, across from Cedarbrook School, is owned by Flora Dunn. Dan Damon described the property on a July 2013 blog post when it went on the market. The charter school, Barack Obama Green Charter High School, is currently located at 35 Watchung Ave.

The application to the Zoning Board seeks permission to combine two lots at the site and add two stories to the building. The notice states that schools are not a permitted use in the R-2 neighborhood. Variances are requested for five parking spaces in the front yard and 40 off-site parking spaces at the art school next door, as well as for signage and fences.

The Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting is 7 p.m. on Aug. 3 in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave. Documents regarding the application are on file in the Planning Division office on the second floor of City Hall. Anyone interested in the application will have an opportunity to present any objections they may have to the proposed application at the Aug. 3 hearing.


New Road Repair Program Sought

West Eighth Street in 2008, now repaired
In 2006, new City Council President Ray Blanco launched committees to monitor important aspects of government. One was The Roads Construction Oversight Committee, to monitor a 15-year, $75 million plan to repair or reconstruct all city roads. The committee’s goal was to keep the plan on track to prevent a backlog of repairs. 

Alas, Ray Blanco died of a heart attack months later. By 2008, the plan had only advanced to Year Two and the administration of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs sought to pay $1 million to the engineering firm of Remington & Vernick to reassess the schedule because road conditions had changed since the original assessment in 2004.

By 2010, hard times caused deferment of capital expenses and road repair began to be spoken of in "phases" rather than years.

On Thursday, the Planning Board discussed returning to a regular schedule. Planning Director Bill Nierstedt said Mayor Adrian O. Mapp wants "an actual road plan as we had years ago,"  not only to fix roads but to maintain them. Because so many changes have occurred in the interim, a new schedule must be developed.

(Obstacles over the years have included a lack of spending on capital improvements in addition to council representatives of the city's four wards competing over priorities for grant-funded repairs.) 

Nierstedt mentioned a "bridge" capital improvement plan to be presented with only one or two items while the long-range plan is reconfigured.  The Planning Board develops a six-year CIP which the governing body approves as part of the annual budget. During the previous mayor's two terms, the process had its glitches including high turnover in directorship of the Department of Administration & Finance.


Friday, July 22, 2016

Planners, Pastor Aim to Advance East End Neighborhood

An East End neighborhood with long-held dreams of renewal could see a significant step next month.

The East Second Street Neighborhood Commercial District, now bounded by Johnston and Leland avenues, is on the verge of an "in need of redevelopment" study, with a Planning Board hearing on Aug. 18. But the neighborhood has changed so much lately that Planning Director Bill Nierstedt urged board members to go see the site in person before making the designation.

The neighborhood had been a mix of run-down buildings, viable businesses and homes when it was targeted in 2010 for $1.1 milllion in streetscape improvements. The plan, proposed under a previous administration, would have used Urban Enterprise Zone funds. Business owners and city officials held many meetings and gained camaraderie, but not results. Meanwhile, the state changed the UEZ funding program and recently one major building was demolished by developer Steve Cheung.

The "in need of redevelopment" study represents a different approach. Nierstedt said Thursday a draft report to the board was incomplete because assessments of each structure were still under review. Besides needing more input from board members on the state of buildings in the neighborhood, Nierstedt said the study area could be made smaller or perhaps extended to side streets.

In such a study, each building is rated on whether it meets any of the criteria for redevelopment. Nierstedt said homes in the target area are in good shape and commercial buildings vary in whether they meet criteria. If passed on Aug. 18, the board then forwards the "in need of redevelopment" study to the City Council, which can then order the board to create a redevelopment plan. If the council subsequently approves the plan, it could lead to a "payment in lieu of taxes" agreement with a developer.

Rev. Paul Dean, a supporter of the neighborhhod's revitalization, attended Thursday's meeting and introduced himself as "project manager" of the East Second Street team. In 2014, Dean and a group of residents spoke out at a council meeting about their desire for positive change. He said Thursday the group has "done a lot of cleanup" in the neighborhood and is purchasing garbage cans.

"Last year was phenomenal and we will do it again," he said of the efforts.

In addition, he said he has also spoken with young men who hang out at a liquor store in the neighborhood and has helped them to get jobs.

"We're in progress to moving to a better place," he said.


Thursday, July 21, 2016

Take Part in National Night Out on Aug. 2

Book bags and a caravan will be two features of Plainfield's 2016 National Night Out on Aug. 2..

City residents can donate book bags and school supplies this year for students in low-income families, and the caravan will visit neighborhood National Night Out events before arriving at City Hall for the annual event in the plaza and parking lot from 6 to 8 p.m.
National Night Out 2015
Donations for the schoolchildren will be collected by Plainfield Action Services by July 25. For details on donating, call the agency at 908 753-3519. Plainfield Action Services is located at City Hall Annex, 510 Watchung Ave.
Mayor Adrian O. Mapp and officials, 2015
 “My vision is a superior education for every child in Plainfield,” Mayor Adrian O. Mapp said in a press release. “No child should ever have to miss a day of school because they do not have the financial resources to get the learning tools they need. The distribution of book bags and school supplies from generous donors on National Night Out is just a part of our plan to support our scholars in every way possible. We are partners here in our community and we all have a vested interest in seeing our children achieve as much as possible.”
National Night Out 2015
Block associations and neighborhood groups are encouraged to have cookouts and gatherings on Aug. 2 to build neighborhood camaraderie and public safety awareness. Police-community partnerships are a primary goal of National Night Out events across the nation.


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

City Releases Funeral Arrangements for Public Works Director Eric Watson

A message from City Hall:

Funeral arrangements for our dear colleague and friend Eric C. Watson, Director of Public Works and Urban Development are as follows:

Friday, July 22, 2016
Lying in Repose at City Hall
515 Watchung Avenue
Plainfield, NJ 07060
1:00 pm – 5:00 pm

Friday, July 22, 2016
Wake at Plainfield High School
950 Park Avenue
Plainfield, NJ 07060
6:00 pm – 8:00 pm

Tributes: 6:30 pm – Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity
7:00 pm – Masonic Ritual Service

Saturday, July 23, 2016
Viewing at Plainfield High School
10:00 am – 11:00 am

Funeral Service – 11:00 am

Repast immediately following service in Plainfield High School Cafeteria

From the administration:
"Our condolences go out to his family, his close friends, and everyone who has been touched by his passing."

School Board Needs to Post Meeting Schedule

What is going on with the new school board?

For most of July, anyone checking the Board of Education meeting schedule on line would see only a list ending with the June 30 meeting. I checked again today and finally there is a meeting for this month - a business meeting, 8 p.m. on July 26, no location listed.

I must admit, the 90-degree days this month have seriously affected me, so figuring this out is difficult. Excuse me if I am not only nit-picky but maybe even missing something.

The board held  its organizational meeting on May 3, with new members elected on April 19. One of the many organizational tasks was to pass a resolution on the Open Public Meetings Act, in which one item was designation of the third Tuesday of the month for the business meeting. The location was to be the Plainfield High School Auditorium, unless otherwise noted, and meeting notices were to be published in the official newspapers. I check the legal notices every day and have been looking for word of July meetings without success. My email to the district's Community Relations Liaison didn't work

On the NJPA public notices site, the only July legal notice I saw for the Board of Education was one dated July 9 seeking proposals for legal services.

Normally a work-and-study meeting precedes the business meeting, although the Open Public Meetings Act resolution does not specify it. Was there a July work-and-study meeting?

The reason this schedule is important is to give the public the opportunity to attend. After the board voted on November 10 to change back to April elections, there was a flurry of interest in the Board of Education. New members from the Nov. 3 general election and then from the April 19 election gave the impression that one of their goals would be greater transparency, especially because the election change was done by way of a walk-on item with no advance public notice.

Let us hope the board will soon reach its stride, because both the board and the community at large may be facing a major challenge from Gov. Chris Christie's "Fairmess Formula" initiative. As previously noted, Christie's proposal to have a flat school aid figure per regular pupil will benefit districts that currently pay most school costs out of property taxes. It could be a disaster for districts like Plainfield that receive 80 percent of school funding from the state. Even without the threat from Christie's plan, the Plainfield district has many needs that require full attention from the board and community.


Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Skate Park Design Contract Approved

The City Council approved a contract Monday with Hood Skateparks of Gladstone to design a skate park to be located at Madison Avenue Playground.

Skateboarders currently practice informally at the plaza on West Front Street in front of the office building owned by the Union County Improvement Authority and at other public locations. The $15,000 design contract includes a provision for public input on the new park.

At Monday's meeting, resident Lamar Mackson questioned both the cost and the location. Mackson was accompanied by his son Isaiah, a skateboarder. Finance Director Ron West said the location is within walking distance from the skaters' current location. He said the $15,000 is only for the design. The estimated cost to construct the skate park is $250,000 and will be paid out of Open Space funds. Documents accompanying the resolution set a minimum area of 5,000 square feet for the skate park.

The playground is located on West Second Street between Madison and Central avenues. It has been the location of a memorial basketball tournament and also has playground equipment for children. Mackson said he felt the location was too small for a skate park.

Mackson and his son Isaiah made a video in 2013 to urge the city to create a skate park. The city did order an environmental probe and soil testing of an East Fourth Street location, but no further action was taken to create a skate park there.

The new plan is described as part of an effort to offer "alternate recreation" for young people and to provide the opportunity to develop positive behaviors  so as to prevent crime and violence.


Monday, July 18, 2016

Youth Commission Appointments on Agenda

Two appointments to the Plainfield Youth Commission are on tonight's City Council Agenda.

Resolution R 246-16 calls for the appointments of Nancy Jordan and Kelly Shaw, each for two-year terms ending on July 18, 2018.

Back in 2006, youth issues came to the fore with creation of both a Youth Commission and a Youth Council. See Plaintalker's 2006 report on the Youth Commission here.

Unfortunately, only four members of a possible 15 members were appointed and three were in the same family. The Youth Commission faded away when the appointments expired several years ago.

The membership roster is supposed to include two sitting City Council members, two adult at-large members, two youth members designated by the mayor, seven youth members recommended to the mayor by the council members, and two youth members from the public at-large recommended to the mayor by the City Council. The entire ordinance may be accessed online through the Municipal Code.

Recent municipal budgets have included funding for a "Youth Guidance Council" under the category of Community Purposes. I have not been able to learn the makeup or leadership of this council. To my knowledge, no members were ever appointed by the governing body. For several years, the council received $2,000. But for the last couple of years, the Youth Guidance Council has received $35,000 annually. It is unclear how this entity relates to the Youth Commission and Youth Council that were established by ordinance.

Please note that tonight's Special Meeting  begins at 7 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.


On the Passing of Eric Watson

Our condolences to the family, many friends and professional colleagues of Eric Watson, who passed unexpectedly over the weekend.

Mr. Watson served the city twice as director of the Department of Public Works & Urban Development and was the first executive director of the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority, serving from 1995 to 2011. His first term as PWU&D director was during the administration of former Mayor Mark Fury, leaving to become PMUA director. He joined the administration of current Mayor Adrian O Mapp in September 2014.

In 2005, Plaintalker interviewed Mr. Watson on the 10th anniversary of the PMUA (click link to read). The authority was formed to address solid waste and sewer service operations and Mr. Watson led it through many stages of development.

In each of his roles, Mr. Watson impacted the lives of all Plainfielders and will be sadly missed by many whom he helped and who considered him a friend.


Saturday, July 16, 2016

Four-way Stops To Get LED Lights

Four-way stop signs at twelve locations will be augmented with solar-powered flashing red lights to enhance public awareness, if the governing body approves.

A resolution up for a City Council vote Monday calls for purchasing solar panels and 48 red flasher bars at a cost of $52,560.
Please note
Monday's Special Meeting
is 7 p.m.
in Municipal Court
325 Watchung Ave.

The intersections are listed as:
Belvidere Avenue and Ravine Road
Watchung Avenue and Kensington Avenue
Hillside Avenue and Prospect Avenue
Hillside Avenue and Evergreen Avenue
North Avenue and Berckman Street
West Ninth Street and Arlington Avenue
West Eighth Street and Field Avenue
West Eighth Street and Spooner Avenue
West Eighth Street and Hobart Avenue
West Third Street and Monroe Avenue
West Fourth Street and Monroe Avenue
Grant Avenue and Sherman Avenue

The four-way stops were installed following a fatal accident at Arlington Avenue and Ninth Street last year. The idea was to slow down speeders and people who were running regular stop signs, but some drivers ignored the new signs out of habit and lack of attention. The background memo said that besides painted markings at the stops, the LED alerts would "support awareness."

The public may comment on the resolution before the vote.

The request for LED lights comes as land use boards have denied the use of LED signs at two churches. Officials of St. Mary's Roman Catholic Church had requested use of such lights in 2014 to give parishioners quick updates. At Wednesday's Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting, the board asked representatives of Shiloh Baptist Church to remove a flashing LED sign that was installed without city permission, and they agreed. The church was there on a different matter, the consolidation of parking on the block. It was noted that the sign at St. Mary's had been denied.

Although LED signs are not a permitted use, in 2014 it was mentioned that a 2010 ordinance outlawing LED lights was under review. 


Skateboard Park Design Contract on Council Agenda

A long-desired skateboard park may be a step closer to reality if the City Council approves a contract for its design Monday.

A resolution to contract with Hood Skateparks of Gladstone is on the agenda, at an amount not to exceed $15,000.

A background document states, "The City of Plainfield would like to offer alternate recreation for the youth. Providing our youth with the opportunity to develop positive behaviors, which is the foundation of efforts in preventing crime and violence."

Please note the July 11 agenda-fixing and July 18 regular meeting were canceled.
The council will hold a special meeting
at 7 p.m. Monday, July 18
in Municipal Court.
There will be a public comment portion on resolutions, motions and first reading of ordinances before the council votes.

The location mentioned in the resolution is the Madison Avenue Playground. In 2013, a city-owned lot on East Fourth Street was the proposed location and the council authorized funds for soil testing and environmental services.

Skateboarders frequent the plaza in front of the office building at Park & Front, which is owned by the Union County Improvement Authority. The adjacent garage on Madison Avenue was used at times by skateboarders, though not with permission.


Reality vs. Wishing on Trash and Parking

The "Telephone Building" on East Fourth Street may epitomize the dilemma discussed at Wednesday's Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting. The former commercial building takes up its entire lot, with no room for parking or large garbage and recycling bins. The answer here was to use wheeled carts like those used in residential neighborhoods, placed at the curb on collection day. The building has eight apartments, as indicated by the meters on the side. This is how the sidewalk looks when it's PMUA pickup day. Now imagine enough wheeled trash containers for 19 apartments outside the South Avenue site discussed Wednesday.

Regarding parking, the Telephone Building has eked out one handicapped accessible parking space at the rear of the building. For the rest, architect Jose Carballo suggested having tenants pay for parking in nearby municipal lots rather than have the developer pay. His reasoning was that some tenants might not have cars, so it was more fair to the developer to put the burden on those tenants who actually needed parking.

In the application heard Wednesday, 19 parking spaces were allotted for the eight 1-bedroom and 11 2-bedroom units. There will be bicycle racks in addition. The project is just outside a Transit Oriented Development zone, but will be "transit-targeted." Had it been within the quarter-mile radius around the Netherwood train station, no parking would have been required..

The Telephone Building plan was approved in 2013. The South Avenue project on the site of a former nursery will be taken up again in September. Though 19 apartments are proposed now, an earlier number was 26 apartments.

The apartment boom is on in Plainfield, like it or not. The assumption continues to be that people are using means other than cars to get around, but what is the reality? A working couple in my building owns four cars. I do not own a car, but sometimes wish I did, to get to places that public transit doesn't reach. A Facebook thread on troubles with taxis concludes that Uber is the solution, but is it? A tally of new apartments in August 2015 added up to 800. If it is possible, a look back at what was permitted and how things worked out might be useful.

Donna Albanese's remarks about parking issues with a South Avenue mosque made me look back at what had been proposed. The mosque application was approved after testimony that maybe ten people would initially attend Friday services, but more could come for special events  At any rate, the outer limit was supposed to be 52 attendees, based on parking at the site. Albanese described a much larger attendance that required use of extra parking. Naturally, she wants her lot to be mainly reserved for her customers.

Parking and trash removal are two necessities for renters. A survey could reveal strategies that work, the better to guide the land use boards on how closely allowable conditions match reality.


Friday, July 15, 2016

Trash and Parking Issues Delay Project Approval

Two hours of testimony Wednesday were not enough to resolve Zoning Board questions on a 19-unit new building on South Avenue, so the application will continue on Sept. 7.

The applicant, 1369-1403 South Avenue LLC, intends to build on the former site of a plant nursery next to the Dairy Queen. Four retail spaces are proposed (in blue on image above}and the plan calls for 26 parking stalls, 12 at the rear and 14 under the structure at ground level. Seven spaces are allotted for the stores and the rest for the eight 1-bedroom and 11 2-bedroom units.
Architect James Guerra describes the design.
Because the design will not allow PMUA trucks to access the rear, the developer proposed an indoor trash chute to be emptied by a superintendent and placed in large PMUA carts at the curb on collection days.

Regarding parking, the applicant tried but failed to get permission from the Dairy Queen and Fine Fare to allow any use of their lots. There is no parking on South Avenue.

In public comment, Dairy Queen owner Donna Albanese said, "Wow - where are the cars going to park? In my lot!"

Albanese said an Islamic Community Center that opened nearby asked to use her lot for parking when the center holds large events and it also uses two nearby vacant lots with someone directing traffic. The vacant lots are part of a site designated for future construction of 212 rental units.

But she said 95 percent of her customers drive to the Dairy Queen and a new coffee shop that just signed a lease to open next door will also need her lot.

"Parking is already a big problem in Plainfield," she said.

The proposed development is just outside the Transit-Oriented Development zone around the Netherwood train station. Planner John McDonough called it "transit-targeted," meaning it would be appealing to tenants who will not likely have cars, but will largely rely on public transit to get around. If the project was within the TOD-N zone, the parking requirement would be zero, he said.

Also in public comment, Ron Scott Bey said, "I think that's a lot of building for a small space."

On parking, he said, "My experience has been two bedrooms, two cars."

Deputy City Administrator for Economic Development Carlos Sanchez also commented, noting the parking problem but saying, "The reality is, we have an empty lot."

He said the project had already undergone multiple reviews by the Planning Division's Technical Review Committee and urged the board to render a decision.

But when members were polled, Charles McRae said the building was too big for the space and he could envision "blue and green cans overflowing with garbage" out front. Rich Sudol also had similar views.

"Trash is definitely an issue," he said, and called parking "a constant issue."

Robert Graham also mentioned trash and parking.

Mary Burgwinkle said as a 34-year resident she was thrilled to have someone interested in investing, but the design left her with a "feeling of claustrophobia." Regarding trash, she questioned how recycling would be handled. Jim Spear spoke of a need for compromises, but said apartment complexes need to conform to parking requirements. He felt the trash issue was "secondary."

Alex Ruiz said, "Parking is key," and also felt garbage could bring rats and odors. But he said, "There's always a way to fix this."

With that, the board agreed to adjourn the case to September 7.  The meeting will start at 7 p.m. in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave.


Thursday, July 14, 2016

New Uses for a Downtown Building

Something new at Park & Second. Multiple uses for this storefront. A Boys & Girls Club bike resale shop and other activities, a food pantry, various social services and even church services?

It gives the Boys & Girls Club more visibility and the bikes are very attractive,

In the 1980s that corner was known as Financial Plaza and an investment broker had his office in that building. He used to contribute a financial advice column to the weekly newspaper Plainfield Today, which was based nearby on North Avenue.
Click images to enlarge



Wednesday, July 13, 2016

City Will Ask State Legislature To Change Charter

Nearly three years after an elected Charter Study Commission recommended changes to Plainfield's 1968 special charter, the city intends to petition the State Legislature to act on the recommendations.

A small legal notice in today's newspaper sets forth the intention.

CORPORATION NOTICE CITY OF PLAINFIELD NOTICE OF INTENTION TO PETITION THE LEGISLATURE TAKE NOTICE that The City Council of the city of Plainfield intends to petition the New Jersey State Legislature for the passage of a special law to amend the Plainfield Charter (1968), as set forth in P.L. 1968, c. 159, pursuant to Article IV, Section VII, paragraph 10 of the Constitution of 1947 in accordance with the procedures established by P.L. 1948, c.199 (C.1:6-10 et seq.). The special law shall make the changes to Plainfield Charter (1968) suggested by the Plainfield Charter Study Commission in its Amended Final Report dated December 31, 2013, which changes were approved by the Plainfield City Council in Ordinance MC 2014-10, An Ordinance to Accept the Final Report of the Plainfield Charter Study Commission and Forwarding to the New Jersey Legislature for Action, finally passed on May 12, 2014. The changes to Plainfield Charter (1968) to be made as a result of the special law are set forth at length in the Plainfield Charter Study Commission Amended Final Report dated December 31, 2015, which is on file at the Office of the City Clerk of Plainfield, 515 Watchung Avenue, Plainfield, NJ 07060. Abubakar T. Jalloh, R.M.C. Plainfield Municipal Clerk

The study itself took more than eight months of intensive work starting in January 2013. All the minutes as well as the final amended report are still online at the Plainfield Charter Study Commission blog.

The commissioners - Mary Burgwinkle, John Stewart, Rick Smiley, Marie Davis and Jeanette Criscione -were elected in the November 2012 general election, but results were delayed by effects of Superstorm Sandy.  The commission held an organizational meeting in December 2012 and had nine months to do its work.

See Plaintalker's report on results in August 2013
Recommendations included the following:

-Title of City Administrator to become Business Administrator
- Gender inclusiveness in all references
- Align language with state statutes
- City Clerk to be appointed by council
- Mayor must be a registered voter and a resident for four years immediately prior to the date of election
- Leeway to add departments to the three currently mandated by the charter
- Retain prohibition on dual office-holding
- Provision for a legislative aide to the council

While other municipalities can make governmental changes at the local level, Plainfield's charter was enacted by special state legislation and can only be changed the same way.


Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Who Is Carlos Sanchez?

Please note, this is an informal view based on my own observations. 

Carlos Sanchez has an ungainly title - Deputy City Administrator for Economic Development - but he's as graceful as a Nureyev when it comes to the moves with developers, investors and elected officials to make things happen.
Carlos Sanchez, left, with developer Frank Cretella
The title has a history. The deputy city administrator was originally an ombudsman for the citizenry, but during the administration of the late Mayor Albert T. McWilliams, it was revised to reflect the need for a leader in attracting and coordinating development. Once a center of industry as well as a bedroom city for Wall Street millionaires, Plainfield found itself rich in historic housing in the late 20th century, but lacking other sources of tax revenue after Mack Truck and other firms moved or shut down.

By the time McWilliams left office, Deputy City Administrator Pat Ballard Fox was in charge of more than a dozen redevelopment projects, which she detailed for the next administration. But over her eight years in office, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs left the title unfilled and chose other projects.
Carlos Sanchez
Mayor Adrian O. Mapp revived the cabinet-level title and hired Sanchez with the governing body's approval. But there was no place on the city website for the title. To find Sanchez online, a new developer would have to know to delve down to a middle-manager link from the previous administration. Luckily for the city, Sanchez had his own network in the field. With a website upgrade, his office is now on the front page.

Two and a half years in, Sanchez has also managed to navigate Plainfield's quirky culture. He knows who expects deference, but holds his own when explaining the nuances of a deal. Though some City Council members tend to browbeat the cabinet in public, Sanchez practices patience to make sure a project or a process is well-understood before the vote.

As someone who is often cranky, I stand in awe of the geniality that Sanchez displays. I don't recall ever seeing him angry or upset, no matter who is giving him a hard time

Being bilingual is another huge asset for Sanchez. Not only did Plainfield's Latino population jump 67 percent between 2000 and 2010, new Spanish-speaking businesses dominate the downtown and older ones must make their goods and services known in Spanish.
It could be argued that the advent of Sanchez alone did not get development off the dime. The groundwork was laid for many projects and the financial climate improved. But if he ever feels like taking credit for sparking progress in the East End, the West End and downtown, it's fine with me.


A Perspective on Combat-Related Mental Illness

Please read this information from the Governor's Council on Mental Health Stigma/Military and Veterans Affairs for some perspective on combat-related mental illness.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Hopes, Fears Expressed for Muhlenberg Site

A developer selected to transform the long-shuttered Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center heard some residents denounce housing as an element of the renewal, just as they have since 2012 when 600 apartments were proposed for the site.

A diverse crowd including "Save Muhlenberg" activists, residents of the hospital's neighborhood and those whose families experienced birth and death there filled the Senior Center Monday to hear William Colgan of Community Healthcare Associates explain his winning concept.
William Colgan of Community Healthcare Associates LLC
  Real Estate Solutions and a committee painstakingly reviewed six conceptual proposals for the 10-acre site before selecting Colgan's firm. The company was found to have the necessary experience, financial capacity to get a bank loan, ability to incur debt and to offer a purchase price to JFK for the site, which the city does not own.

Colgan, Mayor Adrian O. Mapp and Economic Development Director Carlos Sanchez all stressed there are many more steps in the process, starting with acquisition of the site from JFK Health Systems and including numerous city approvals.

A slide detailing "next steps" (click to enlarge)
Colgan, whose firm has redeveloped closed hospitals in Jersey City and Paterson, said Muhlenberg's 500,000-square-foot facility would be partially demolished to make way for parking, while more than half would become a medical facility. The company will seek a "payment in lieu of taxes" agreement.

Although the $49 million proposal could create 600 jobs and bring tax relief, speakers reacted sharply to the proposed inclusion of veterans' housing and assisted living units.
Edward Danner is first up to speak
As soon as Mapp opened the meeting to questions, a line formed at the microphone. Although some wanted to share family memories of Muhlenberg, others sought assurance that their quiet residential neighborhood would not be marred.
With so many more steps to be accomplished, not all questions could be answered, but Colgan said, "Our goal is to work with Plainfield, to make what Plainfield would like to see."
Resident Donald Van Blake asked for something in writing about the proposal and said he was disappointed that there had not been "a clear, open declaration of the purpose of the meeting." Sanchez and Mapp reminded the audience several times that vetting the developers was just one step in the process. 
Perhaps the strongest concern came from Robin Bright, who said bluntly "There was no plan."

Bright said JFK "put a non-compete clause in there." Anticipating a "Wounded Warrior with PTSD" as a future tenant on the site, she said, "That is not what we want here."

Living 200 feet from the site, Bright  said, "I'm scared - there is no buffer."

When the Planning Board in September discussed whether to make an "in need of  redevelopment" decision for the site, board members voted against using eminent domain. Bright said she had wanted them to take the site by condemnation. 

"They should have," she said, "then they could put in the services we need and deserve."

Bright said there were too many children and women walking dogs in the neighborhood.

She said the veteran who killed police in Dallas had PTSD and locally so did a "guy who killed his mother."

She said she wanted JFK to be more flexible in what is put there. The audience applauded her remarks several times..
Colgan and Mapp had their heads together as Bright finished and Colgan said Mapp had asked him to "circle back" to his prior remarks. He said the Muhlenberg project was analogous to what the company did with Barnert Medical Arts Complex, a former municipal hospital. But when he mentioned an adult day center as a possibility, someone yelled that Muhlenberg used to have one and "they took it away!"

In all, nearly two dozen speakers commented on the presentation and their concerns about what might happen. The meeting was taped for airing on local cable channels. Mapp wrapped it up by acknowledging their concerns, calling the return of a hospital "highly unlikely" and emphasizing the possible benefits of Colgan's plan.

"Be patient," he said. "We are at the point where something is going to happen."


Bring Back "Doctors' Row"

Around the turn of the century - 2000, that is - Park Avenue still had a section nicknamed "Doctors' Row" for all the medical offices there. After Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center closed in 2008,  almost all the health care providers moved out of Plainfield. I for one am hoping to hear tonight that plans for the Muhlenberg campus will include some restoration of medical offices.

If development continues at its current pace, there will be a need for more doctors, dentists and other practitioners in the city. As noted in the post linked below, my son and I personally lost health care providers that were formerly within walking distance of our home. Several just moved further down Park Avenue, maybe a $10 round trip by taxi. My dentist is now a $30 round trip taxi ride away, still on Park Avenue but four miles away from his former Plainfield office.

Please read my 2010 post, "A Viewpoint on Health Care" and see whether you agree.

Developers keep stressing the idea that many newcomers to Plainfield will be rail and bus commuters or may even use bicycles to get around. Parking requirements for new development projects have been revised downward in the belief that residents will not need cars as much as before. But what  if a new resident needs a blood test, check-up or specialized care? It would be a lot easier to get to a medical mall in the city than to get to Summit, Warren, Edison or Green Brook.

A new factor has come into play since Muhlenberg closed, and that is the consolidation of medical services into "systems" I had a CT scan in April 2015 and was told to schedule another this past April, but found out the specialist had joined a health system based in Somerville and therefore had closed her former Plainfield office that was in walking distance for me. The travel options are not easy, especially now that I also have some conditions that make long trips inconvenient.

By now, many people have given up hope that  a full-service acute care hospital will reopen on the Muhlenberg site. But I get the impression that many would welcome a "medical mall" kind of set-up.

Whatever comes out of the town meeting will be of interest. I just hope it includes some news on city-based health care.


Sunday, July 10, 2016

Muhlenberg Town Hall Monday

Conceptual plan, 2014
Mayor Adrian O. Mapp is holding a Town Hall Meeting at 7 p.m. Monday, July 11 at the Senior Center, 400 E. Front St. to discuss plans for the Muhlenberg Campus.

Click on links below for background information from prior blog posts..

The campus housed Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center until August 2008, when it closed. Since then, hopes of reopening the hospital have not materialized. In 2012, a study by the site's owners recommended development of 600 apartments, a notion roundly rejected by city residents.

The site was the subject of a 2014 city-sponsored study by a planning firm which recommended rezoning for "health care." Again, residents protested any housing on the site, not even for veterans..

A capacity crowd jammed City Hall Library in September 2015 to hear results of an "in need of redevelopment" study for the campus. The former hospital building was described as too far deteriorated to be used for anything, but the owners and city officials agreed not to use eminent domain to take the site.

 A satellite emergency department was relocated from the hospital to another building, leaving a 10-acre parcel available for redevelopment.

Next, the city hired a real estate company in December 2015 to solicit and evaluate proposals for the site look at possible uses. In January, Councilwoman Diane Toliver suggested at a council meeting that the site should be used for a new municipal complex that would locate all city services under one roof.

In March, the city issued a "Request for Proposals" notice for the site.

As described on the city website, on Monday "The topic of discussion will be the proposed redevelopment of the former Muhlenberg Hospital site Don’t miss this opportunity to get an understanding of the development process and the function of the proposed structure."


Saturday, July 9, 2016

Follow the Bouncing Meeting Schedule

According to a phone message Friday, Mayor Adrian O. Mapp is holding a Town Hall Meeting at 7 p.m. Monday in the Senior Center, 400 E. Front St. The topic is the future of the Muhlenberg site.

There is a flier on the city web site about it (click the link).

Unfortunately the city website also lists an agenda-fixing session Monday at 7:30 p.m. in Municipal Court. This meeting was canceled last week, as was the regular meeting on July 18. Instead, there will now be a Special Meeting at 7 p.m. on July 18 in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave., replacing the two previously scheduled council meetings.

So if you are interested, mark your calendar:

Town Hall on Muhlenberg plans
7 p.m. Monday, July11
Senior Center
400 E. Front St.

Special City Council Meeting
7:30 p.m. Monday, July 18
Municipal Court
325 Watchung Ave.

Mapp Urges Cooperation, Unity at Rally

"We are here this evening because we care ...We are here because we love our children and we love each other. We love this city of Plainfield ... we are here because we want to develop solutions."
--Mayor Adrian O. Mapp
Residents crowded the rotunda of City Hall Friday for a rally on public safety. The city suffered six homicides in recent weeks and the nation has been shocked this week by .two police shootings of black men and the sniper killing of five police officers.  

With the clearing of afternoon storms. the rally was moved outside.

Assemblyman Gerald Green (left), city officials and clergy assembled in front of City Hall.

Without detailed references to the local and national shootings, Mapp said,"We feel the pain of lives lost" before talking about solutions and strategies for "a healthier, safer Plainfield." 
With his wife Amelia at his side, Mapp said of the victims of gun violence, "All these deaths are unnecessary."
Over almost half an hour, Mapp reviewed crime reduction strategies, programs to engage young people, advances in goals for employment and education and the need to collaborate on solutions. 
Anti-crime strategies include daily real-time analysis of incidents and crimes, rapid deployment, division-wide community policing, "intelligence-led" and problem-solving policing, all of which represent "a new management and organizational philosophy," Mapp said.
Mapp said police raids over the past two years resulted in the removal of 105 guns from the street. Fifteen new officers been hired and two more will begin academy training this month. All are Plainfield residents. "We want to make sure that the officers you see patrolling your neighborhoods are people you know and trust," Mapp said. 
"Since 2014 when my administration introduced these new policing strategies, we have seen a drop of 22 percent in violent crime. Plainfield is safer today than it was 30 months ago when I took office," Mapp said.

He described new daily walking patrols, programs to strengthen ties between police and youth including mentoring for 50 young people and PBA community cookouts in all four wards.
Mapp called jobs "a large part of the solution" and talked about job fairs as well as summer youth employment for 170 young people and 20 adults, 
The Plainfield Youth Council has been revived and will provide "a direct line of communication between the youth of Plainfield and my administration and will provide leadership opportunities for our teenage citizens," Mapp said.
Other plans include a youth summit, funding for qualified students at Union County College, starter funds and financial literacy education for young children "to help break the cycle of poverty and violence." Public pools are open until 6 p.m. and children receive breakfast and lunch at pools, he said. City parks are open every day with numerous activities sponsored by the Recreation Division.

"We will continue to spend time and resources on Plainfield's youth" to find ways to engage them and keep them off the streets, Mapp said.
Mapp pledged to work tirelessly against crime and for changes to current gun laws. "your safety and happiness are my top priority," he said. He urged any Plainfielders who want to become involved in city commissions, committees and community groups to "please come and see me."

Mapp concluded with a poem by James Patrick Kinney, "The Cold Within," and called on all to "save each other so that in the process we save ourselves."