The needler in the haystack.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Planning Board hands off Muhlenberg ball to Council

The handoff: Now the success of the play is in
someone else's hands.

Plainfield's Planning Board unanimously adopted a resolution declaring the former Muhlenberg Hospital property as "in need of redevelopment". The measure now goes to City Council for further action.

After hearing the report and proposal from its consultant, H2M Associates, the board discussed its fourfold options: a declaration for "redevelopment" or "rehabilitation" and a "condemnatory" or a "non-condemnatory" plan.

Referring several times to JFK as the city's "partner" in the redevelopment process, H2M's Jennifer Giorgianni, walked the board through the report. H2M's recommendation was to adopt the broadest declaration ("redevelopment") since it would give the City "more negotiating room" and the less hostile form ("non-condemnatory"), meaning that the power of eminent domain would not be used.

It was painful to hear the recitation of the shabby state into which JFK has allowed the Muhlenberg complex to fall since it was closed in 2008.

It seemed clear to me that allowing the property to so severely deteriorate indicates that JFK intended to "waste" (a technical term) its assets in order to discourage any possible rehabilitation of the building for any health-related purposes.

That would have been part of a strategy to fend off any health- or medical-related uses for the facility.

The City Council now must decide what to do next. It can approve the Planning Board's designation and direct the Planning Board to prepare -- or have prepared for it -- a redevelopment plan, which would then come back to the Council for approval.

Or it can do nothing.

Homeowners in the area surrounding the now-shuttered Muhlenberg property should keep in mind that all of this may mean that residential development will be on the table going forward.

It was not made clear if the Council will take up the proposed recommendation at its meeting next Tuesday (Monday is Labor Day) or if it will not come up until October.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, September 3, 2015

Rescheduled Muhlenberg site discussion is tonight

Map of the Muhlenberg Hospital site
as prepared by Heyer Gruel Associates.

The rescheduled discussion on the Muhlenberg Hospital site's "in need of redevelopment" study is on the docket for tonight's Planning Board meeting set for 7:30 PM at City Hall Library.

The discussion was rescheduled from August owing to a technical deficiency in the legal notice.

The Planning Board has had a study prepared to give them guidance on deciding whether or not the property qualifies as in need of redevelopment. An affirmative vote on the questions by the Board will move the matter to the City Council, where any final decision must be made.

The report and maps are currently available for inspection at the Planning Division offices on the second floor of City Hall between 9:00 AM and 4:30 PM.

The public will have an opportunity to speak at the Board meeting.

Experience with the Council's behavior at this past Monday's special council meeting on the South Avenue PILOT gives rise to speculation whether a Council majority will give a repeat performance if and when it must decide on the Muhlenberg redevelopment study.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, September 2, 2015

South Avenue PILOT: Council's hole card peeped? Dan criticized

Was a Council majority trying to extort
the Mapp administration?

Has the Plainfield City Council's hole card been peeped?

As poker players will tell you, the hole card is dealt face down, is used to assess the player's bidding strategy, and is not revealed until the showdown.

Seems to me that the question of a Council majority using the quest of Messrs. Dunn, Sanders and the Housing Authority's hapless director Randall Wood, as a quid pro quo for the PILOT approval has been put squarely on the table by Mayor Mapp's remarks and the observations of bloggers Bernice (see here) and Olddoc (see here).

And that, in my mind, comes close to "extortion", a criminal offense of "obtaining money, property, or services from a person, entity, or institution, through coercion" (see more here).

The cast of characters involved brings to mind the Plainfield Health Center's construction a number of years ago. One person did some serious time in the slammer as a result, though the community sentiment was that he took the rap so that others could walk.

Two questions now come to mind --

  • Will the Council majority try this maneuver again -- say with any proposed Muhlenberg Hospital project? and

  • Is there a trail of breadcrumbs here? And, if so, where does it lead?
Time for all to start scrutinizing Council actions very closely.


Reader Alan Goldstein sent the following email the day after the Council vote on the proposed South Avenue PILOT --

I was there, and I spoke in favor of the PILOT.  But even I will admit that most spoke out against the agreement.  Why you choose to misinform your readers is a real question.
What I said was most commenters were for it, some were against it and many had questions (see the post here).

Some who were against the proposal had special -- if undisclosed -- interests (Messrs. Dunn, Lattimore and Johnson come to mind).

Mr. Crownover opposed the PILOT (though not the project) because he thinks there is a better way -- and offered his experience in Metuchen as an example.

Mr. Kaercher held the parking issues had not been sufficiently addressed, and was not happy that he has paid school taxes all these years (without having kids in the schools) and the PILOT would exempt the projects owners. But was that a clear "no"?

Mr. Goldstein and Netherwood Heights resident Jim Spear both spoke clearly -- and eloquently -- in favor of the project.

Goldstein called it "a step in the right direction" and Spear reminded the Council that "ultimately, [such] development would bring in more tax dollars".

My years of experience in selling real estate have taught me that seeming to be opposed to something (say making an offer on a particular house) may really just mean that there are questions, and that if properly addressed and resolved, the person may not object to the proposition at all in the end.

So, my take on most of those who raised questions was that they were not in opposition necessarily -- if their questions could be addressed.

I might add that Councilor Storch wrangled with Council President Rivers over exactly this matter -- getting answers to some of these questions. And she resisted.

In any event, these were public comments, not a referendum. Besides, as we may now surmise, the Council had already determined on a course of action.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Plainfield Council's message to developers: Don't come here looking to do business

Some of the overflow crowd that filled City Hall Library
for last night's special Council meeting. Seated at the table
(backs to camera) are Councilors Toliver and Storch.

Maybe Lenin was right.

In a famous book on how things don't develop in an easy, straight line fashion, he came up with the catchy title "One step forward, two steps back".

That seems to summarize Plainfield's development efforts.

With an overflow crowd at a special meeting of Plainfield's City Council Monday evening, twenty people spoke out passionately about the proposed 212-apartment South Avenue d

Most were for it, some were against and many had questions about details.

The five Council members present (Greaves, Storch, Toliver, Williams and Council President Rivers) listened courteously and attentively to all, some of whom were quite eloquent.

Among points made --
  • Developers are watching this project as an indication of what others might expect if they approach the city;

  • Local contractors and laborers need to be provided for in set-asides;

  • Parking provisions may not be adequate;

  • The public schools would not benefit with any tax revenues, though there is a high probability of some impact with some children living in the apartments.
There were also several points of misinformation --
  • One speaker thought the project called for 400 rental units (it's 212);

  • Another suggested the PILOT for the Park-Madison project was a failure (it's not);

  • Those pleading for set-asides evidently had not read the proposed agreement (which does include a provision for local set-asides).
Councilor Storch and Council President Rivers sparred briefly over whether Deputy City Administrator for Economic Development Carlos Sanchez would be allowed to address some of these questions.

Rivers finally relented and Storch asked Sanchez about several issues, including why the 30-year term ("financing would only be available on a 30-year deal"), why the local set-aside was 10% ("the developer has sub-contractors that help him control his costs"), and whether the PILOT was essential ("without a PILOT, this $50 million project will not happen in Plainfield").

Rivers graciously consented to Mayor Adrian Mapp addressing the Council before the vote.

Mapp reiterated the arguments for the project, including that other developers are keeping an eye on how Plainfield handles this one as an indicator of future possibilities. He noted that local municipalities don't have the tools that other jurisdictions can use -- the only tool they have is a PILOT.

He also heaped scorn on unnamed "local developers" who wanted the City to give them two public parking lots as parcels on which to build, reminding everyone that in the project under consideration, this developer had assembled -- at his own coast -- the eleven subject properties into a parcel.

When the vote went down on the PILOT, it was defeated 3-2 with Rivers, Greaves and Toliver against, and Storch and Wiliams in favor.

So, unless there is a miracle, there will be no new apartments at Plainwood Square.

There will be no "walking wallets" shopping in the neighborhood.

There will be no construction jobs for anyone, black, white or Hispanic, local or not.

And that is that. The Council has spoken.

Plainfield takes one step forward, and two steps back.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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