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Monday, July 15, 2019

Update on residential construction projects: South Avenue, Muhlenberg, Grant Avenue

The first of two buildings in the Gateway complex
as of Sunday, July 14. With appliances delivered
and the curbing in place, it seems alll that is neede
is the landscaping. The second building is taking longer.

When a neighbor told me they had seen appliances being delivered to the first of two buildings making up the South Avenue residential project (across from the Dairy Queen), I thought it time to catch up on the various projects around town.


The $50M project on South Avenue, consisting of two buildings plus parking and amenities, will bring 212 luxury apartments to the area. As part of the deal, the Plainwood Square Park is to be improved.

When demolition got under way in 2016 (see my post here), the project was proposed to be ready for occupancy in September, 2019.

With the delivery of appliances to completed building, that target may be reached. However, the second building is far from being finished -- in fact, the elevator towers are up and the wood framing of the first floor is under way. I'm guessing summer of 2020 for completion if all goes well.


This rendering on the fencing surrounding the project
gives an idea of what the total project will look like.

The Muhlenberg residential/medical arts project is arguably Mayor Mapp's most ambitious and complicated development project.

When it was proposed in the summer of 2014 (see my report here), it was the subject of a monster meeting in the PHS cafeteria that brought out hundreds of residents in the affected area. Needless to say, they were highly skeptical of the project, which was fuzzy about exactly who would live in the proposed apartments.

Nevertheless, the Council signed off and the deal went forward. Demolition of parts of the old Muhlenberg Hospital got under way in August of 2018.

According to the terms of the development agreement, the residential portion of the project is supposed to be completed in 18 months -- that would be a target of early 2020.

I must say that as I pass by three times a week on my way to dialysis, there does not seem to be that much activity going on. Though the vermin and critters that had taken up residence have been removed and it seems the asbestos has been abated, there is little sign of further activity save for several windows that have been punched out.

Since this involves repurposing some of the existing complex, much of the work will take place out of sight, so it is hard to know just from the outside the status of the project.

Nevertheless, the leisurely pace to date makes me think that the January/February 2020 completion date is overly optimistic at best.

Then we must also remember that the developer (Community Healthcare Associates -- CHA) has up to five years to complete the medical arts wing that will face Park Avenue.


This rendering is from the corner of Grant Avenue
and South Second Street. The white building in the
right rear is the already completed ABC building.

Last up is Patrick Terborg's project at Grant Avenue and South Second Street, which has been on the books for some time (see my post here).

With the financing finally in place, actual construction began this summer. The elevator tower for the 90-unit building has been erected and it looks like the slab on which the building will rest is being prepared right now.

When completed, this project will be the first development in the Fourth Ward in more than forty years. More than overdue, in my opinion.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, July 14, 2019

Is ICE dampening Plainfield's Multicultural Festival?

Roasted corn, slathered with mayo and coated
with grated, sharp cheese. Delicious!

This weekend is the Multicultural Festival sponsored by Edison Garcia, owner of Las Faraones Club on Front Street.

The carnival crews began arriving on Thursday and by Friday afternoon, the rides and games were set up in Lot 8.

When I dropped by Saturday afternoon, the traffic was very light. Going back in the evening, the crowds were better but definitely not up to previous iterations of this festival -- which Garcia has been putting on for ten years now.

Something else was different: The crowd was mostly families with children. In previous years there had been huge numbers of single men, crowding Lot 8A directly behind the night club, where the beer tents and the bandstand were set up.

Though the setup was the same, the crowd in this area was decidedly thinner.

Coincidentally, this is the weekend that President Trump announced ICE would be making roundups in ten cities across the country.

Though Plainfield is not on the list, ICE has recently been active in the Queen City I am told, and the threat of their presence makes many people -- even citizens -- nervous.

Nevertheless, the Festival is a fun event with some fun games of skill, tons of trinkets and Tee-shirts and fabulous food offerings.

The Festival continues today (Sunday, July 14) from Noon to 8:00 PM. Parking is available in the lot on the other side of Watchung Avenue and on Front Street.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, July 12, 2019

Is 'Where's Carlos' Plainfield's new parlor game?

'Where's Waldo' is a popular game and activity.

P​​lainfield's newest parlor game may be: Where's Carlos?

Plainfield Today readers may be familiar with the game 'Where's Waldo', where players try to pick out a character in red and white somewhere in a crowded drawing of people and activities.

Well, now we have our own variation on the theme -- Where's Carlos?

Carlos Sanchez, Mayor Adrian O. Mapp's second Business Administrator (the new term for the old City Administrator position) is no more.

Though unlike Mapp's previous BA Rick Smiley, Sanchez had no Master's degree in public administration, he was Mapp's personal choice for the job based on his 'experience' as the story went at the time of his appointment.

And everything seemed ducky, right up to the end.

Sanchez was always on hand at Council meetings (save for his hospitalization for a heart issue) as well as mayoral publicity opportunities and campaign rallies.

He even got to go on the recent Hawaii trip with Mayor Mapp's 8-person entourage.

Everything seemed fine when they got back last Tuesday. And he was reportedly in a jovial mood, bantering with staff and officials at Thursday's July 4th events.

Since many people took Friday as a holiday, Monday was really the first full day back at work for most people, including Sanchez. There was no hint of anything wrong.

And then,it seems, Council was alerted late in the afternoon that Sanchez was out as of that day and that Municipal Clerk 'Ajay' Jalloh was acting Business Administrator -- as he had been during the recent storm when most senior officials were in Hawaii.

Residents attending Monday's Council meeting noted that department heads were summoned to a brief meeting with Mayor Mapp outside of the Council chambers before the Council meeting began, where he evidently gave them the news.

It did not take long for Plainfield watchers to start wondering: Did he jump or was he pushed?

It was always assumed that Sanchez -- whose experience at managing a workforce of more than 500 and policy and programmatic issues covering dozens of areas of specialization and expertise was thin at best -- was put in the slot exactly because he would do exactly as he was told.

He did not seem to disappoint.

Without giving any details, Mayor Mapp on Tuesday advised employees that Sanchez was leaving in two weeks, though his final work day had been Monday (July 8).

So, if it's unlikely the reason is that Sanchez had any sharp disagreement with Mayor Mapp, there are two other possibilities.

1) Did he fail to do something important?

And 2) could he have done something he shouldn't have (perhaps in regard to his personal behavior)?

I am recalling here that when former Recreation Superintendent Dave Wynn had been discovered to have been raking off cash in an illegal scheme, he was given the option of resigning forthwith or having the matter referred to the County Prosecutor. This is not to imply anything about Sanchez, except to say impromptu resignation has been used as a tool before by the Mapp administration.

Or perhaps it was some unacceptable personal activity which,  though not illegal, could have proven embarrassing to the Mapp administration's public image.

While it has always been the policy of city administrations -- no matter who is mayor -- not to comment on personnel matters, nevertheless the rumor mills will grind until a satisfying narrative is honed.

So far, I haven't heard a word. Does that suggest he is not missed?

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Memorial gathering for Bob Bender this Saturday

Bob Bender, longtime Plainfield
resident and activist to be remembered.

Plainfield friends and neighbors of the late Bob Bender are invited to a memorial gathering this Saturday afternoon (July 13) at 2:00 PM at the Rutgers Labor Center (full details below).

Bob passed away suddenly in April, just days shy of his 80th birthday. Many will remember that Bob and Patty (who was Director of the Plainfield Senior Center for many years) lived for nearly fifty years on West 7th Street, raised their boys -- Nat and Dan -- here, and were active in Plainfield Democratic politics, including the New Democrats.

In addition, Bob and Patty helped found the 'Children of the Rainbow' progressive school here in Plainfield, which was an alternative school for many in the community well before charter schools were even a thought.

Bob and Patty and I were friends from the first moment I met Patty at the Senior Center. I very much enjoyed spending time with them in their spacious and airy West 7th Street home.

Though we had never met before Plainfield, we learned we had crossed paths many times in the 60s and 70s in the course of civil rights and anti-war activism. Though we would sometimes reminisce, Bob was not one for soaking in memories. To the last, he was a man of action in support of justice and the rights of minorities and oppressed peoples.

What I was surprised to learn from his obituary (which you can see here) is that Bob came to New Jersey in the early 1960s as the head of Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), a liberal group in its heyday in that period.

It was at that time in Newark that he met Patty Ganley (they organized buses to the March on Washington). They soon married and settled to Plainfield while both were in graduate school.

Bob was involved with Plainfield's Model Cities program (a spin-off from LBJ's 'War on Poverty'). The current Plainfield Action Services (PAS) is the last remnant of the Model Cities era, along with the Plainfield Health Center. Bob also worked for the Spanish Community Organization of Plainfield, and the NJ Puerto Rican Congress.

What inspired me once I had met them was that Bob and Patty would spend vacation time demonstrating for peace and justice -- particularly at the notorious 'school for assassins' at Ft. Benning, which trained the murderous police and armies of repressive Central and South American dictatorships.

Bob also loved to sing and was a member of the Solidarity Singers and Pete Seeger's famous Clearwater Walkabout Chorus. There will be a singalong after the tributes and remembrances, so feel free to bring along an instrument.

All are invited to gather at the Rutgers Labor Education Center at 2:00 PM --

Rutgers Labor Education Center
50 Labor Center Way
New Brunswick
(Cook College exit)

--- Map and directions here (PDF)
--- Register for FREE parking here (you may be ticketed if you don't) -- or park behind the Sears and walk over.

The Labor Center is on the Cook Campus, just off Route 1 and is easy to get to. Looking forward to seeing you there!

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, July 7, 2019

Council's July double-header Monday a snorer?

You may want to bring a pillow to
Plainfield's City Council double-header.
Pillow And Blanket Clipart image

City Council meets Monday in it's July double-header.

A scan of the agenda suggests it may be a snorer. There is a lot of housekeeping business on the agenda --

  • Plainfield is looking to purchase electricity in an online auction from EMEX -- saving the city approximately $6,400.

  • Seven bond ordinances from 2008 through 2017 are being combined into one $24.6M bond issue, and $6.725M in bond anticipation notes are to be issued.

  • An actuarial valuation of Plainfield's current post-retirement healthcare plan is needed to fulfill an accounting standards requirement.

  • The DPW is placing liens to the tune of $23K+ for 2 boardups and cleanups at properties on the following streets: East 2nd (x2), Belleview (x4), W. 5th (x3), E. 3rd, Madison, Carlton (x2), Academy, Spruce, Terrill, Rock, Pineview, Inwood, North, Netherwood, Marlborough, West 2nd, West 4th, West 6th, Pemberton, and Belvidere (twice). Multiple locations indicated by (xX). Belleview Avenue seems to have a lot of trouble. Are these foreclosures?

  • Plainfield's new SID replacement is applying for a $25K grant to prepare a marketing plan (good idea).

  • The new West Front Street redevelopment area is back on the agenda: rescinding the original resolution because of a screw-up in the properties designated it seems.

  • The old Muhlenberg Hospital parking lot on Park Avenue between Randolph and Laramies is being recommended for a Planning Board study of whether it's in need of redevelopment. The attached map has a penciled notation calling it 'Park Avenue Gateway'. Hmmm... This might be the sleeper in the snorer, or maybe when the topic comes back next time.

There are two proposed ordinances --

  • The first is to move a NJ Transit bus stop on Terrill Road between the current 7-Eleven and the proposed new driveway for the Wawa that's coming. Seems the bus stop has not been in the right location all along. How'd that happen?

  • The second proposed ordinance is to amend the registration requirements and fees on vacant and boarded properties. This is a bit of a puzzle, because all the online document contains is the substitution of the of the words 'registerable properties' for 'vacant' in the introduction. The balance of the old ordinance is in strike-through, which usually indicates deletion -- but there is no new text. Maybe more will come to light Monday?

City Council meets for a combined agenda and business session at 7:00 PM in the Council Chambers / Courthouse at Watchung Avenue and East 4th Street. Parking available on the street and in the lot across from Police Headquarters.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, July 1, 2019

Councilors Davis and Armady rise to the challenge of Saturday's storm emergency

Councilor Davis posted a selfie with Councilor
Armady while they were out assessing the damage.

Plainfield's least senior elected officials -- Councilor Ashley Davis (Ward 1) and Councilor Elton Armady (Citywide at-large) -- suddenly became its most senior elected officials Saturday evening (June 29), when Mother Nature threw a spitball at the Queen City. (Councilor Storch, the most senior Council member, was out of town.)

With all of Plainfield's Most Important People at a conference in Honolulu, the junior elected officials were left to deal with the emergency situation generated by the storm that came out of nowhere to wreak damage in some sections of the city, while the rest barely noticed the tempest.

Davis and Armady joined an emergency meeting of Police, Fire, Public Works to deal with the situation. Word in the street is that Municipal Clerk "Ajay" Jalloh was left in charge in the absence of the Mayor and the Business Administrator, though I am not aware of any public announcement to that effect.

The two also toured the affected areas -- with Superintendent of Public Works John Louise as their guide -- to assess the damage from downed trees and wires. The most severe damage was in the Second Ward, with one area in the First Ward, and a power outage affecting the entire Senior residence Cedar Brook Towers (1272 Park Avenue).

No lives were lost and property damage appeared to be mostly minimal (except for Councilor Storch, whose garage was demolished by a falling tree, with his son's car inside it).

Once PSE&G cleared away downed wires, crews got to work cutting up the downed trees and removing the debris. DPW trucks and crews were seen hard at work all day Sunday cleaning up the mess.

I got a storm alert from Somerset County Safety on my phone shortly after 5:00 PM.

The storm hit the West End towards 5:30 and -- at least in our neighborhood -- lasted for only a minute or two. My driveway was barely wet.

Jenn Popper posted this PSE&G map of downed wires.

It wasn't until I started to put the CLIPS blog together around 9:00 PM that I came across Jenn Popper's coverage of the storm (see her story here). She posted several photos of downed trees in areas that she was able to get to and information from PSE&G on service outages.

Councilor Davis posted to her Facebook page (see here) several times over the weekend -- warning people to avoid downed wires, advising of an emergency meeting, and noting nearly total cleanup by Sunday afternoon (with power out initially to 1800 homes, only 150 were without power Sunday afternoon).

Councilor Davis is a model of staying in touch with constituents that others could emulate to their benefit.

Thankfully, it wasn't necessary to contact the Governor's office to invoke a state of emergency, but the experience ought to cause city officials to reconsider the wisdom of its apparently secretive policy (if, indeed, there is one) of denoting a chain of command when so many officials -- the Mayor, four Councilors, and the Business Administrator, the Mayor's Chief of Staff, and the Director of Economic Development -- are out of the city at the same time.

Establishing a standardized, formalized designation of a chain of command would seem, after this close escape, to be a matter of prudence, as well as reassuring to the public.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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