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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Readers' Picks: Top ten stories for 2008 - Number 8

As we count down toward 2009, Plainfield Today will be posting the top ten stories, as measured by the number of views, that readers have found of interest in 2008.

Today, Number 8, from July 14, 2008.

Council discusses troublesome South Avenue zoning changes

Note: Click on a colored area to see some of the proposed changes.
Mapping required giving each segment a unique name (West, Center, East),
which is not part of the zoning proposal language.

Plainfield's City Council will take up proposed zoning changes this evening, designed to designate a 'transit-oriented development' (TOD) area bracketing the Netherwood train station between South Avenue and the railroad. On the west, the zone would start with the property line bounding the City Yard (which is NOT included) and extend eastward to include the KFC property just past the point where Pacific Street enters South Avenue.

The map above is an approximation based on the official documents. Clicking on any one of the colored segments brings up a memo box with SOME of the changes the proposal will make (with the current requirements in parentheses).

Why is it troublesome?

It is troublesome because it gives the game away before it is even played.

The heart and soul of development is the negotiation of the conditions between the parties: the City and the developer.

Proposals like the one that will be discussed tonight do the community a disservice by giving up all the points on which the City could negotiate and setting the stage for developers to make even more intrusive or unpalatable stipulations ... 'or we'll walk'.

I am not opposed to
'transit-oriented development' (TOD) in principle, and this proposal actually makes much more sense than previous ones backed by the Robinson-Briggs administration which didn't meet the minimum specification in terms of distance to a train station. Who says people can't learn from experience?

(The earlier South Avenue project on the Carfaro property was denied by the zoning board; the Capodagli proposal for the currrent PMUA property on the north side of the railroad has since collapsed -- it never met the requirements for distance from a train station.)

In fact, the conditions proposed in the zoning changes might actually be (at least mostly -- I am eternally suspicious of providing insufficient parking) ones that the City would be willing to arrive at AFTER A SUCCESSFUL NEGOTIATION WITH A DEVELOPER.

One also has to ask 'why now'?

Market conditions are not particularly conducive to mixed-use residential/commercial projects at this time. The New York Times yesterday provided an overview of a number of high-profile New Jersey development projects, including the Esperanza at Asbury Park, that have stumbled (see more here). In Cranford, the upscale TOD Cranford Crossing is having difficulty get all its units sold.

Closer to home, Dornoch's project for a combination Senior Center and condos ('they'll be just as nice as Cranford Crossing,' Assemblyman Green once told the Seniors at a meeting I attended) has ground almost to a halt -- as even Mayor Robinson-Briggs admitted. There is no sales trailer on the vacant city-owned lot the Council agreed to let Dornoch use, and all the talk now is of the units being rentals instead of sales. Just what we need, more renters and fewer taxpayers. What a comedown that would be after all the promises made by the Assemblyman and Robinson-Briggs!

If, as rumored, Commerce Bank (and its new owner, Toronto Dominion Bancorp) were to move forward in developing the G.O. Keller property at South and Leland, the question would still remain about whether and when the market for CONDOS as opposed to rentals will recover. Especially after you digest the news about mortgage guarantors Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac coming out today.

Is the Administration anxious to make the zoning change now because it feels the Council may have more spine after new members take their seats next January?

evelopment has a lot in common with poker -- including bluffing, calling and winning the pot.

A poker player would never show you his hand.

Adopting the proposed zoning changes for a Netherwood TOD would be the equivalent of a poker player laying all their cards face up on the table.

Would you want such a player gambling with YOUR chips?

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Anonymous said...

Can the city get its money back from all the Consultants used by this Administration ??? We could help out the Car Industry by purcashing a new fleet of patrol cars.