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Monday, December 29, 2008

'08's Top 10 - No. 3: Development: The meltdown hits Plainfield

Counting down toward 2009, Plainfield Today will be posting the top 10 stories of '08 that readers have found of interest, measured by number of views.

Today, Number
3: Development: The market meltdown hits Plainfield.

"The market meltdown hits Plainfield"

Talk in Congress has been of protecting the interests of Main Street while dealing with the bailout of Wall Street.

Well, Plainfield has two things to tell those in Congress: 1) here, we call it 'Front Street' not 'Main Street', and 2) you're too late.

Though work continues -- apparently at a snail's pace -- on Dornoch's Monarch at Plainfield senior center/condo project, there has been an ominous silence on the sales front.

Dornoch's Monarch at Plainfield. Named after who?

Some time ago, the Council approved the use of a vacant city-owned lot across the street as a sales center for the project, but no sales trailer has appeared to date.

Meanwhile, the Heartstone proposal by Clay Bonny for 12 market-rate condos on West Front Street between the Horizons unit and McDonald's has fallen completely off the radar.

Rumors that the developers have met their demise appear to be premature.

Dornoch plods along in Plainfield, and in Rahway actually got under way (finally) with steel work on its 36-unit Savoy condo project in late July (see here). Bowing to changes in the market, Clay Bonny just won approval from Rahway's planning board to rejigger his 80-unit Station Place condo project into a 116-unit RENTAL project instead (more here).

There are whispers that Omnipointe, whose plans to build a large residential/retail complex on the G.O. Keller site at South and Leland Avenues, have been the subject of much speculation, is rethinking its proposal. Seems that research suggests there is currently no market for its favored mix of doctors' offices, health-allied businesses and condos at this location. (Anyone witnessing the fight over closing Muhlenberg might have guessed as much.) Did I mention that their attorneys are Wiener Lesniak?

The market meltdown is making it difficult for everyone in the development daisy-chain:
  • Construction loans for developers are harder to come by;

  • Banks are skittish about mortgages where property values -- even on new construction -- are in decline;

  • Buyers are nervous about investing in a down market as to whether their purchase would soon be 'under water'.
Small wonder then, that developers throughout central New Jersey are turning to local governments to approve conversions from condo to rental projects.

The possibility must be considered that both Dornoch and Bonny would approach Plainfield with such a request. This would be a bitter pill indeed for the administration of Assemblyman Jerry Green and Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, who have staked the success of her term on successful residential/retail development.

The mayor's 'Pocket Park' -- The political equivalent of planting ivy?

And it helps to explain why Robinson-Briggs, with an eye toward her putative run for a second term but without consulting the Council or getting a (necessary) resolution of approval, unilaterally declared the vacant spot on which Bonny proposed his Heartstone condo project into a vest-pocket park. (For a previous story on the park, see 'Plainfield's latest park not it's greatest'.)

Whether or not John Lennon actually said it, it is certainly true that 'life is what happens while you're planning something else'.

UPDATE: Sort of like Alice down the rabbit hole, things get curiouser and curiouser. Dornoch's Savoy project in Rahway has come to a complete stop and neither principal Glen Fishman nor his attorney are returning phone calls from Mayor Kennedy or his staff. Meanwhile, the Senior Center project in Plainfield has noticeably picked up steam since September. A sales trailer has been installed on the vacant lot across the corner. Will the units actually be sold, or will they become rentals? That question is s till up in the air, but a report in the NY Times (see here) says Union County's unsold real estate inventory currently stands in excess of 13 months. If you drive by Mayor Robinson-Briggs' 'pocket park' where the Heartstone project was supposed to be, you will note the sign is gone. Will the new developer actually get anything under way in 2009? We'll have to wait and see.

-- Dan Damon

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