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Friday, August 14, 2009

Public not crazy about condo tax abatements

The crowd of over 50 Plainfield residents who turned out for last night's Town Hall meeting at the duCret School of Art was not crazy about the Robinson-Briggs' administration's proposed 5-year tax abatement on the East Front Street condo project.

As person after person stepped to the microphone, it became clear that there are many unanswered questions weighing on the public's mind. And a lot of them have to do with what is NOT SAID by the Robinson-Briggs administration about the proposal as much as what IS SAID.

Ward 3 Councilor Adrian Mapp, who hosted the meeting, opened by explaining the two main kinds of tax abatements allowed under NJ law and said the evening would be devoted to hearing from residents what they thought of the administration's proposal, which was available as a handout, along with other materials on tax abatements.

Residents did not understand why such a proposal would be used to help the developer formerly known as Dornoch Plainfield sell its units but could not be used to help distressed Plainfield homeowners attract buyers.

They did not understand how the developer could be having such a hard time after all the breaks he had already been given.

They found situating 'luxury' condos next door to the well-known Ben Franklin Liquor Store risible.

They wondered how the Senior Center could ever open if the certificate of occupancy depended on finishing all kitchens and baths and that depended on selling all units, all this with an October deadline only weeks away and fewer than a dozen units sold since March with none of the sales closed.

They wanted to know what would happen if the developer couldn't sell the units -- would they become rentals? would the banks foreclose?

And they wondered what kind of a deal Mayor Robinson-Briggs and Assemblyman Jerry Green had gotten Plainfield into if the annual costs to the city for the new Senior Center were now going to be on the order of $179,000 when the current rental space runs the city far less per year (a figure of $100,000 was mentioned).

Councilor Mapp recognized fellow Council members Annie McWilliams and Cory Storch, as well as Board of Ed members Bridget Rivers, Wilma Campbell and Brenda Gilbert who were also in attendance. Although Mapp had told Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson at Monday's agenda-setting session that all were residents welcome, including himself, the Mayor and others, no one from the Robinson-Briggs administration was in attendance.

The entire evening was videotaped and Mapp said it would be submitted to Plainfield's public access channel, PCTV-74, as well as posted on YouTube with links from his blog (see the blog here).

The YouTube suggestion was made by mayoral candidate Jim Pivnichny's son, to nods of approval -- and some laughter -- after it was pointed out many could not access PCTV-74, even if the Robinson-Briggs administration was able to post the video.

Before ending the meeting, Mapp pointed out that a contact information sheet for the complete City Council was available as a handout, and reminded attendees how important their attendance would be at next Monday's Council business meeting, where it is expected the Robinson-Briggs administration will try to have the ordinance put on the agenda after it fell short of support last Monday.

Though suspicious and critical of the Robinson-Briggs administration, the meeting was overall good-natured, and reminded me of Plainfield meetings of the past, where people stayed long after the meeting was over to chat about other goings on in the community.

Sort of like old-fashioned unity in the community.

City Council Business Meeting

8 PM | Monday, August 17

Council Chambers/Municipal Court

Watchung Avenue at East 4th Street

-- Dan Damon

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Anonymous said...

Where was Jerry and Sharon?

Doesn't this issue and the views of their constituents matter to them? Or, are they simply interested in railroading the community into another failed project?

Anonymous said...

A pay-to-play ploy if ever there was one! This project has foreclosure written all over it- regardless of whether these are for-sale condos or rental apartments. Tax abatement is a ruse which only draws the city and tax-payers into this debacle. Citizens have reason to question or better yet be mad about city politicans inability to say no!! The reason: by not backing the Green-Briggs-Lesniack team they will fall out of favor with the party machine, that for decades has systematically beaten this once great community into the back water of history.

Anonymous said...

Even if the outcry was double the amount that was in attendance, I doubt if it would have any affect on a council vote. If they had the votes to pass this resolution before the meeting, they will have the votes when it comes time to vote. Only on rare occassions have I ever seen council swayed by public outcry. And that is why politics in Plainfield is what it is. It's been that way since the early 80's and I doubt thagt it will change any time soon.

Anonymous said...

The obvious explanation is that Fishman agreed to rush the construction of the senior center for it's pre-primary photo-op, which was instrumental in securing the senior voters, in return for the administration sponsoring a tax abatement designed to improve Dornach's slim chances of selling the condos.

I think that also explains why the city has been so coy about the whole thing: it's not really their plan, but just part of a deal. That's why Dashield (or Williamson) suggested that Fishman make a presentation at the meeting. They were willing to hold up their end of the bargain but not take the unexpectedly high heat.

After all, they already got their payoff, Sharon II.

Anonymous said...

I was really surprised that more councilors and the administration didn't come to the meeting. Oh I'm sure they had "prior" commitments. Yeah right. I don't think they have the votes to pass this, since Mapp, Storch and McWilliams will be voting no. And Burney just as much said he was voting no. So many of the questions have not been answered. They can't get a C of O if the inside of the apartments aren't completed. They can't open the senior center or veterans space. By the way, the senior center rooms are painted in very bright colors, bright enough for a DAY CARE CENTER to move into the space. That would be a commercial use. Also why hasn't the administration answered the question of why the ordinance says that the condos are on top of commercial space when they are not?

Anonymous said...

This building was Assembly Jerry Green idea. He sold the idea to the seniors,that the senior space in the bulding would be FREE,and $400,000.per year in taxes for the city. (REMEMBER HE FIRST TRY SELLING THE LAND TO A BANK, AFTER THE BANK WOULD NOT BUY IT HE CAME TO THE SENIORS WITH THIS IDEA.)

Anonymous said...

You mentioned Annie McWilliams in attendance. Was that really "attending". She left just as the first Plainfield speaker approached the microphone.

What was that all about???!!! Was that her way of just making a presence but not listening to what the Plainfielders had to say???!!!

Anonymous said...

The voters of Plainfield are to blame. The chance to remove this corrupt and incompetent administration was dangled before them and they blew it. I agree that photo ops and kisses from Robinson-Briggs once again trumped good ole common sense. Sad. So sad.

Anonymous said...

McWilliams is something of a disappointment. I have watched, she always shows up for events and stays for a few minutes and then leaves. Hopefully she will find her way and not be a complete opportunist while she is on the council, like a couple of the others. At least she voted no on this ordinance. Carter, Burney and Reid are too close to the administration to ever vote against anything the mayor and Green support. Lets hope McWilliams stands with Mapp and Storch. Better late than never with McWilliams hopefully, since we may have to put up with this mayor's incompetence for 4 more years.

Anonymous said...

My understanding is that Annie McWilliams had three other appointments on the same day. Come on, give her some credit. She has thoughtfully outlined, in her blog, data that she thinks is pertinent, and solicited the public's opinion.

Bill Reid is obviously going to vote for the abatement, so attending would be a waste of his time. Not sure about Carter, Burney and Simmons.

But the administration, who is vested in this idea, was a no show. Telling about how much they care about public info.

For those of you who have no substantive reason for voting for Pivnichy, Vastine and Marks, other than you cannot vote the R line, stop complaining. And get ready for 4 more years - and keeping your mouths shut.