The needler in the haystack.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Developer interested in Muhlenberg will present to Planning Board

A developer is interested in the 14-acre Muhlenberg campus.
Between mid-afternoon yesterday and last night's Plainfield Planning Board meeting, there was a change in the agenda: the addition of a discussion of Muhlenberg under 'new business'.

Chairman Ken Robertson and board member Ron Scott Bey filled in other Planning Board members on a meeting last week between the developer's team, city staff and themselves.

Lacking a formal letter of intent from Solaris declaring an interest in selling the shuttered acute-care hospital, Robertson emphasized that the discussions are in a very preliminary stage.

The mayor's hesitancy to move forward without such a formal indication of interest is uncharacteristically wise of the Robinson-Briggs administration, given that a mishandling of Muhlenberg could be a political third rail for the mayor and her mentor, Assemblyman Jerry Green.

According to Robertson, 'everything is on the table' from the developer's point of view -- including possible use as an assisted care facility with a nursing home component, residential apartments, a wellness center and/or an adult daycare center. These were given just as examples of the range of possibilities on the table, and Robertson noted the developer was also exploring whether the Summit Medical Group would be interested in using part of the facility.

Board member Ron Scott Bey outlined three concerns he saw for any proposed development --

  • Apartments -- fewer would be better;

  • A medical model should be used everywhere possible; and

  • Parking issues would need to be addressed
Board attorney Michele Donato opined that given the size and complexity of the project -- the Muhlenberg campus is about 14 acres -- it would be better if there were to be a project if it were overseen by the Planning Board rather than the Zoning Board of Adjustment.

There was agreement among Board members to invite the putative developer and his team to make a 30-minute presentation at the Board's December 2 meeting.

Scott Bey was emphatic that the group be told to have their act together and to keep it to the time allotted.

Chairman Robertson also noted there would be a necessity of a meeting for the public to weigh in at a later date.

The fate of the Muhlenberg campus is a danger zone for elected officials, since there is widespread feeling in Plainfield and the surrounding communities that they more or less accepted the hospital's closure as a fait accompli back in 2008.

Muhlenberg's closure meant the loss of jobs for many unskilled and low-level employees among its 1,100 employees; many of these have been unable to find full-time or equivalent employment ever since.

Among the issues that will have to be addressed, should the process be moved forward with a formal letter of intent from Solaris, would be the fate of the Satellite Emergency Department (SED), responsibility for which Solaris is only committed to into 2013.

Other concerns the community has raised with Solaris in the past include the matter of an ambulance for the community and whether it should be supplied to the Plainfield Rescue Squad in some sort of arrangement, as well as the fate of the Muhlenberg Foundation about which there are great anxieties that monies given for Plainfield needs should not be siphoned off by Solaris to JFK.

And I would like to add one more, now that it seems there may be a real possibility of development: Centennial Hall. I think this excellent meeting facility, which can be isolated from the main buildings, should be made permanently available to the Plainfield community as a public meeting space as part of any deal that is worked out.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Rob said...

Dan..I don't know where you were..I remember the first rumor about the hospital closing and seeing Jerry and Sharon marching in protest with everyone. Organizing all the rallies...Jerry chaining himself to the doors of the hospital DEMANDING the state intervene..Sharon going door to door organizing all the protests prior to any official statement ever being released. Hardly accepting to say the least..
I don't think we've had finer example of representation that all the protests and effort that Sharon and Jerry put into trying to prevent the hospital closing.
( this is of course the fictional version that Jerry and Sharon like their fans to spread, not the truth )

Anonymous said...

Is it a secret who the developer is, or just an oversight? Does the developer have prior experience with medical facilities?
Or will this become one of those take-it-or-leave-it decisions that doesn't address the needs of the community, and then we find the developer making regular campaign contributions to Jerry Green like with the Nursing School and the Teppers redevelopment?

Anonymous said...

No more affordable housing please... what is this? Newark... Jesus, what is with all apartments proposal?