The needler in the haystack.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Council takes up anti-corruption measures Tuesday


Tuesday's special Plainfield City Council finds the members once again preparing to take on the dragon of pay-to-play.

The meeting takes up three strands: the interim budget for the six months ending December 31st as the City moves over to calendar year accounting; consideration of keeping Acting City Administrator Dave Kochel around in some fashion or other; and a bundle of anti-corruption ordinances.

The budget is a no-brainer and I think whatever can be done to keep Dave Kochel on hand is well worth it -- whether or not rules and regs are bent.

Whether or not you think there is corruption at City Hall, there is no doubt that pay-to-play has had a corrupting influence on politics in New Jersey, so why not just do away with some of the 'slippery slopes'?

Former Gov. Jim McGreevey made dramatic moves against pay-to-play in signing a June 2004 bill and issuing a more restrictive Executive Order that September, which just happens to be discussed in Sunday's Ledger (see PolitiFact article here). Though a good start, McGreevey's successor Dick Codey and the Legislature advanced matters even further by codifying McGreevey's reforms into law in March 2005.

Exactly what the Council proposes is taking up four ordinances modeled on those proposed by the Citizens Campaign and which bring the reforms down to the local level.

Here are the specific abuses the ordinances will deal with --
1) Ordinance MC 2011-10: Competitive Negotiations for Professional Services -- Currently towns have two options for hiring professionals, the "fair and open" process or the "non fair and open" process, under both systems the city has broad discretion in selecting its professionals. The ordinance would require the municipality to obtain detailed proposal from professionals competitively, giving the city the ability to compare firm's services and rates and to expand the pool of potential firms. For more information about why the fair and open process is ineffective, read the State Comptroller's report: http://www.nj.gov/comptroller/news/docs/pay_to_play_report.pdf

2) Ordinance MC 2011-11: Pay to Play Reform - Currently cities only have to use the fair and open or non-fair and open process for awarding government contracts, neither one effectively severs the link between campaign contributions and government contracts. The model ordinance will limit campaign contributions to candidates, parties, and PACs by business entities seeking government contracts.

3) Ordinance MC 2011-12: Developer Disclosure Ordinance - Requires developers  to disclose their political contributions when applying for a major variance.

4)  Ordinance MC 2011-13: 'Best Price' Insurance Purchasing -- Requires municipalities to seek competitive proposals for insurance coverage and hiring brokers. And it requires the municipality to hire the broker on a flat fee. Currently towns are not required to use a competitive process for obtaining insurance, and brokers are paid a commission by the insurance company. By hiring the broker directly, the municipality will eliminate any conflict of interest the broker may have and guarantee the broker is seeking the best coverage for the town.
While you will not find anyone arguing FOR CORRUPTION (let's hope anyway), there will probably be a Chinese water torture of sorts by those who don't want to put any curbs on the influence of money on politics.

It is clear there is enough support to PASS the ordinance (a minimum of four votes). What is not clear is whether there is enough (meaning FIVE votes) to overturn a veto by Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, should she choose to thumb her nose at these reforms.

Cynical observers might hold that money will find its way around any obstacles placed in its path.

We shall have to see about that.

Meanwhile, Tuesday's discussion and votes bear watching.



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Hidden Plainfield: Neat and Tidy property IDs


Leland Gardens' Community Center is unique in Plainfield.

So, where are those well-maintained apartment complexes featured in Sunday's Hidden Plainfield?

Below, the identities, locations and a couple of selling points of each. Having lived in apartments in Manhattan, Brooklyn and the Bronx in a prior life, I can attest that apartment living can be quite pleasant indeed considering someone else takes care of the lawn, the gutters and the trash.

COMPLEX A: LELAND GARDENS






Leland Gardens sits mostly hidden from view, except for its entrance off East Front Street and its exit onto Leland Avenue across from Stillman Gardens, Plainfield's only cooperative complex.

Bought about ten years ago by a Rochester, NY based REIT (real estate investment trust), the new owners completely upgraded the apartment interiors with new baths, kitchens, floors and windows.

A Community Center, offering a meeting and activities room and a computer center, plus rental offices, was also built -- the only one of its kind in Plainfield.

Home to nearly a thousand residents, it has always been Plainfield's 'United Nations', with the most diversity in any one location in the city. It is also highly desirable for being just a minute or two from Route 22 and NJT buses to and from New York City.

Website:  "Conifer Living: Leland Gardens"

Leland Gardens is the largest rental complex in Plainfield.

COMPLEX B: PINEVIEW GARDENS



Door in this photo is propped open for crew painting one of the apartments.
I'll bet most Plainfielders are unfamiliar with this large and immaculately maintained complex on West 7th Street near Clinton Avenue. It is cleverly laid out in such a way that there are great vistas of well-trimmed lawns with manicured plantings the belie the actual size of the development, with plenty of parking discreetly screened from street view.

Whenever I pass by, I am reminded of the Yale Divinity School in New Haven (itself modeled on Jeffersonian priniciples), which I used to pass regularly in another prior life.

For residents of these apartments, shopping is just steps away. The NYC bus passes by the front of the complex on West 7th Street and the Dunellen train station is a hop and a skip away, as is Stelton Avenue shopping centers and I-287.

Website:  "Pineview Gardens"

Pineview Gardens is on West 7th Street, near Clinton Avenue.

COMPLEX C: PLAINFIELD VILLAGE




Though somewhat smaller than today's other complexes, Plainfield Village on Randolph Road, is well-maintained, having come under new management a few years ago that made considerable investment in the property.

One of the main attractions here is that the complex is situated just across the road from Cedar Brook Park, with its ballfields, basketball courts, jogging paths, cricket pitch, tennis and handball courts and, of course, the world-famous Shakespeare Garden.

A very attractive setting, as many residents can testify.

On a less pleasant note, I was once told by an elderly Jewish woman who lived in a home on Rose Street facing the park that these were the 'best apartments available for Jewish GIs returning from World War II' and starting their families and careers in Plainfield. That would be the side of the Queen City less often mentioned, where discrimination -- racial and religious -- was casual, accepted, and even codified into deeds. We've certainly come a long way.

Website:  "Corsa Management: Plainfield Village"

Plainfield Village has all the advantages of Cedar Brook Park at its doorstep.
Where shall we go next week?


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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mmm

Halloween warning from PSE&G


The following advisory for Plainfield from PSE&G was received by email Sunday afternoon. Though the message speaks to 'Mischief Night', it is just as applicable for tonight, Halloween, wherever there are downed lines and branches that have yet to be removed. Better safe than sorry!

PSE&G Fall Storm Update and Important Safety Messages- October 30, 2011

Safety First:

Whether you call it Mischief Night, Goosey Night or Cabbage Night, tonight is a dangerous night for children to engage in this pre-Halloween ritual. There are many downed wires that may not be visible at night. Children and teens should stay in tonight for their safety, and parents should ensure they do so.


Downed wires should always be considered "live."  STAY AWAY FROM ALL DOWNED LINES.  Do not approach or drive over a downed line and do not touch anything that it might be in contact with.  To report a downed wire and other visible equipment damage, call 1-800-436-PSEG and tell PSE&G the nearest cross street.

Check in on your elderly neighbors to see if they are alright and to see if they need extra blankets or additional assistance. Contact local officials if assistance is needed.

Do not try to use a gas oven or range to heat a room. The appliance will deplete oxygen from the air, causing asphyxiation or deadly carbon monoxide poisoning.

Be cautious when using space heaters.  Read and follow the manufacturer's instructions and heed warning labels.  Be sure all members of the household understand how to operate space heaters safely.


Outage Update:

About 317,000 PSE&G customers are without power at this time due to the storm. Counties most affected by outages are Bergen, Essex, Passaic, Union and Middlesex.

Crews have been working through the night and will be receiving assistance from other utilities and contractors. Based on our current assessment of the damage, full restoration for customers in hard-hit Bergen and Essex counties may not occur until Wednesday.

Customers are reminded to stay away from downed power lines.

To report a power outage, call PSE&G's Customer Service line: 1-800-436-PSEG.

Electric crews work to restore power to the largest numbers of customers first, taking into account "priority" customers, such as hospitals, police stations, fire stations, water and sewer facilities, communications facilities (TV, radio, and telephone), and customers on life-sustaining medical equipment.  At the same time, the utility restores power to homes and businesses, starting with the circuits serving the largest number of customers.

Customers with a handheld device, or who are at an alternate location with power, can also report power outages and view the status of their outage by logging in to
My Account at
pseg.com. General outage activity throughout our service territory is available online at www.pseg.com/outagecenter and updates are posted on pseg.com during severe weather.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Hidden Plainfield: Neat and Tidy


Apartment complex A.

Apartment complex B.

Apartment complex C.
Though nearly half Plainfield's residents are renters, most homeowners probably don't think much about the kinds of housing provided for renters throughout the city.

While thousands are accommodated in houses built (or converted) to contain up to four apartments, there are a number of large rental developments scattered across the city, some of which are exceptionally well-maintained. These larger entities are inspected by the state rather than local inspectors. Could that have anything to do with the quality of the maintenance?

Today, I am posting pictures of three of the best-maintained large-scale rental complexes in the city. Do you know where they are?

Tomorrow, the answers plus a few selling points for each.




-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Surprise storm downs trees and knocks power out


A large branch fell against Hugo's on Church Street.
Plainfield's first nor'easter created havoc with downed trees and branches and power outages on Saturday afternoon. Rapidly falling heavy wet snow proved too much for many trees -- both old and young -- which had not yet dropped their foliage. (Send me your storm pix and I'll add them to the post -- be sure to give street location.)

Getting an errand out of the way about 1:00 PM before heading to St. John's on the Mountain (it really is!) in Bernardsville where friend Susan Ironside was to be installed as rector in an afternoon ceremony, I came across the large branch down across Park Avenue in the 1100-block.

 

Moments after I stopped for a picture, three Good Samaritans
moved this branch fallen across Park Avenue.
As I pulled over to get a picture, a large red pickup pulled in front of me and three burly men got out, walked down to the branch and heaved it out of the roadway. Waving, they then got in their truck and continued south on Park Avenue.

By the time I got to the Watchung traffic circle I realized this was not a trip to make and turned around. Thinking to go by my gas station across from Union County College at 2nd and Church, I found the street blocked by a police cruiser -- a large branch had fallen against Hugo's.



A large branch fell across Hugo's roof.
At the corner of 2nd Street, a street tree was down blocking the gas station driveway and just before that a branch had come down across a parked station wagon.


The street tree by this Church Street gas station was split in two...

...and a parked station wagon was swiped by a falling branch.

Power was out from 7th Street to Green Brook Road in North Plainfield, leaving both communities' business districts in darkness. Many stores closed, but a few remained open and sold items by light from the store windows or emergency lighting within.

By 3:00 PM most were shut down tight, except for Twin City supermarket, where customers were stocking up on necessities by the emergency lighting within the store.

As of late afternoon, I was told that over 80 calls had been logged by Plainfield's 911 call center of trees and branches down -- including reader Chris Estevez who posted a picture of the branch that came down in front of his house about 4:00 PM.



Branch falling in reader Chris Estevez' front yard pulled down wires.
Going out for the papers early Sunday morning, I came across a lone Comcast repair man in a cherrypicker reconnecting downed cables on East 6th Street behind Grace Episcopal Church. He said that a good number of Comcast lines had been pulled down and crews had been working through the night.


Lone cable guy was repairing Comcast cable on East 6th Street at 5 AM.
It was weird to get downtown and find Front Street businesses completely lit up and locked tight at 5:30 AM. Of course, they had shut up when the power went out and the light switches were in the 'on' position, meaning when the power came back on, so did the lights.


Eerily, at 5:30 AM Front Street stores were fully lit though locked tight.
Newspaper deliveries were mixed -- no papers were out at the Stop & Shop in Watchung Square Mall, where I went after the QuikCheck in North Plainfield turned out to be shut tight. My regular paper stand on West Front had the Courier and Ledger, though there were fewer hookers than usual.

On an off chance, I stopped by the convenience store at 7th and Arlington and found a New York Times -- not a usual occurrence at this store.

After getting back to the house and settling down with a cup of coffee, the lights flickered. Though we had not lost power at all throughout the storm or the night, this little hiccup took down the Internet service.

That fixed, everything seems to be just about back to normal, as I hope you and yours find the day, which promises to be bright and sunny.



Bright and sunny indeed as this mid-morning shot of my back yard today shows.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Four weekend events


Four Plainfield-area events for the weekend --

SATURDAY: AKA CLOTHING DISTRIBUTION
The Theta Phi Omega chapter has its annual clothing distribution TODAY at Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church. From 10:00 AM - 2:00 PM, the group will offer clothing and other nice things for men, women and children. All items are FREE.
SATURDAY: DRILL TEAMS 'STOP THE VIOLENCE' EVENT
Franklin Township's Diva & Gents Drill and Drum Squad will host a 'Stop The Violence' event Saturday evening from 6:00 to 10:00 PM at the Franklin Middle School. Participants include drill teams from Plainfield, New York, New Brunswick and Trenton. Franklin Middle School is at 415 Francis Street in the Somerset section of Franklin. $5/person.
SUNDAY: BATTLE OF THE MARCHING BANDS
North Plainfield High School is hosting its first Marching Band and Color Guard competition in 20 years. The event is being organized by NP Music Parents to raise funds for new uniforms and replacement instruments for the Canucks marching band. Eight bands plus the Canucks marching band will be participating. At Upper Krausche Field at North Plainfield High School. Tickets: $8/person, $5/seniors.
SUNDAY: HALLOWEEN SPOOKTACULAR CONCERT
A Halloween concert featuring phantoms, fantasies and fugues at Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church, presented by the church's music director, F. Allen Artz III, and Plainfield impresario Paul DiDario. Children (under 16) in costume admitted free. Event is sponsored by Crescent Avenue's Community Educational and Cultural Association. Tickets: $20/person, $15/seniors, $5/students.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, October 28, 2011

Details emerge on plans to close Netherwood, Muhlenberg branches

 
Closing Plainfield's Netherwood and Muhlenberg postal stations is not just a thought on the part of the US Postal Service, this is a PLAN folks!

Postal patrons are supposed to be receiving notices from the USPS, including an optional 'comments' questionnaire in their mailboxes. I have not received any such yet, though I was able to glom a copy of the questionnaire.

Here is a table outlining the schedule and process --


STATION HEARING
PLACE
COMMENTS
Muhlenberg
Mon 11/21
5:30 PM
Main Post Office
10/25 - 12/26
Netherwood Mon 12/05
5:30 PM
Main Post Office
10/25 - 12/26
North Plainfield
Wed 09/21
7:00 PM
East End School
08/30 - 10/31

Address written comments to
--
Allen Tanko
494 Broad Street
Newark, NJ 07102-9300
(973) 468-7209
Though the Postal Service may hope this is a done deal, that may not be the case.

NORTH PLAINFIELD RALLIES AGAINST CLOSURE
I am told by a postal worker who was present that about fifty residents came out to protest the closing of the North Plainfield postal station when the hearing was held in September. They were well organized, with both a petition and a letter of support from Congressman Leonard Lance. Residents are hopeful closure will be avoided.
QUESTIONS FOR PLAINFIELD
Looking over the process, three items jumped out --
  • First, separate hearing are scheduled for both Muhlenberg and Netherwood branches. Would one hearing be better for the community?

  • Second, the one-hour hearings are set for a truly inconvenient time, 5:30 PM. Shouldn't Plainfielders get the same consideration North Plainfield got with an evening meeting time?

  • Third, using the Main Post Office seems strange, given the availability of other public meeting spaces that offer seating in real meeting rooms (the Library, City Hall Library, the Senior Center, for starters). Shouldn't Plainfielders get the same consideration North Plainfield got with a convenient hearing location?
Obviously, North Plainfield residents got themselves organized in advance of their meeting with postal officials.

Hopefully, Plainfielders would consider petitions and letters of support from Congressman Pallone as a minimum response.

To get things rolling, I have started a GROUP on Facebook, 'Save Netherwood and Muhlenberg Postal Branches' (see here). It's an open group, so join up and get the conversation going!

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Postal Service sets community meetings on closing Netherwood, Muhlenberg branches


Notices from USPS, dated 10/25/2011, in the Muhlenberg Station lobby.
 
Community meetings on closing Plainfield's Netherwood and Muhlenberg postal stations are being arranged by Michael Diegnan, operations manager for the United States Postal Service. I learned of the proposed meetings late on Wednesday evening. The possibility of local closures was raised this past summer; you can read my earlier post on the matter here.

The meeting on the Muhlenberg Station closure is set for Monday, November 21 at 5:30 PM at the main post office on Watchung Avenue, according to the notice posted in the lobby of the station.



Muhlenberg is only one proposed closure; Netherwood and North Plainfield are also targeted.

Given the fact that the community meeting on closing the North Plainfield branch was already held last week -- without any fanfare or press -- my guess is that the Netherwood and Muhlenberg meetings will be conducted separately.

A separate notice invites written comments to be submitted between October 25 (the date the notice was evidently posted) to December 26.

I will be visiting the Netherwood Station today and will post an update as more information becomes available.

Meanwhile, ponder what this means for yourself as a postal customer and for the community.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Preservation Commission: Pretty much a pavane


Casual passersby may not grasp just how large the
Van Wyck Brooks property is.
The frustration of both Plainfield's Historic Preservation Commission and residents of the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District was palpable at Tuesday's commission meeting, where replacement windows for a sunroom of the iconic Van Wyck Brooks mansion was on the agenda.

Yet for all the tension, the meeting proceeded at a pavane-like pace, tempers mostly -- but not entirely -- under control, as the commissioners and the daughter of the owner wrestled with how to proceed.

Teena Glaser, daughter of the long-time owners the Novello family of Scotch Plains, says she has taken over management of the 10-unit rental property since the passing of her father. Glaser was at the meeting, yet again, in an attempt to mollify the HPC after the sunroom windows were removed and replaced with unlike windows and without prior review by the Commission.

Feelings run high not only because of the iconic nature of the property as the namesake for the historic district, but because of a history of evasion and disregard of the HPC by the Novello family over the years.

I remember driving by on a Sunday afternoon in 2003 to discover workmen replacing the original wood sash windows with vinyl ones. A neighbor complained to City Hall the next day, but the damage was done.

I also know from friends and acquaintances who have lived in various of the apartments over the years that there have been persistent issues with deferred maintenance leading to water penetration with serious internal consequences (including falling ceilings).

Ms. Glaser's own expert witnesses, a Plainfield architect and another from Summit, testified to the serious conditions that needed addressing.

However, her case was not made easier by the revelation that the allegedly unrepairable leaded glass window panels had not been saved, but in fact had been disposed of by the workmen.

It came out in the back-and-forth between Glaser and the commissioners that she had not delved deeply into what kind of window options were available before the installation of the non-compliant panels.

Commissioners offered several suggestions of manufacturers whose products might either remedy the issue altogether or mitigate it to an extent that would satisfy the Commission.

Eventually it was agreed to continue the matter to the December meeting, at which Ms. Glaser promised to submit alternative plans that would be -- hopefully -- more acceptable, including full estimates, good color photographs of the subject windows, and actual physical samples of proposed window solution(s).

Perhaps more alarming than the issue of the sunroom windows was to hear Ms. Glaser describe the poor condition of the soffits and gutters and cracks in the facade of yellow brick owing to water penetration of a longstanding nature.

It seems clear to me that there has been no strategic assessment and plan of action prepared by the owners and that issues are simply addressed on a piecemeal basis, there being no guarantee that problems are being tackled in an order which will remediate them at their source.

Ms. Glaser expressed grave concern that the conditions were now threatening the interior of the mansion. Though interiors are not within the purview of the HPC's mandate, it is no stretch to assert that the interior of the VWB house -- lifted from a castle in Scotland, I have been told -- adds considerably to any real estate value the property has.

It would be an absolute shame if this magnificent landmark were to be lost to posterity owing to poor management and care by its owners.

HPC consultant Gail Hunton was correct when she remarked the Commission and the residents have a concern to 'defend' the preservation of significant properties such as the Van Wyck Brooks mansion.

But there is little that the HPC can do about neglect, as the Commission only comes into the equation when an owner decides to take some action regarding the exterior of the property.

For now, the pavane continues, and Ms. Glaser will return in December.



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Van Wyck Brooks mansion on Preservation Commission agenda tonight


The Van Wyck Brooks masnion on West 8th Street, after which the District is named.
Plainfield's iconic Van Wyck Brooks mansion on West 8th Street is on the Historic Preservation Commission's agenda tonight. The commission meets in the City Hall Library at 7:30 PM and the public is welcome.

At issue are window replacements to the sunroom at the rear of a first floor apartment. The owner has already replaced the windows and is seeking a certificate of appropriateness for 'wood or vinyl grids to be placed on the outside of vinyl...windows'.

The Van Wyck Brooks Historic District, the city's largest, discussed the proposed changes at its monthly meeting last week, and a sizeable contingent is expected to attend and speak at tonight's meeting.

Though an important item on tonight's agenda, several of the other items may also spark considerable comment -- especially as some property owners have failed (or evaded) fulfilling work agreed upon with the HPC.

In a dire real estate market, preservation-minded homeowners need more than ever to press home the argument that maintaining the integrity of historic homes and properties in the city is integral to undergirding the overall value of the city's trove of historic and vintage residential properties.

A decline in property values would negatively affect the city's tax base. While it is widely understood that external factors such as the collapse of the real estate market due to the subprime mortgage crisis and subsequent foreclosures are factors beyond the control of local homeowners, maintaining the fabric of the city's residential neighborhoods and historic districts certainly is within the scope of things the City can ensure.

But as in all things regarding City Hall, citizens and property owners must adopt the ancient motto: Semper Vigilans.

Be always watchful.




HISTORIC PRESERVATION COMMISSION

Tuesday - October 25
7:30 PM

City Hall Library
515 Watchung Avenue
(Parking and entry in the rear)


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Monday, October 24, 2011

Butchery on West 8th Street?


Photo by Arne Aakre of the VWB Historic District of the Azalea hedge in bloom.
Tree Committee chairperson Greg Palermo thinks it is a variety named 'Amoena'.


Remains of Azalea hedge neatly bundled and stacked by curb.

House can once again be seen from street. Stumps are about 18" high.

Satellite view by Google shows house at very rear of lot
and Azalea hedge along 8th Street.
A Plainfield resident called me Friday near sundown and was quite distraught at having driven home from work along West 8th Street through the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District to discover that a famed Azalea hedge in the 500-block had been cut down.

The hedge, estimated to be a hundred years old, was a magnificent fixture on West 8th Street in the spring, with a wall of blooms approximately a hundred or so feet long and ten or twelve feet high. (I had some pictures but can't locate them; if any reader has some shots, please send to me here and I will post with acknowledgement -- thanks!)

Going out on Saturday morning to get some pictures of the situation, I found the remains of the Azaleas neatly bundled and stacked in a long row on the street awaiting pickup by the DPW when making its Fall rounds.

Neighbors told me that a yard service crew had removed the hedge on Thursday, saying that the property owners had been plagued with thefts of outdoor items and other criminal mischief which was unobservable from the street due to the height and density of the hedge.

That is certainly plausible, given that Councilor Mapp -- who lives directly across the street -- told me it had been some time after he moved in before he even realized there was a house across the street.

The 'house' is actually the carriage house of what had once been a magnificent estate, the land of which was subdivided many years ago to provide for the four condos built just to the west.

Those condos themselves are a Plainfield story -- the present design, which emulates a large estate home but actually holds four units, was the result of sustained pressure from Van Wyck Brooks residents (mainly led by residents Helga and Murray Roberts).

Mrs. Roberts told me the originally proposed units 'looked like a Howard Johnson's motel'. The design as approved should be a model for how to develop properties in historic districts with sensitivity to both the historic nature and the developer's right to turn a buck.

As for the Azalea hedge, it looks to be pruned back to about 18", which would qualify as a 'severe pruning', designed to rejuvenate the plants and force the development of new growth according to many online pruning guides (see many online resources here). The only really questionable point appears to be that the pruning is recommended for the end of winter, and not in the fall.

We shall have to see -- over a few years -- how successful the pruning has been.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Hidden Plainfield: 'Out of sight, out of mind' property ID

 

Image from Google maps shows deep setback for this 19th-century dwelling.
 
Yesterday's Hidden Plainfield is in the 500-block of West Front Street, as one reader surmised.

This house dates back to when the crossing of the Green Brook next to the Drake House was one of the earliest between the south and north sides of the brook which helped coalesce Plainfield as a settled village in the early days of the Republic.

It does indeed back up to the Elmwood Gardens public housing complex, which the Planning Board has just recommended to the City Council be declared 'in need of redevelopment' so that it can be replaced by single-family townhouses.

One of the compelling reasons for the designation by the Planning Board is that criminal elements continually render the single front doors to the units unlockable, essentially making it possible for drug dealers to hold tenants hostage in their apartments.


Where shall we go next week?



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Hidden Plainfield: Out of sight, out of mind


One must slow down and look hard to notice this 19th-century vernacular dwelling.
Today's Hidden Plainfield is another 19th-century dwelling that, if it ever sat by the side of the road, certainly does so no longer.

In fact, behind a later-era Victorian on its busy street, you would have to slow down and look hard to notice it -- out of sight, out of mind.

Do you know where this property is?

Answer tomorrow.



-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Shooting incident, home invasion Saturday afternoon


Home invasion took place in apartment complex across from Barlow School.

Now known as Michael Manor, complex came under new ownership
as a result of Connolly Properties bankruptcy.
 
Plainfield police converged on an apartment in the Michael Manor complex in the 800-block of East Front Street late Saturday afternoon, after reports a gunman had shot up the unit.

I am told police are investigating whether the incident was spurred by a confrontation on Friday between two young men in the area. On Saturday the gunman supposedly saw the other man standing on the front steps of the apartment unit and fired at him.

The intended victim ran inside the occupied apartment and was followed by the gunman who fired several shots, one of them into a TV, and then fled.

No one was injured and police are still looking for the gunman.


The complex, now known as Michael Manor, came under new ownership as a result of the spectacular bankruptcy of once high-flying Connolly Properties.

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Shell Station at South/Leland in surprising transformation


Major, and surprising, changes are planned for the Shell station.
So, just what IS going on with Plainfield's Shell gas station at South and Leland Avenues?

After a reader inquired by email, I did a little digging and found out it's expected to be quite an amazing transformation.

Originally, it was expected to be a 'tenant-to-tenant' transfer of the company-owned station. After some dickering with Plainfield zoning officials over items that needed addressing -- such as enclosing the trash dumpster -- it seemed poised to move ahead until there was an interesting wrinkle.

City officials were informed that the Shell mini-mart currently in place (and there is a shaggy dog story associated with how THAT got build and approved!) would be replaced with -- are you sitting down? -- a 7-ELEVEN store.

Yes, ANOTHER 7-ELEVEN store, just one long block away from the new one that opened at the corner of Terrill Road and South Avenue a few weeks ago!

There is also a proposal to erect one of those huge canopy roofs that shelter the gas pumps from the elements and to change the signage, both of which will have to get variances from the Zoning Board. That matter could possibly be taken up as soon as the next meeting, which is set for Wednesday, November 2, at 7:00 PM in City Hall Library.

Members of the public who have questions or concerns may have them addressed at the Zoning Board meeting. Proposed plans for the project are available for inspection at the Planning Division on the second floor of City Hall during normal business hours, Monday through Friday.

What can be on the minds of the folks at
7-ELEVEN is anyone's guess.


-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Friday, October 21, 2011

WBLS Inquiry: Mayor alights on flypaper


Not all that is enticing is without danger...
Far from rescuing herself from her predicament in the WBLS funding matter, Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs may have put herself in greater danger by introducing a new element in her testimony at Wednesday evening's special City Council meeting -- that she was acting because of an EMERGENCY situation.

Was Mayor Robinson-Briggs enticed by the prospect of an easy out from her difficulties, just as a housefly is enticed by the sweetly fragrant aroma from flypaper -- only to discover once alighting that it has been trapped by the paper's sticky coating?

THE DANGERS OF AN 'EMERGENCY' ARGUMENT TO THE MAYOR

For the first time publicly in the history of the investigation into how $20,000 came to be paid to WBLS to carry a live Town Hall event over its airwaves in August of 2010, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs invoked the notion that she was acting in an EMERGENCY situation when she caused the issuance of a $20,000 check in advance of the Town Hall radio broadcast.

Citing Section 3.7 of the City's special charter (the complete City Charter is available on line here) --

3.7    Emergencies.
In the event of an emergency which represents an immediate, clear and present danger to the public health, safety or welfare, the mayor may assume the personal direction of any department, agency or instrumentality of the city government as may, in his discretion, be necessary to alleviate the emergency; and he may take such action as he may deem necessary or desirable to that end.
-- Mayor Robinson-Briggs argued that the conditions of an emergency existed and she was only exercising the powers granted her office in such situations by the city charter.

The state has well-defined procedures and requirements for dealing with emergencies so as not to hamstring agencies and local governments in dealing with them in a timely fashion and at the same time protect the public good by requiring certain steps be followed.

These steps include the following --

  • The 'emergency' must affect the public health, safety or welfare;

  • The need for the goods or services could not have been reasonably foreseen, must be actual or imminent, and cannot be the result of bad planning;

  • There must be an Emergency Policy in place, including a 'chain of command' (presumably by an act of the governing body);

  • There must be an Emergency Declaration by the person authorized by the Emergency Policy;

  • The Purchasing Agent must issue an EMERGENCY PURCHASE ORDER;

  • Purchases in excess of the Purchasing Agent's authority should be ratified by a resolution of the Governing Body;

  • Within thirty days of the declaration of an emergency, a report must be filed with the Director of the Department of Community Affairs (the Emergency Procurement Report form, which may be found online here -- see under 'Political Contribution Disclosure Compliance Forms' section).
    No evidence was given by Mayor Robinson-Briggs that any of these conditions was met.

    Nowhere on the purchase order that was entered as an exhibit was there an indication the purchase order was of an emergency nature. Furthermore, when purchasing agent David Spaulding followed the mayor, he responded to a question from the Council's special attorney, Ramon Rivera, Esq., that 'NO ONE INFORMED ME THAT THIS WAS AN EMERGENCY...'

    From the beginning of her first term, Mayor Robinson-Briggs seems not to have quite grasped that acts of the Mayor need to be made in writing (I can still recall her surprise when she stood to name nominees to certain boards and commissions only to be rebuffed by Council President Blanco for not having submitted them IN WRITING and IN ADVANCE.)

    There was much else of interest in Wednesday's proceedings and there are many as-yet-unanswered questions which I will take up later.

    For now, the Mayor has alighted on the fragrant and enticing flypaper.



    ... as many a housefly has learned to its regret.
    (Image courtesy Sergei Frolov)
     

    -- Dan Damon [follow]

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