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Monday, January 9, 2012

After North Avenue fire, City dithers, merchants suffer

Three weeks after fire, area merchants have received no written communication,
nor has building been boarded or street cleaned up.

Merchants along Plainfield's historic North Avenue between Park Avenue and the train station are suffering severe drops in business activity three weeks after a 'highly suspicious' (according to Public Safety Director Martin Hellwig) fire
gutted a building on the north side of the street.

A visit to merchants along the block on Saturday brought many concerns to light.

First off, there has been no formal communication from Mayor Robinson-Briggs or any other city official about how long merchants will have to put up with having the street blocked off with no through traffic or parking.

There have been no press releases, no notices on the City's website, no invitations by the Mayor to meet with her. Nothing.

Worse, during an informal visit on Friday, city officials told merchants on the south side of the street they were 'technically' in violation of the street closure by being open for business at all during this period -- though no verbal or written notice was ever given to businesses on the south side of North Avenue.

Meanwhile, four businesses on the north side of the street, including restaurants and a barber shop, have been displaced.

The Portuguese BBQ on East 4th Street, which burned up days before the North Avenue fire, was boarded up within 24 hours. As of Saturday, the North Avenue building, while set off with chain link fencing, was still unboarded with the wind blowing soot and ashes onto the windows of the buildings across the street, and the broken glass still unswept from the middle of North Avenue.

While talking with a merchant, a window washer did their windows and I could see with my own eyes how dirty the water was from the soot and smoke washed off the storefront.

Despite a state law stating that owners of properties must register their 'real' address with the tax assessor and supply emergency contact phone numbers to the Fire Division, the city seems unable to contact the owner.

One wonders whether it has occurred to them to try and reach out to the owner through contact numbers current and former tenants -- all of whom are still in the area -- have for the landlord.

Meanwhile, why doesn't the City board up the premises and put a lien on the property just as would be done if DPW had to mow the grass? And clean up the street?

Those who have to travel by or through the area will have noticed that there has been 24/7 police presence since the fire, with the Police Division's Incident Command Center posted in the street for two weeks.

As one cop said to me, 'If I were a taxpayer, I would be hopping mad that the City is paying overtime 24/7 for cops to sit there and monitor the building'.

Is it any wonder that merchants are suspicious and think the City's behavior is evidence of a plot by Mayor Robinson-Briggs to drive them out of business?

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Anonymous said...

As a taxpayer, I am hopping mad in general. No town, (South Avenue now looks like a carnaval with C-Town's tacky flags flying in the breeze, along with the tacky flags in front of the stip malls and car wash), crummy roads, garbage on the street, leaves strewn all over the roads after they are "picked up", no regular schedule for pick ups, and a mayor who can't manage getting out of a paper bag with both sides open.

Oscar Turk once said that his job was to make sure Plainfield looks good. Well, if I did my job the way Oscar has been doing his, I would be part of the 8.6%.

Anonymous said...

This building should have been boarded up at a minimum within a day or 2 of the fire. The road needs to be swept of debris and reopened immediately. The fence can be kept in place in the interim. Having experienced this before, its the least that can be done until the owner is contacted and a plan put in place. More than likely, it is a local who has no money or insurance to do anything with the building and is waiting for the city to do it. When the Ferraro's restaurant burned in Westfield, the building was demo'd before it was even cold. Only in Plainfield...

Bob said...

Shady Sharonda strikes again and the citizens and businesses of this city get the shaft. This is the mayor's area and she should be taking care of it.

Anonymous said...

I guess it is not in the cops job description to do something as useful as sweep the debris to the curb. I wonder though if the surrounding merchants are prevented from cleaning the street by a fence or police tape?

Dan, was there more than a corporate name on file at city hall? Your suggestion to simply ask the tenants where the owner(s) can be located is brilliant. But, I would expect that information to be readily traceable assuming the owners filed minimum required registrations, fictitious name at the county level or incorporation papers with the state, for example. It is inaction such as this that raises suspicions that someone is being helped by the mayor. Unfortunately, I think there are some residents who like the idea that Plainfield has a mayor who could put in the fix. Shows she would be good for something:).

Jeffer said...

When I saw Traffic Safety Service {TSS}, of South Plainfield taking down the Christmas Wreaths on East Front Street Saturday, it was nice to know that even with all the cherry pickers Fire, Signal & Public Works has the town can afford to pay an out of town company to do weekend work so the town staff does not get to cold.

Deborah Dowe said...

Burning downtown New Brunswick to the ground building by building was a tremendous success. Look at Albany Street, now. No one even remembers the original family businesses. many minority owned, that used to be in downtown New Brunswick.

I hope this isn't the beginning of a pattern. We don't have big corporations and universities to build beautiful new buildings to replace what is gone.

Anonymous said...

Thank you Dan for your coverage of this also. The PSID has also been talking to the city to try to understand what's going on. Our staff will be talking to merchants today to give them as much information as we have. Lets hope this can be resolved soon as we don't need to loose any more businesses.
Nimrod Webb, PSID President

Dan said...

Jeffer -- The Holiday decorations I believe were put up by the SID, which contracted for the rental of the decorations and their installation and removal by a private company. City not involved far as I know.

Anonymous said...

This fire has become the joke of the town. Local merchants are loosing business day after day and as they run to city hall for the answers they are told each day that something will be done the next day. The so called owner of the building lives in California and no one can contact him other than a representative that has been put in his place which is now believed for his personal gain as well. The building was believed to have been in foreclosure prior to the fire and now there claims to be an owner.Mysteriously no merchants are provided with any information pertaining to the owner so that lawyers can call and state there claim. Seems as though everyone is winning with the exception of the merchants being affected. The merchants have been very patient day after day asking for answers and no one seems to supply the correct one. The representative of the building began working with a demolitian company and after 2 days of work something occured and stopped all work which leaves everyone in the dark again!!! The city has officers guarding a building that seems very stable. Most officers sit far from the building where they are suppose to be and on the most recent cold days they are to lazy to get out the car so they lay on the horn until the pedestrian turns around thinking the whole block is closed. If the merchants are lucky that are open the officer may yell out the window "get on the other side" Officers are suppose to be watching for the saftey of the people but they now sleep, read, or sit in wrong place and watch baracades yet get paid to the tune of $60.00 an hour. The situation is overwhelming and no sence of leadership because people are scared. They fear the representative of the building leading the construction and the cops give him and his people upfront parking. They believe that there are other things going on behind the scene and unfortunately city hall is entertaining the circus instead of pressing the bank who in fact owns the building. As they say "Only in Plainfield"!!!!!!