Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Sharon, Campbell back move to convert Abbott Manor to vets housing

The Abbott Manor Nursing Home as it appeared in 2007.

The Abbott Manor in 2013, with rotted porch fascia.

Plastic sheeting on 3rd floor dormers, June 2013.

Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and John Campbell Jr, Republican candidate for Assembly in Plainfield's 22nd District, gave their backing to the move by real estate investor Andre Yates to convert the old Abbott Manor nursing home property on Central Avenue to veterans housing.

They spoke at a fundraiser breakfast held at the Plainfield Senior Center this past Saturday to raise money for The Yates House for Military Veterans Inc., according to a report in The Alternative Press (see here). Leaving aside the propriety of using City premises to fundraise for a private venture, the idea raises plenty of questions.

Yates quietly purchased the nursing home property in July 2012 from Reynaldo and Maria Lapid for $100,000 according to property tax records. He additionally purchased the vacant lot abutting the rear of the Abbott Manor that gives access to West 8th Street behind the corner two-family home.

Robinson-Briggs repeatedly mentioned her concern for veterans in her campaign literature, though I cannot find any explicit mention of the Abbott Manor property in my archives.

During the campaign season, I noticed that the property had deteriorated in the years it has lain vacant. There was plastic taped over the 3rd-floor dormers, evidently to prevent water intrusion, and the porch fascia was rotted away. The yard was overgrown.

Then, a week or so before the Democratic Primary election, the grass had suddenly been cut and a 'Re-elect Sharon' sign plunked prominently in the front yard. Was there some sort of connection?

Front yard cleaned up to showcase 'Re-Elect Sharon' sign.

As far as I can determine, Yates has not approached the Historic Preservation Commission or the Zoning Board about a proposed use for the Abbott Manor property.

Though the previous owner had secured approvals from the Historic Preservation Commission to replace the roof and repair the porch, the work has never been done. The approvals are carried to the new owner for a period up to two years (and may be renewed by the HPC), conditioned on the work being performed as agreed.

Further questions are what sort of living arrangements are being proposed for veterans at the property, and what plans -- if any -- there are for the use of the small vacant lot.

Readers will remember that the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District fought the 60-bed expansion of the old Abbott Manor Nursing Home, winning a notable victory in 2007 (see my post on their victory in court here). The VWB Historic District was represented in the case by attorney (and Plainfield resident) William Michelson.

As I pointed out in my post, two aspects of that case may be determinative of future litigation in historic districts finding themselves in similar circumstances --

  • First, as pointed out by Michelson previously, a New Jersey court has declared the validity and importance of historic districts, and described what their effect should be on land-use applications; and
  • Secondly, that the court went further than Michelson did on one point: that an "inherently beneficial" use may cease to be so, at the wrong location.
Excerpts from Michelson's summary of the Abbott Manor ruling can be found online here.

According to Guidestar, which tracks nonprofits granted 501(c)(3) status, the Yates House for Military Veterans, Inc. was just given its IRS designation in 2013, hence no 990s (financial information) forms have yet been filed (see here).

While there has been some discussion in the media in recent months about the need to shelter homeless veterans, two things remain to be made clear in relation to the Yates project --

  1. What classes of veterans is Yates House proposing to provide housing for -- for instance, disabled, those diagnosed with PTSD, homeless, substance abuse victims, etc.?

  2. What research has been done to identify such veterans who are residents of Union County and what, if any, programs are currently serving this population?
Even though providing such housing may be judged a 'beneficial use', a hard look should be taken at the expected viability of such a project based upon financial support it has lined up (including grants and government funding, if any).

My first question would be, why haven't any repairs been made to the fabric of the Abbott Manor property in the year since Yates took ownership?

Is it because he doesn't want to do the work as required by the granted approvals? Is it because he doesn't have the financial resources to do it without outside help?

If the fundraiser supported by Mayor Robinson-Briggs and GOP Assembly candidate John Campbell Jr. is the main form of financial support that is being sought, this is not a good omen for the project.

Then, of course, there is the matter of taking the property off the tax rolls, which a nonprofit operating housing would do. As things stand now, $37,751.60 in property taxes were paid in 2012.

I am sure we will hear more as things move along.


Anonymous said...

Yates came before the HPC last fall in a measure to replace the roof with tar paper shingles. HPC said no. Yeats was stunned. He never said what the use might be of the property. Nothing more has been seen of him until now. I guess he has been trying line up political backing.

Alan Goldstein said...

You shouldn't leave aside the propriety of using the Senior Center. It is just one of many improper, or illegal, acts that follow the mayor around like her own shadow. Her administration barely disguises the efforts it takes to enrich particular individuals at public expense.

It isn't any wonder the event got coverage in The Alternative Press either. This is the latest hustle coming to us by way of a master hustler whose MO is sucking out money from any public programs he can sink his claws into. First announced at an SRB political event, it looks like it is morphing into an SRB public relations arm, even boasting on its advisory board two city employees and one appointee intimately tied to our public access TV station, as well as our Fire Chief, who appeared at a board gathering in uniform.

It certainly does look like the official policy of the city is promoting one conflict of interest after another. Experience weighs for skepticism about virtually anything touted by the city, or sneaked in quietly through the back door.

Rebecca Williams said...

Dan, I have been following some of this latest venture. Some of my initial comments:

The use of the city's resources again comes under scrutiny. The images shown are of a sign for Mr. Yates's endeavor only. The appearance of Campbell, whom the mayor is supporting, and the lack of awareness about this event suggests that it is yet another fraudulent and illegal use of municipal funds and space. What staff members were present, how much overtime did they get paid, was there FOOD (as usual)? I have a number of questions--I will let folks know what I find out.

Given the extremely low purchase price for the structure, it is of great concern that the developer may not be able to do the work. Thus, we see a catch-all "for the community" plea.

The three veterans home in our state each house at least 300 vets, and are located near major hospital facilities--see below:

What benefit would it be to the community to have this tiny facility (again, the historic district issue notwithstanding)? I cannot read Mr. Yates's mind, but this seems to me extremely ill-thought out. If a developer doesn't have the wherewithal to even put a roof on the facility, I would be extremely wary of sudden altruism.

Additional observation: I am extremely offended by the continued "pimping" and exploitation of our veterans' very real and serious issues by individuals whose manifest greed subsumes every other thought. Not talking about anyone in particular here, but....


Rebecca Williams said...

Regarding resident Alan Goldstein's comments about "The Alternative Press," I would say this: Anyone can post to The Alternative Press--you simply create an account and post. The fact that one can do this means that it is incumbent upon all to post "correctives" to whatever they see. I can't figure out the relevance of the so-called "Town Editor," since anyone who wants to post can do so without any assistance from him. You don't need to go through any sort of "Town Editor"--meaning, for better or worse, depending on your point of view, Plainfield residents can post articles, opinion pieces, letters to the editor, etc. During the last election cycle, I posted a couple of "opinion pieces" in favor of the mayoral candidate I supported, as did those who supported the mayor. Articles on some of the council members have appeared as well--written by some of the young people of Y.O.U. However, even those college students don't have to go to any "Town Editor" to post their articles. The "Town Editor" title appears to be superfluous and, frankly, rather comical, since the articles can be published straight to the site. (That is aside from questions about the editorial skills and news-gathering background/experience of such individuals.)


Pat Turner Kavanaugh.HPC member said...

To Anon. 10.27: they were not tar paper shingles. They were Timberline (cedar-look). The HPC had allowed the previous owner to use Slateline shingles, to replace real slate, which is what the building deserves. An Edison resident, Mr. Yates kept saying, "But this is Plainfield." We reminded him that everyone around the table lives in Plainfield, and represents hard-working, tax-paying City residents who care for their properties. Our residential neighborhoods make us strong and proud. All of us, from Rock Avenue to Terrill Road, deserve nothing less. Nor do our Veterans. Please think about the Park Hotel.

Anonymous said...

Is the city really going to allow another non-profit entity? We need taxable properties! And the HPC has to be somewhat flexible about repairs to historic buildings. A roof that size can cost upwards of $50 -100,000 to repair. The house will go to complete ruin if left as is. The buyer thought he was getting a deal paying $100,000 -really?!

Anonymous said...

To Anon 6:02--"But this is Plainfield!" It is really shameless of Sharon to use a city facility to promote this project and young John Campbell. I guess she thinks she's above the law--but we've seen that before!

Anonymous said...

No vet housing. It is a homeless shelter with people who are vets, and probably only open to men. We have enough - and we have enough housing off the tax roles.

Mr. Yates obviously did not know that he bought the house in an historic district, which says to me he is not prepared to put in the required money. The house will not look any better than it does now.