Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Proposed South Avenue project well-received at merchants' meeting

JMF's Kevin Codey discusses the proposed South Avenue project.

Plainfield's newest development proposal was well-received at a meeting this past Tuesday morning hosted by the Plainwood Square Merchants Association at Freppe's on South Avenue.

About fifty South Avenue business owners joined by several residents and elected officials heard a presentation and discussion led by Deputy City Administrator Carlos Sanchez and Kevin Codey of JMF Properties, the prospective developer.

After moderator Donna Albanese, president of the merchants group, led brief introductions of the attendees, Mayor Adrian Mapp offered a few words of greeting and shared his enthusiasm over the proposal, turning the presentation over to Mr. Sanchez.

Sanchez emphasized that though the project was at the conceptual stage, the Mapp administration's determination was that the developer's track record and demonstrated management expertise merited an open presentation to the business community that would be most directly affected to get input and answer questions.

So much of the success of these projects depends on the impression made in the first few minutes, and Sanchez set just the right tone -- warmly cordial yet professional to the fingertips, optimistic and upbeat but realistically cautious about how the process unfolds. Anxious questions did not faze him, and folks relaxed at once.

JMK's Kevin Codey then briefly explained the firm's background and outlined the project.

Headquartered in Cedar Knolls, JMK has more than 20 years experience in residential and commercial development in New Jersey (see their website here). Codey noted that one of the principals is a member of the NJ Sports and Exposition Authority (for those with magic decoder rings, this means the firm is politically well-connected -- a positive signal for anything to get done in New Jersey).

Codey mentioned some of the firm's more recent projects in New Brunswick, Maplewood, Springfield, Florham Park and Denville and noted that JMK has focused on transit-village projects in the vicinity of commuter train stations.

The South Avenue project as proposed would consist of two 4-story buildings plus a clubhouse with pool on a completely landscaped site that would result from the acquisition of eleven properties (approximately 5 acres) in the 1300- and 1400-blocks of South Avenue.

The proposal is for between 210 and 235 market rate rental units, sixty percent 2-bedroom and forty percent 1-bedroom. Parking (at 1.5 spaces per unit, which is a frequently found measure) would be provided with a combination of garages at the rear of the buildings and some open parking.

Codey showed some photos of entrances and units in several projects; all were spacious and well-proportioned, with top-of-the-line amenities including stainless steel kitchen appliances and more.

It was emphasized that the eleven properties are in the process of being acquired, which is expected to take another eight months or so. (It was noted that the Netherwood Grill -- formerly Cafe Vivace -- is among the parcels being negotiated.)

Beyond that another 6-9 months was (optimistically) projected for all approvals and permits. Among the items that will need to be done to qualify for NJMHFA financing is a declaration by the City of the area as 'in need of redevelopment'.

Such a designation would not only ease the path to financing the construction, it would set the stage for the establishment of a PILOT (payment-in-lieu-of-taxes) agreement, which is an inducement that is standard practice in developments.

Codey was at pains to state that the project would bring very few children into the school district (always a concern, since schools get none of the PILOT payments and the cost must be assumed by the rest of the tax base). Sanchez pointed out -- with a wry reference to the Liberty Village experience -- that the details of a PILOT are among the points to be neogtiated between the City and JMF. (I was put in mind of the 50-year PILOT at a very low fixed rate that Malcolm R. Dunn negotiated for the Liberty Village project. Hopefully, there will be no such giveaways under the Mapp administration.)

Among the questions raised by attendees were --
  • Traffic (a traffic study will be done on the impact on South Avenue traffic flow);
  • Parking at Netherwood Station (the developer is proposing shuttle service to the station);
  • Business disruption (Sanchez says the city will offer 'relocation assistance' for any affected businesses).
The only really unpleasant moment came when Councilor Gloria Taylor complained that she had not been informed of the meeting and learned about it through a constituent (she pointedly noted she does not read the blogs, where I had posted an open invitation based on the SID notification).

Taylor is a Council liaison to the SID and SID officials assured me that she is included in every email circulated by the group -- including the invitation to this meeting. Taylor is also said to have complained that she was not informed of the SID budget, which was adopted at Monday's Council meeting as a new item.

Taylor also complained at Monday's meeting that she had not received the emailed copy of the letter from Housing Authority director Randy Wood requesting the HAP ordinance be withdrawn.

Is there more going on here than meets the eye?

Mayor Mapp's closing remarks noted that one of his administration's goals was to change the perception that Plainfield was not business-friendly, and that this open meeting was part of his effort to make the process both more transparent and more efficient.

Donna Albanese remarked in closing, 'This is as close to perfect as we're going to get'.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Anonymous said...

Maybe Mrs. Taylor is of the generation that relies on snail mail only. Send her to a computer class with email as a subject.

Or maybe she wants to take every opportunity to be nasty, negative and obstructive.

Anonymous said...

Dan -- looking at the state's website for this financing program, this is for affordable and low-income housing.

If the developers go for this financing, isn't the deal low income families have to go into these apartments?

A 2 bedroom apartment, with a low income family, can me 2-3 children in the 2nd bedroom. That's what's happening now in town in rental units.

These developers are hedging their bets, going for low-income state financing, then later - if and when - Plainfield gentrifies and we get a one train ride, this could become higher end housing.

210 apartments on 5 acres = 42 units per acre. Current highest density zoning allows only 18 units per acre. They are going to have to get zoning variances.

Ron said...

I hope that you left out some details of this project because I do not see the value of 200+ rental units coming to Plainwood Square without accompanying ground floor retail. This should be an anchor project that enhances the vitality of the east end of South Avenue and promotes a walkable strip of shops and restaurants.

We have 50,000 residents in Plainfield many of whom are underserved by current retail offerings. Having lost our role as a shopping destination to Westfield someone needs to think harder about what projects best suit Plainfield. I hope we don't end up losing Netherwood Grill after waiting so long for decent casual dining.

Anonymous said...

Does this mean the Netherwood Grill could be going away??? Noooooo!

Anonymous said...

I am glad something in Plainfield is perfect.
Once again we rip out established businesses, who pay taxes that reduce my rates, for more housing-Just what we need: people with no connection to the city and are not going to shop here or dine out- oh, that's right, they coulden't if they wanted to, they will have been removed! I don't get it.
How is this a help to Plainfield, you know there will be lots of children, you are nuts if you think not.
I ask again, what's good for the people of the city in this mess?
As for Ms. Taylor she has proven over and over again she can't or won't read and should not be embarrassed, obviously there are a lot of people in town who can't read, if they elected her. All messages for the Queen should be delivered verbally by sweaty runners from Marathon so she can cut off their heads if the news is bad. There should also be trumpets, there should always be trumpets.
Glad she won't read this, someone would have to explain it to her, and I don't think anyone in the green machine could. They will probably tell her someone thought she was a Queen, and she would think,"how grand".

Bob said...

As far as Gloria Taylor goes, thank you Jerry. She is disruptive, anti-Mapp, anti-Plainfield in so many ways, and not out to help the people of Plainfield. When she was appointed to take over Mapp's Council seat she promised to work with the administration for the good of Plainfield. That was a flat our lie if you look at her behavior since January. I have a Masters in the Behavioral Sciences and have run various therapy sessions and believe that it is not what you say that counts, its what you do. I hope what Mrs. Taylor does is to help Plainfield more into the future, not the past.

Anonymous said...

Random thoughts:
Will buildings be on both sides of South Avenue? If so, I hope they will be sited and oriented towards each other and surrounding space better than Park-Madison.

Density on 5 acres is close to what Solaris is asking for at Muhlenburg site. A coincidence? But, location is better suited for high density.

Location is closer to Fanwood Station and within walking distance (4,000 feet.) I think that will be focus of transit.

PILOT designed for commercial development where no possibility of burden on school district. Abused by politicians to favor any development. There will be school children, but in an Abbott District like Plainfield, does that mean the homeowners or State will pay the bill?

Anonymous said...

Kevin Codey as in the former gov's son