Bettering Plainfield with the facts since 2005

Friday, August 15, 2014

Draft report on possible future for Muhlenberg property

The study area involves the Muhlenberg Hospital
campus (including the lot on Park Avenue which is not highlighted).

With a packed house at Plainfield High School's cafeteria, Heyer & Gruel Associates presented its draft report on possible future uses for the Muhlenberg Hospital campus Thursday evening.

Mayor Mapp opened the evening by welcoming the crowd, introducing the consultants and offering the floor to a representative from Assemblyman Jerry Green's office, who explained the Assemblyman had another meeting to attend.

Later, jokingly referring to the 7:00 AM robocall on which several participants commented, Mayor Adrian Mapp said he took full responsibility for it and its apparent effectiveness -- my guesstimate was there were about 450-500 people there. This is the most since the monster rallies in opposition to the hospital's closing in 2008.

The consultants admitted they were not prepared for a crowd of this size, and were criticized sharply for it by one resident. (The PowerPoint presentation was displayed on a side wall, they had to jerry-rig a pointer, and there were no handouts, were among the issues.)

That being said, the consultants presented a brief overview of one possible scenario for future use of the property.

This was the first time I recall hearing that the scope of their project was restricted to proposed land uses and zoning recommendations for the 17-acre campus, but the explanation was that it hinged on the principal point of JFK's proposal for the protperty -- that the zoning be changed to allow all residential development.

The draft report proposed dividing the campus into two zones, one the parts of the property facing both sides of Park Avenue and the other being the main buildings to the east.

View of half the crowd from my front row seat on one side.

The audience palpably stiffened at the mention of possible assisted living or vetrerans housing uses for a corner of the property opposite the Donald Van Blake tennis courts.

Except for this point, the recommendations followed closely the public's input at three previous community meetings, focusing on possible 'medical mall' uses of the main complex. The exteriors of two historic structures would be preserved. The portion centered on Park Avenue would have a large section reserved for parking and would offer opportunities for some standalone ancillary or educational facilities.

Twenty-four people came to the microphone with comments or questions.

The very first person zeroed in on the housing suggestions and several others echoed her comments -- that the rea residents wanted to see no residential development on the property and had clearly expressed that in all the public meetings heretofore.

The audience was passionate as only Plainfielders can be, but patient and respectful when somewhat different views were expressed by various speakers.

At a couple of points, the audience loudly applauded suggestions of the speakers -- especially when Board of Ed member Fred Moore urged there should be no change at all in the current zoning.

Another was when Bill Michelson, well-known for representing the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District in the fight over the Abbott Nursing Home, made three points (the city should landmark the historic properties post-haste, the plan should drop housing altogether, and the city should hold firm on the current zoning), bringing the house down when he said, 'we should be making JFK punch its way out of its own paper bag'.

Resident and business owner Vicky Griswold pointed out that Solaris [now JFK -- DD] has all along refused to agree to due diligence by prospective purchasers.

This was also alluded to by another resident and business owner, Olive Lynch, who suggested that the books were cooked to portray Muhlenberg as not viable, thus giving the state a reason to allow its closure.

Lynch also outlined a proposal for an initiative to put a public question on the 2015 general election ballot that the property must be used for medical purposes.

Mayor Mapp closed the meeting by noting the consultants would incorporate Thursday's feedback into the final proposal, which is expected by the end of the month, and noted that the presentation would be available on the city's website 'Friday morning'.

Be sure to check it out and stay tuned for the next developments.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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