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Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Plainfield Council supports Cedar Brook Park changes despite murkiness

Proposed changes to Cedar Brook Park would be in the area
between Arlington Avenue and the existing ball fields.

Plainfield City Council declined Monday evening to either amend or delay consideration of a resolution of support for Union County's plan to make changes to Cedar Brook that will include installing an artificial turf field that can accommodate both soccer and football, plus drainage construction (the field is in a flood zone) and 70-foot poles to provide night lighting.

The business agenda of the Council was adopted without any fuss in about twenty minutes. Then the action began.

Council President Cory Storch opened the discussion by remarking that the proposed resolution on Cedar Brook Park had been broached with him only on Friday. He agreed to include it in the Council agenda, but it could only be formally added to the agenda by a super majority of 5 votes at Mondy's meeting.

Councilors quizzed Union County Parks & Recreation Director Ron Zuber, as well as Plainfield Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) chair Bill Michelson and Plainfield Planning Board chair Ron Scott Bey at length before tackling the vote to put the item on the agenda.

The county's proposal has been fraught since the beginning. As I pointed out last November (see my post here), when they originally came before the HPC, county representatives were ill-prepared for the commission's and the public's questions.

This was remedied somewhat by the time county officials came before the Planning Board for a capital plan review in December (see my post here) -- for one thing, they came up with Olmsted drawings from the 1920s showing that active sports use was planned for from the beginning.

However, acrimony between the county's deputy counsel and HPC chair Michelson effectively poisoned the atmosphere.

The HPC adjourned the November matter for a further hearing, which the county snubbed. The Planning Board, with chair Ron Scott Bey being the only objector, approved the capital plan review with several stipulations. The Planning Board's attorney at the time, Michelle Donato, sternly advised the county officials that because the park is on several landmark registries a "certificate of appropriateness" would be needed to begin work. At a minimum, the County would have to go before the NJ Historic Sites Council, which the county eventually did.

According to Michelson, the state body came down hard on the county proposal and, in a 7-page ruling, objected to several points in the plan -- including the night lighting.

Michelson said he shared that ruling with HPC members and Planning Board chair Ron Scott Bey, but acknowledged that a copy had not been forwarded to Corporation Counsel David Minchello.

For his part, Zuber said that the County had made concessions on several points of objection by the HPC and stipulations of the Planning Board -- "about 80 percent", he said.

In the event, the ruling does not become final and binding until signed off on by the DEP commissioner, and no one knows when that will happen.

The council's deliberations opened up several avenues of approach: adopt the resolution as is; delay consideration to give the Council more time to understand the issues involved; and amending the resolution by cutting out the overblown "whereas" clauses that reflected the county's initial proposal (which somehow had been modified to include mention of "lacrosse' play on the new fields).

Council President Storch started to propose an amendment to excise portions of the resolution. However, the group sensibly decided to go into a recess to come up with the necessary language.

Upon their return after a few minutes, Storch clearly outlined his proposal to drop all the inner clauses o the resolution and simply state the Council's support, substituting " subject to any ruling of local and/or state entities that have jurisdiction" for the word "unequivocally".

After being cued by Corporation Counsel Minchello that he had overlooked allowing public comment on the resolution, Storch opened the floor. Several people spoke both in support of and against the resolution. When all had been heard, Storch moved the the vote.

Storch's proposed amendment to the resolution was defeated, 5-2, with only he and Councilor Taylor in favor.

Councilor Taylor then moved to table the resolution to the September meeting. That too was defeated, again 5-2, with Councilors Brown, Goode, Rivers, Toliver and Williams against.

Councilor Rivers then moved the resolution "as is", and it was carried by the same 5-2 majority.

Left up in the air was the question of whether, in fact, the County has -- or will have -- the necessary "certificate of approval" to move forward.

The Council's letter of support will presumably be filed with the bond paperwork which will cover the project. (I haven't had a chance to check the details, but it seems likely the Cedar Brook Park project is already included in the $58M general improvement bond issue the Freeholders are scheduled to take up this Thursday evening -- hence the rush for the resolution of support.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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