PLAINFIELD, NJ - Over 40 residents turned out for the first community meeting hosted by the City of Plainfield and Community Healthcare Associates (CHA) the new owners of the former Muhlenberg Hospital site which closed earlier this month. Glenn Domenick, VP of Development for CHA Partners and Valerie Jackson, City of Plainfield’s Economic Development Director lead the question and answer session with the residents.
The main areas of concern raised were regarding asbestos remediation and air quality, demolition timeframe and parking issues.
One of the first concerns raised was that the project would evolve into something else if the economic climate changed. Jackson reiterated that the developer would have to return to the various Boards to amend the previously approved redevelopment plan. In Jackson’s words, “this is not a bait and switch”. The project is being “built to spec” based on the needs of the medical mall tenants. Jackson also indicated that she was not aware about the inclusion of a nursing home in the redevelopment plan but would confirm.
Asbestos remediation associated with the demolition and impact on air quality was also a significant issue raised by several residents. Per CHA all necessary approvals have been filed with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP) and reports will be available through the appropriate agencies. Residents were adamant about being inotified when the asbestos and mold remediation would begin as well as when demolition will occur. CHA also confirmed that the Health department has confirmed that there were no remaining biomedical hazards in the former hospital.
Regarding the adequacy of parking spaces relative to the number of units being built, CHA stated that the required ratio of one and a half spaces per unit was being met and “a shared parking model” would be implemented whereby housing residents would able to utilize the spaces at night that are used by the medical mall tenants and clients during the day. When asked why so many buildings were being demolished, CHA stated that the buildings slated for demolition are antiquated and cannot be redeveloped for the current uses. There will be approximately a full year of demolition before construction can begin.
Some residents claimed that the developer had not started off being a “good neighbor” as promised. The project got off to a rocky start with debris being thrown out the windows versus trash chutes. Residents described the immediate area as a war zone. Domenick agreed and indicated that since then they have addressed the issue by using an internal elevator shaft to move the debris out of the building.
While skepticism and lack of confidence in the ability to attract the desired high-end tenants to the development to fill the residential units and the commercial space continued to be voiced, Mayor Mapp stressed that a beautiful project would not appear overnight but the end result would be transformative to the area and will drive up property values.
CHA and the City officials committed to continuing to keep the residents informed on a regular basis by holding additional meetings at key stages throughout the development as well as providing information and responses to answers on a web portal on the city’s website.
The residential component of the project will feature a grand lobby, multipurpose rooms, fitness center, business center, bike storage and a rooftop terrace for its 39 one-bedroom and 81 two-bedroom residents. The units themselves will have amenities such as fireplaces, marble countertops, and high-end finishings. There is no allowance for Section 8 or low-income units and all will be offered at market rate.
This will be the fourth shuttered hospital conversion in New Jersey for Community Healthcare Associates. Previous projects include the Barnert Hospital in Paterson, Greenville Hospital in Jersey City and the William B. Kessler Memorial Hospital in Hammonton.