PLAINFIELD, NJ — Plainfield’s Zoning Board Of Adjustment unanimously agreed Wednesday to deny conversion of a Central Avenue mansion to veterans’ housing in the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District.
Opponents and supporters have followed the case through six prior ZBA hearings, and others before the Historic Preservation Commission. Yates House for Military Veterans Attorney Steven Rother gave out a six-page summary to the board Wednesday, arguing that the board had to comply with “several federal civil rights statutes” so homeless vets with PTSD could live in a “residential neighborhood of their choice.” ZBA Chairman D. Scott Belin had board attorney Peter Vignuolo read the document into the record.
In public comments before the vote, speakers professed sympathy for veterans in need, but said the conversion would make a parking problem worse, exceed neighborhood density, damage the historic district and add to a glut of social service facilities in the city. City activist Nancy Piwowar presented research noting the proposed funding source, HUD-VASH, only supported 5,211 facilities nationwide and gave only 62 vouchers statewide, making it unlikely 25 units here would be funded.
Among other comments, Arne Aakre compared the small size of the proposed units, as low as 308 square feet, to regular 1- and 2-bedroom vet housing units in Basking Ridge. Geraldine Heydt said owner Andre Yates had failed to make repairs to the former Abbott Manor building after getting HPC approvals and called the building’s condition “appalling.”
Belin said Rother had given the board quite a bit to digest, and asked whether he wanted to come back, but Rother said his client did not want another extension. He called Tuesday’s testimony “meaningless,” to which Belin replied that when the board weighs positives and negatives of an application, “All testimony is relevant.”
Belin polled the board and Mary Burgwinkle led off with a comprehensive statement covering many issues.
“I cannot support the application,” she said.
One by one, others gave their own reasons and Belin reminded them, “Let’s be very clear – we are weighing the application on facts, not emotions,” before the board unanimously denied the application.