PLAINFIELD, NJ - Plainfield's special Joint Land Use Board Meeting was held on Saturday at City Hall to introduce the public to members of the Planning Board, Zoning Board of Adjustments, Historic Preservation Commission and Shade Tree Commission. Representatives from the Housing Authority of Plainfield, the Plainfield Board of Education, and the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority were also invited to speak.
Ron Scott Bey led the agenda after opening remarks from Mayor Adrian Mapp, and Director of Economic Development Valerie Jackson, who thanked board members for their volunteer work to make Plainfield a better city.
Commission chairs provided brief overviews of their respective boards, beginning with Alex Ruiz, Zoning Board President. He indicated that parking, traffic and residential density continue to be frequent issues with applicants coming before the board, and said there is a high demand for childcare facilities.
"I think the signage new ordiance has helped out," Ruiz said. But, he added, "the question still comes up about the variable LED moving signs."
The Historic Preservation Commission's Bill Michelson mentioned that over the past year the board was the proud recipient of the NJ Historic Preservation Award as well as two grants from the National Park Service. As a result of the relationships at the state and federal level, the board is well respected.
Shade Tree Commission Chair Holly Hoffman said that the board is in need of members, in addition to the four currently serving.
Randall Wood, Executive Director for the Housing Authority of Plainfield, provided an update on the long-awaited $18 million Elmwood Gardens housing project located on 3.85 acres.
Wood said the NJHMFA has granted a preliminary award of a 9% tax credit program to fund the 58-unit townhouse design complex for affordable housing. There will be 43 two-bedroom and 15 three-bedroom units, with energy star appliances and community spaces.
The units, Wood noted, are very similar to market rent units and room sizes exceed standard requirements. Closing is anticipated to occur in late summer 2019, with construction to begin in the fall.
Wood mentioned that the Georgian style new development, to be renamed “Elmwood Square,” has been a long journey working with state and federal funds, as well as working with the city.
Beverly Morris Gill, CFO and Deputy Director, provided an update on PMUA’s recent initiatives under the new leadership of Eric Jackson. Morris Gill cited the PMUA’s overall mission to safeguard the public health by providing environmentally friendly and cost-effective municipal waste services. PMUA's key focus, she said, is to work closely with the city on new development projects as investors come into to the city.
The PMUA ended its fourth quarter very strong, Morris Gill said, as a result of partnerships with neighboring municipalities. Recent new initiatives include the dual stream recycling program, and Styrofoam and E-waste recycling programs.
Shep Brown, Director of the Department of Health and Social Services, highlighted the city’s year long centennial celebrations being planned by a very diverse committee. More details regarding the events, Brown said, can be found on the city’s website.
The Board of Education's Carmencita Pile gave a short update on the search to replace Dr. Ronald Bolandi, currently serving as the interim superintendent, as well as the New Jersey Schools Development Authority's Woodland School construction project.
Jackson gave a presentation on economic development around the city. She said the groundwork has been laid to build investor confidence; simple, efficient processes are in place, and there is a continuity of leadership.
Jackson mentioned UEZ and Opportunity Zones, specific investment funds available, and indicated that there will be upcoming seminars to educate the public on opportunities.
She said durinig the construction phase of projects, temporary jobs for residents are created, with 300 realized to date. Approximately 100 permanent jobs have been created.
Jackson gave examples of taxes realized post development on sites like Muhlenberg Hospital that were previously designated as tax exempt.
Overall, there is currently over half a billion dollars of development in the pipeline, approximately 1,500 residential units, and almost 400K square feet of retail, according to Jackson. And there are over 125 ethnic eateries in town.
Upcoming projects include:
- 3rd & Richmond (near Union County College) - residential and retail
- 347-435 E. 3rd - 148 residential units
- TODD West - West Front St, Entral Ave, and Second St - nearly 500 residentail units, retail, banquet facility
- 1000 North Ave - 120 residential units and retail
- 829 South Ave - 70 residential units, with retail
- South Ave East - residential and retail development
- E-Paul (525 South Ave) - residential, retail, restaurant
There are plans underway to review the city’s Master Plan, a city guide updated every ten years. Currently a team is being assembled to update the entire plan including, housing and land use portions. A project manager and a planning board committee will be established to oversee the process and provide regular updates to the Planning Board. A timeline will be established for deliverables and public input will be solicited. Bill Nierstedt, former Zoning Officer, will be overseeing the Master Plan review.
Nierstedt continued, briefly touching on a few new topics that many communities are considering, including:
- Airbnb – Does it make sense to regulate and can it be enforced?
- Cannabis – Where do municipalities want to be in the process and what is the State of NJ about to do? It was mentioned that another town hall meeting will be held to get community input. Based on the initial town hall and survey conducted, over 70% of the residents are supportive of cannabis in Plainfield. Scott Bey reminded the group that once the bill is passed, the city will have 180 days to respond.
- Microbreweries/brew pubs – What is classified as a brew pub? Would this include distilleries?
Liquor licenses were not on the agenda but it was acknowledged to be very important to development discussions.
In public comment Bernice Paglia raised the issue of revaluations and when they might take place. According to Mapp, revaluations are considered revenue neutral as some will pay more and others will pay less. While there are no current plans, Mapp said, "it's only a matter of time before we have to do it."
Longtime resident Leslie Uslan praised the mayor and the administration for its accomplishments so far but was concerned about development incentives like PILOTs, or payment in lieu of taxes, being given to developers while property taxes continue to increase. She said the school system, safety and property taxes are her top concerns. According to Mapp, as the projects come online the tax revenues will be realized and homeowner taxes will begin to stabilize.
Councilman Storch commented that public input should be sought earlier in the redevelopment process. "We have made our city business-friendly, but we need to hear more from our residents."
Jackson said residents already have the opportunity to provide feedback at planning board meetings, and will be able to comment on the Master Plan update.
David Graves questioned the effectiveness of the recently implemented 4-way stop signs, and asked if more are planned.
Nadine Roper raised the issue of short-term rentals like Airbnb in Plainfield and whether there are plans to address the ordinance that she said is currently unclear. Jackson responded that they are having internal discussions and it is worth regulating and enforcing. A policy recommendation will be made for the leadership.
Michael Clark said that residents of the city should be able to be employed on development porjects. Jackson said a list of professionals and local contractors is being maintained by the city for developers to provide local employment opportunities. Residents and local contractors can call (908) 226-2513 to be added to the list.
Mayor Mapp closed the meeting with “We are not perfect, but there is progress”.