PLAINFIELD, NJ - In a meeting that ran past midnight, Plainfield’s Zoning Board of Adjustment agreed to resume testimony on an early childhood program’s expansion on Oct. 3, with a new traffic study done while school is in session.

HOPES CAP Inc. acquired the former Armory building at Leland Avenue and East Seventh Street in a 2012 state auction, and planned to consolidate its programs, now in rented space at various locations, in the building they owned. It is the only Head Start provider in Plainfield and also offers other early childhood services. 

The group received Zoning Board approvals in 2013 for up to 300 children at the site, over objections from neighbors in the largely residential area who were concerned about increased traffic. HOPES did not make an anticipated 2014 opening, and asked this year for approvals to expand from 20 classrooms to 26, from 270 children to 362, and from 76 staff to 95.

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Traffic issues had derailed the group’s July hearing and HOPES returned Tuesday with a new traffic study, but board members found the summer study unsatisfactory for not reflecting conditions when school starts.  A city elementary school, Woodland, is being demolished and its population will move to Cook, on Leland Avenue, while a new school is constructed. Leland is also a commuter link to Route 22.

On Wednesday, traffic engineer Joseph Staigar said his study projected a one-second impact on traffic flow. Staigar used various accepted formulas for calculating the flow and adjusted them to approximate conditions when schools are open, but board members and residents disputed his findings.

Noting a new 212-unit apartment complex being developed nearby as well, board member Jim Spear predicted, “Seventh (Avenue) is going to be a parking lot.”

On the one-second delay, Spear said, “I absolutely have to disagree with you.”

In public comment, resident Jeffrey Spelman said he was concerned that a traffic bottleneck on Leland Avenue would cause parents to drive up on the sidewalk.

Regarding her son, parent Farah Pidgeon asked, “Which one of you will be responsible for him being late every day?”

She said of the anticipated traffic, “It’s going to be a nightmare.”

Other issues were whether a police officer should be hired to manage traffic and whether new four-way stop signs had been considered in the traffic study.

The HOPES hearing began about an hour into the meeting. Residents lined one side of City Hall Library, with parents and children ranked along the opposite wall. Around 9:30 p.m., most of the parents and children left. 

HOPES President and CEO Simona Ovanezian and Early Childhood Programs Director Joselyn Estevez-Vargas answered many questions during the four-hour hearing, in addition to testimony by Staigar and planner John McDonough. See to learn more about HOPES CAP Inc.

The application will next be heard at 7 p.m. Oct. 3 in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave.

Read previous articles on the HOPES project: