PLAINFIELD, NJ - A team of expert witnesses won Planning Board approvals Thursday for 120 apartments and a medical arts complex on the site of a shuttered hospital, but not before objections from residents.
City activist Nancy Piwowar, who is also president of the Historical Society of Plainfield, deplored the partial destruction of the former Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center to make way for the project and sought assurances that memorial plaques and medical artifacts on the site will be preserved. Neighboring homeowner Robin Bright said residents have made it clear since the 2008 hospital closure that they did not want apartments built there.
Over more than three hours of testimony led by attorney Lisa A. John-Basta, experts talked about traffic, parking, signage and especially the upscale nature of Muhlenberg Urban Renewal LLC’s plans for the site at Randolph Road and Park Avenue. Engineer Victor Vinegra stressed “the beauty of redevelopment” in using a location that already has utilities and water systems, while traffic engineer Joseph Staigar assured residents that the proposed 636 parking spaces would likely put an end to cars taking up space on nearby streets.
Architect Judy Donnelly enthusiastically described how elements of the former hospital’s design would echo across the residential and professional buildings, and called the housing “high end.” She said the 1- and 2-bedroom apartments will have granite countertops and “nicer appliances.” The residential building will have a rooftop terrace and will include a fitness center. Rents will be market-rate.
Resident Dennis Waters asked when the project will start and how long it will take. William Colgan, representing Community Healthcare Associates LLC, said it could take three to six months to finalize approvals, then 12 to 18 months to build the residential portion. The medical building could take up to five years to complete, he said.
Among concerns raised by board members, Siddeeq El-Amin asked whether parking would be available for people attending football games or tennis events at nearby locations. Staigar said it was possible “if they are good neighbors,” but if the parking lots became “over-saturated,” they would have to be controlled. Maritza Hall asked about snow removal and Staigar said it would have to be plowed and trucked off site, as there would be no room for snow piles on the site.
Resident Earlene Belle said she was concerned about control of rodents, asbestos and black mold during demolition at the site. Vinegra said rodent control would take place prior to demolition, and Deputy City Administrator for Economic Development Carlos Sanchez said he would look into the other issues.
Piwowar and Bright voiced many other fears for the site, including oil contamination from an old underground tank. John-Basta said the remediation process was complied with and taken care of.
Piwowar, a leader in a long campaign to restore a full-service hospital at the site, remained unassuaged by the promise of a new use.
“It’s an extremely sad day for the city of Plainfield,” she said.