PLAINFIELD, NJ - After months of hearings by Plainfield's Historic Preservation Commission and Zoning Board of Adjustment, plans for a veterans’ home in the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District go back to the Zoning Board tonight (April 11). The meeting is 7 p.m. in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave.
From a Jan. 24 TAPinto Plainfield report: “The case has ping-ponged between the two boards for months. The HPC’s main charge is to issue or deny a “certificate of appropriateness” for exterior changes to historic structures, while the Zoning Board decides whether a proposal should be granted variances from land use regulations. Yates Home for Veterans attorney Stephen Rother and HPC Chairman William Michelson, also an attorney, were adversaries in a prior case involving the same property and they disagree over whether the HPC has jurisdiction over the proposed use.”
Rother forced a vote at the HPC’s Jan. 23 meeting by refusing to agree to extend the time frame for a decision. The HPC voted 7-1 to conditionally grant approvals for the design and bulk variances, but denied the use variance unanimously. Conditions included having an Architectural Review Committee of the HPC compile, over 45 days, a list of details that Yates must provide, along with material samples, within 45 days of ZBA approval, if granted.
The HPC sent the Zoning Board the Certificate of Appropriateness along with an 11-page document with recommendations on bulk and height variances and use and density variances. Among them, the HPC “objects strongly” to letting the applicant have 36.2 units per acre where the zone only permits two per acre. The document also challenges the size of the 25 proposed apartments, saying most are far below the required 500 square feet.
In addition, it states the project would “greatly interfere with the character of the surrounding area,” which features “fine architecture and landscaped spaciousness” characteristic of times when “well-to-do commuters” lived there. Parking, traffic, type and number of occupants are concerns, and the document questions Rother’s assertion that the city must give “reasonable accommodation” to the proposed occupants.
Finally, the HPC recommends denial of the use variance aimed at putting apartments in a neighborhood zoned for 1- and 2-family homes, and denial of the density variance as well.
Andre Yates, owner of the former Abbott Manor that he plans to develop as the Yates Home for Military Veterans, attended the March 27 meeting where the HPC adopted the referral resolutions to the Zoning Board. Outside the meeting, he talked about a city plan to provide transitional housing and services at the former Dudley House. While not seeing it as competition for his permanent housing proposal, Yates expressed skepticism about it, alleging that the provider named to run the program had no prior experience with veterans.
At present, the city-owned building on Putnam Avenue has been gutted and is ready for complete restoration of its electrical and plumbing systems and other renovations. The sole bid came in too high for the grant funds, but the city received state approval to serve as general contractor for the work.
While the anticipated provider has a track record for helping people overcome homelessness, Yates said veterans "come with a whole bunch of different issues than the general population."