PLAINFIELD, NJ - Over objections from some residents Monday, Plainfield’s City Council approved the first step toward converting Dudley House to a transitional home for veterans.
Council members Joylette Mills-Ransome, Steve Hockaday, Barry Goode, Rebecca Williams and President Charles McRae voted “yes” for a $54,000 contract with the engineering firm Pennoni Associates Inc. to plan and oversee renovations to the city-owned building that formerly housed men in recovery from substance abuse. Cory Storch and Diane Toliver were absent.
The project’s total cost is estimated at $437,888, with $398,080 from a state Department of Community Affairs Shelter Support grant and $39,808 in city capital funds. Work may start this winter and be completed by June.
Among objectors before the vote, resident Brian Munroe said the city should sell the property instead. He noted two other possible vet homes in the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District and said the council should “squash the project altogether.”
Dudley House is in the Putnam-Watchung Historic District.
But Vietnam veteran Ronald Thomas spoke next in favor of the proposal in light of the high degree of homelessness among veterans. He called it “laudable” that the city was proposing not only transitional housing, but also services.
It is expected that HomeFirst, an agency that addresses homelessness, will administer the program.
City activist Flor Gonzalez said her son is a veteran and added, “I totally support that we have a place that veterans can call home."
But Zoning Board member Rich Sudol said the previous program shut down about ten years ago and zoning laws require a building to revert to its prior use if vacant two years. He said if the use has reverted to a one- or two-family home, the property should go before the Zoning Board. Finance Director Ron West said Dudley House was last operated two years ago, and Corporation Counsel David Minchello said if there was an infraction of the zoning ordinance, it would be handled by the city zoning officer.
Minchello said it should not impede the vote.
After the vote, Sudol and resident Richard Lear continued to object.
Andre Yates, owner of the former Abbott Manor on Central Avenue and currently in the midst of a long review of his plans for a vet home there, said his Open Public Records Act inquiry about Dudley House plans was never answered. Specifically, he wanted to see a memorandum of understanding between the city and HomeFirst, but West said it has not been finalized. Yates, his attorney Stephen Rother, and several expert witnesses have appeared multiple times before the Zoning Board and Historic Preservation Commission seeking approval to convert his building to a home for 25 veterans. Their next Zoning Board appearance is scheduled for April 11.
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