PLAINFIELD, NJ – Many residents turned out for the first in a series of community meetings planned by the City’s Department of Economic Development to discuss the new Master Plan for Plainfield. Valerie Jackson, Director of Economic Development, and Bill Nierstedt, designated Master Plan Project Manager, hosted the meeting.
A basic overview and an introduction to the master plan process was presented in mid-August at a community forum hosted by Councilman Charles McCrae, and defined the master plan:
What is a Master Plan? A blueprint for what a municipality can be, stated Jackson, and called it the overarching guiding planning document for the City of Plainfield. The existing plan was last updated a decade ago in 2009 and current NJ State Statute requires the plan to be re-examined and updated if necessary every 10 years. The plan falls under the jurisdiction of the City’s Planning Board and is the only document adopted by the Board and not the Council.
In the case of Plainfield, the Council is the redevelopment entity and two readings are required for resolutions to be adopted.
What are the benefits of redevelopment?
- Improve distressed areas
- Increase property values
- Improve tax base and stabilize taxes
- Enhance the local economy by creating new business opportunities and jobs
- Improve quality of life
Jackson emphasized that eminent domain is one of the tools available to the redevelopment entity and is normally used only after good faith efforts by a developer to acquire private property has failed and does not mean that the property will be demolished.
Redevelopment is not new to Plainfield, according to Nierstedt; some worked out well and others did not, he said, mentioning examples like the Teppers and Park Madison projects. “Every town along the Raritan Valley Line has experienced major redevelopment and are profiting with new ratables. Plainfield has been overlooked and it’s our turn. We need to put Plainfield back on the map and make it the place to be.” Nierstedt explained that the main reasons for Plainfield being overlooked included redevelopment projects that were put on the shelves, developers who were not interested, as well as the financial downturn in the economy.
The issue of gentrification and the city’s plan to ensure affordable housing was also on residents' minds. Jackson assured the community that the goal was not to gentrify but to provide a diverse housing stock and a diverse income base. Two current projects currently dedicated to affordable housing are Elmwood Gardens and The Station at Grant Ave. The master plan will include an affordable housing component, specifically in the transit areas. Homelessness within the City was raised, to which Jackson said that a group within the administration are tasked looking at viable solutions.
Concern was raised over straying away from the previous master plan and vision study, and how the community’s desires are represented during the negotiations with developers. Jackson stated bluntly, “Some projects were initiated by developers, that’s reality and sometimes that happens. Residential gives a return on investment and retail follows residential. Until we reach a point where we have some density, we will not attract retail.”
A number of residents stated that it was difficult to see the overall vision, particularly on South Ave, with the many residential projects, as well as the future WaWa. Jackson explained that with respect to North Ave, there are planned discussions with the Historic Preservation Commission to discuss the vision. Additionally, a map is being developed to help outline the many projects being planned. The goal is to develop around the two train stations.
Jackson raised the flood zone issues that developers are faced with, and the high costs to develop solutions to satisfy the state agencies. Jackson also suggested that developers contribute to open space such as existing parks in the public domain.
The new master plan will address infrastructure needs. Nierstedt mentioned several recent infrastructure upgrades being performed by PSEG and NJ American Water to ensure that the infrastructure keeps pace with the developments in progress. “It is a balancing act as many businesses are impacted,” stated Jackson. Impact on city resources such as the Fire and Police Departments was also addressed as both entities are involved in reviewing the site plans during the development process for all projects.
The master plan does not place a cap on the number of apartment units. Per Jackson, there are 5,000 units of housing in the pipeline but they will not be built overnight.
Changing the look of some downtown areas will be easier, as Jackson noted that one particular developer currently owns a significant number of properties, making discussions on rehab and changing the mix of retailers easier. “We need to leverage and understand the resources we have in order to make changes.”
With regard to existing businesses and how to protect them, Jackson felt that competition would be good for the businesses and help them to improve what they have. She also mentioned frequent meetings with downtown businesses to give them incentives to improve.
Quin Sleepy Hollow, the 212 unit residential development on South Avenue was criticized for advertising places and amenities in nearby communities outside of Plainfield. Jackson referred to Quin as “early adopters, and we are the ones who have to market and create the buzz about Plainfield and change the mindset.”
Overall many residents seemed very appreciative for the information provided and the ability to provide input. Most were in favor of economic development but encouraged a more balanced approach and to not approve every project presented to the city.
The next scheduled community meeting will be held on October 8th in the 4th Ward at Clinton School at 1302 W. 4th Street at 6 pm.
The Planning Board meets on Thursday, October 3rd at the Plainfield High School Cafeteria at 7:30 pm.
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