PLAINFIELD, NJ - In a surprise move, Plainfield’s Planning Board suspended the public portion of its September 5 agenda that was set to address redevelopment. The meeting, held in the library at City Hall, was standing-room only; over 60 people, including property owners and residents, lined the room, eager to learn more. The public meeting had been announced by the Planning Board in a published legal notice.
The board, according to the agenda, was scheduled to review two area in need of redevelopment studies prepared by Nishuane Group: TODD-South Study Condemnation, and TODD-South Study Non-Condemnation. (A resolution that would award a professional services contract for $65,000 to Nishuane as a planning consultant for redevelopment and planning services for the city appeared on the city council’s September 3 agenda fixing session.)
Economic Development Director Valerie Jackson explained at the August 12 council meeting that the area in need included over 120 properties. She said the study would propose the separation of the properties so that the council would have the authority to condemn, if necessary, in order to facilitate development of smaller parcels into larger projects in the downtown area, and to help prospective developers assemble the parcels.
Planning Board Attorney Peter Vignuolo addressed the crowd on Thursday, saying that based on the Fire Chief’s recommendation, the room had exceeded its capacity and the board would need to reschedule to a later date in a more suitable location.
Vignuolo also clarified the intent of the public meeting, and the Planning Board’s role. The board’s sole purpose, he said, is to look at the specific designated area and determine whether the properties meet the criteria, and not the condemnation or non-condemnation designation made by the city. The study is to outline the specific criteria, and if adopted, it will give the city tools when putting together the redevelopment plan; it does not, Vignuolo added, indicate that eminent domain will be enforced.
Based on the large turnout at the meeting, did the city do its due diligence in both communicating with concerned property owners, and in being transparent with them? Is there a developer already waiting in the wings?
After a vigorous discussion, Board Member Sean McKenna made a motion to have the Planning Board request that Jackson coordinate with the council to hold an open meeting on the condemnation vs. non-condemnation of TODD South. The suggestion was met with public appreciation. McKenna indicated that with such a large turnout, residents and business owners need to hear more details about what “condemnation and non-condemnation” mean. With a roll call, the motion was unanimously approved.
Prior to the suspension of the meeting, the Board briefly heard from applicant Joshwa Money School whose representatives appeared in an effort to continue its application. The applicant is seeking to convert the largest single family dwelling in Plainfield to a 12-guest room bed and breakfast. The 11,000 square-foot residence is located at 957 Central Avenue in the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District.
The Board was unable to hear the entire application, allowing for more time for the applicant to gather the necessary fire, police and planning reports. The case will be carried to the next planning board meeting on September 19 at 7:30 p.m. in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Avenue. All residents are welcome to attend and speak on the matter.
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