PLAINFIELD, NJ - About 50 people, including many property owners, came to Thursday’s Planning Board meeting to learn more about possible use of condemnation as a redevelopment tool.
The format included two slide shows of properties found to be “in need of redevelopment,” with reasons why they met criteria set by redevelopment law. Both were approved by the Planning Board, though the 34-lot condemnation list vote split 6-2, while the non-condemnation properties – 32.5 acres with 86 parcels – passed unanimously. Chairman Ron Scott Bey and Planning Board attorney Peter Vignuolo had to remind the audience several times that the vote was only to approve results of the study presented by Steve Martini and Shawna Ebanks of the Nishuane Group.
Board member Sean McKenna disputed parts of the study.
“The work is really not great,” he said, adding errors made him just question the whole report.
“You’re pre-textualizing,” he told the presenters.
City planning consultant Maryann Bucci-Carter said the study was typical, adding, “I don’t find anything unusual about this report,” but McKenna continued to find fault.
“Could you stop editorializing?” Scott Bey retorted, but McKenna noted more discrepancies, such as a building labeled “abandoned” when, he said, it had been vacated and was for sale. As McKenna persisted, Scott Bey said, “It doesn’t appear we have a satisfactory answer for you.”
Board member Alma Blanco asked whether owners of property on the condemnation list had been told how they will be compensated. Scott Bey said, “That’s a discussion we really shouldn’t have at this board,” but then added, “By law, it’s market value.”
Speakers from the audience included Lori Trachtenberg of E&A Restaurant Supply, who read a letter about her parents’ efforts over 45 years to improve the city and said property owners were already making deals and had projects in the works. Al Green, also associated with E&A Restaurant Supply, said graffiti noted on a building was actually put there by a school that teaches it as art.
“The building is in decent shape,” he said.
Gerry Kitsopoulos, an attorney as well as a property owner, took issue with having his Park Avenue property included in the study, saying his building had a “brand new roof” and new plumbing, among other improvements “all done at considerable expense.”
“There seems to be a land grab going on here,” he said.
When it came to a vote on accepting the condemnation study, McKenna and Siddeeq El-Amin voted “no.”
Other questions included how property owners were informed of a hearing on the studies. Vignuolo cited a “notice to the community” in newspapers. (Separate condemnation and non-condemnation notices were published on Friday, Sept. 13 in the Courier News, though not on the same page. On Sept. 20, both were published on the same page and on Sept. 27 a smaller, combined notice was published.)
The areas covered by both the condemnation and non-condemnation studies include some historic districts, and city historian Nancy Piwowar asked whether the state Historic Preservation office had been notified. She was especially concerned about the YMCA, and a former police station on Cleveland Avenue.
“Nothing’s being condemned,” Scott Bey said.
The City Council, which meets on Oct. 7 for agenda-fixing and holds its regular meeting on Oct. 15 (both at 7 p.m.), can next direct the Planning Board to prepare a redevelopment plan. Both meetings, at Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Avenue, include a portion for public comment.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story noted William Toth voted 'no' when in fact it was Siddeeq El-Amin who did so.
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