PLAINFIELD, NJ — The Historic Preservation Commission heard more about the future than the past Tuesday, as Economic Development Director Valerie Jackson envisioned 8-story buildings along Watchung Avenue and the former YMCA property split up to make way for more apartments.
Jackson and Steven Martini of the Nishuane Group also presented plans for the North Avenue Pedestrian Mall by the main train station, suggesting that the 1880s-era buildings might rise higher, but with historically correct facades. Overall, the presentations pointed to increased density as allowed for in Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) that came with the city’s “Transit Village” designation in 2014.
Jackson said she was seeking comments on proposed amendments to the North Avenue plan and the 125-parcel Downtown Station South plan (which includes the YMCA building) will be heard by the Planning Board on Thursday, Dec. 19 at 7:30 p.m. in City Hall Library. Planning Board Chairman Ron Scott Bey was present and took some notes at the HPC meeting. The YMCA building was put up for auction in August 2018 and has been vacant ever since.
The YMCA is in the Civic Historic District, but a portion to the rear could become part of the Cleveland Avenue Arts District for development of an arts center at ground level with residential uses above, Jackson said. HPC Chairman Bill Michelson asked, “Is anybody interested in doing this?” and Jackson said, “Yes.”
The commissioners also heard three applications for Certificates of Appropriateness, one of which pointed up the need for homebuyers to check whether a property is in an historic district. A Randolph Road homeowner who spent $15,000 on vinyl windows was given two years to replace front and side ones with wood-framed windows, but commissioners acknowledged a discrepancy in the home’s designation and said the decision was not setting a precedent for other properties. They also suggested several ways to check whether a property was in an historic district, such as looking at district maps online or checking city records.
Councilman Cory Storch quickly received approval to replace a garage that was destroyed by a July “microburst,” but Michelson pointed out the possible need for Zoning Board review of a setback that was less than five feet from the property line.
“The footprint is the only thing left,” Storch said, noting it has been that way for 100 years.
Applicant Ahhre Maros admitted that he had used “bad judgement” in making repairs to an old porch and cellar entry without various permissions, including HPC review, but got a grilling anyway from commissioners who were not inclined to accept what architect Robert Algarin called a new one-room addition.
“Your masterpiece is coming down,” HPC Vice-Chairman Larry Quirk told Maros.
Suggestions included moving the entry to the rear of the building, keeping the old “Bilco” cellar door that Maros wanted to replace with a regular “man door,” and more.
“We are standing by what we submitted,” Algarin said, but the session ended with Maros agreeing to return in January for further discussion. He also agreed to provide samples of materials he would be using for the addition.
The Historic Preservation Commission meets next on January 28, 2020 in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Avenue. See more information, including Design Guidelines, at plainfieldnj.gov.
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