PLAINFIELD, NJ - Plainfield’s Zoning Board of Adjustment held its annual reorganization Wednesday and heard three of four applications on its agenda, deferring one until Feb. 12

No sooner had Alejandro Ruiz been unanimously re-elected chairman of the Zoning Board of Adjustment Wednesday than his swearing-in almost fell through due to a missing oath of office.  While the search was on, Board Attorney Peter Vignuolo cleverly called the oath up on his cell phone and swore Ruiz in.

The vice-chairman seat was contested, with board member Robert Graham nominating himself and Jim Spear nominating Mary Burgwinkle. The board held a secret ballot, resulting in four votes for Burgwinkle and three for Graham. Vignuolo was the only applicant for the attorney post. City Engineer Drew DiSessa and Board Secretary Rosalind Miller were approved for 2020, and the board designated the Courier News as its official newspaper, with the Star-Ledger as second.

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Planning Director William Nierstedt predicted “many changes” to come in 2020, including increases in fees for planning services and escrow charges. Nierstedt has been busy revising the city’s master plan and Malvika Apte of CME Associates has been serving in his stead at zoning and planning meetings.

Vignuolo said the first applicant on Wednesday’s agenda, Pontoon Properties, LLC, will be “ready and prepared to go forward” at the ZBA’s Feb. 12 meeting. He said the board is asking the applicant to resubmit plans for the property at 300 A Park Avenue.

The next applicant, Joseph Tanner of 222-228 Monroe Avenue, was represented by attorney Jay Bohn, who offered city directory listings from the 1950s through 1980s to prove that a garage had been in business at the site. Kimberly Spurgeon, the owner’s daughter, testified that her father had been trying to re-establish the business for 15 years. But questions arose on whether using the garage for storage had caused the use to be “abandoned.” In addition, it became unclear which building on the property was the garage, and also whether a house on the site was a 1- or 2-family dwelling. With more information needed, the application was carried to the March 4 meeting.

Moon Builder, LLC’s proposal to subdivide a lot at 833 West Front Street and construct two 2-family homes won approval after attorney John Sullivan had engineer W. Leland Titus and planner Michael Tessolano testify on behalf of owner Steven Cheung. Titus said an Ash tree with an “immense canopy” would have to be removed to make way for construction, but a large Maple tree would be retained and others, including River Birches, would be planted. Cheung agreed to several board members’ suggestions, such as providing separate utilities for each unit.

Tessolano described the neighborhood and said the proposed homes “would appear to be a natural fit.” He stressed the proximity of shops, possible employment, and transit for occupants, as well as nearby Green Brook Park. Graham said city police have suggested lighting “from dusk to dawn,” but Sullivan said, “Our idea was to let residents control the lighting.”

After Ruiz said he did not like the proposed vinyl siding, Cheung agreed to modify the exterior.

“I hope we get more projects like this,” Ruiz said before the board voted approval.

The last applicant, Susan Wong, also relied on Sullivan, Titus, and Tessorano for help regarding parking and paving issues at a house she renovated on East Seventh Street. Wong won praise for her work, but also got some scolding for putting too much asphalt down on the corner lot. She apologized, and after more discussion of how to fit six cars around the 19th Century home, now a 3-family, even her critics joined in voting to grant relief from current land use rules.

Please note: The Zoning Board of Adjustment normally meets on the first Wednesday of each month, but decided to meet on Feb. 12 in order to give applicants more time to prepare. Meetings start at 7 p.m. in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Avenue.