PLAINFIELD, NJ — Two agenda items pertaining to redevelopment received approval at a special meeting held by Plainfield's Planning Board on Thursday, with one stirring controversy. Both of the studies were prepared and presented by the Nishuane Group, the city's planning consultants.

First up for discussion was the Park Avenue Gateway Area in Need of Redevelopment Investigationpdf.  The City Council voted 6-1 on July 8 (R 245-19), with Councilwoman Ashley Davis dissenting, to authorize the Planning Board to conduct a preliminary investigation of property at 1204-48 Park Ave. that is bordered by Randolph and Laramie roads. 

The property sits west of the JFK Muhlenberg Satellite Emergency Department and the Harold B. and Dorothy A. Snyder Schools of Nursing and Medical Imaging. The 2.971 acres are currently utilized as a parking lot with 257 spaces, and it is assumed one in four are used by the nursing school's staff.

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Planning Board Chairman Ron Scott Bey provided clarification regarding the current ownership of the property; he said it is owned by JFK and was separated from approvals on additional parcels on which the emergency room and nursing school is located. Scott Bey added that proposed improvements to the lot were not made by JFK, and the property is also considered to be tax-exempt.

Steve Martini, a planner at Nishuane Group, indicated that the property met three of the criteria in order to be designated “in need”: 

  • The area is underutilized, with demand only using a quarter of the space; and a detriment to public health, safety, morals, or welfare of the community because of its excessive impervious coverage and inadequate vehicular access.
  • The parking lot and the principal use for which the parking serves are located on two separate lots, discouraging further improvements to the study area, remaining stagnant and largely unproductive.  The area's land value, the study notes, far exceeds the improvement value.  This indicates that the property is underutilized and investment is not occurring on the property.
  • The area is consistent with Smart Growth principles, near multiple city amenities, and it promotes walkability and mass transportation access.

During public comment, Nancy Piwowar raised concerns over parking and cited a history of parking issues in the city.  She suggested the board table the report until the city could conduct due diligence on any variances previously granted to protect the city from future issues with developers.

Scott Bey responded that those points would be addressed if and when a redevelopment plan is prepared, and not by the current study. He also confirmed that JFK was notified of the study under discussion. A motion was passed by the board with all in favor of adopting the findings.

The second agenda item, amendments to the South Avenue East Redevelopment Planpdf, did not pass as easily. The area involves nine parcels of land on South Ave., bordered by Terrill Road to the east and Dairy Queen to the west; five are commercial, three are residential, and one parcel is a vacant lot.

The report describes the area as “a gateway entrance to the City and is characterized as a mixed-use corridor which includes residential and commercial properties that are vacant and underutilized.”  It also cites the city's policy of encouraging bicycle use by improving the feasibility and attractiveness of bicycling. 

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City Council resolution 278-18, dated August 13, 2018, authorized the Planning Board to conduct an area in need of redevelopment study. Later, on September 20, 2018, the Planning Board recommended to the council that the area be designated as a Non-Condemnation Redevelopment Area.

Amendments to the plan include changes to the front yard setback to have no maximum versus the original recommendation of a 5-foot maximum.

Board members Sean McKenna and William Toth questioned the changes, stating that no maximum could allow for front yard parking, changing the overall intended look of the area, and would not align with the Master Plan.  Scott Bey agreed that the look could be impacted.

Changes to the bulk standard were also being amended, decreasing the amount of first floor commercial space from 40 percent to 35 percent to encourage commercial development.

According to McKenna, “These changes are very specific for no logical reason. There must be a developer requesting this. This is not what we previously approved.”

Scott Bey responded that he was not aware of a developer making the requests, and the board would still have control over any applications that are presented to deal with design standards.

“What’s presented here is against what we want,” Toth said.

Toth grilled Martini, reminding him that he was under oath, about the specific changes made to the plan. Martini admitted it was the administration requesting a second look at the plan.

The timing of the report was questionable given that the council approved resolution R336-19 just two days prior to the special planning board meeting. Per the report date, the amended report was prepared on Oct. 4, and was revised on Nov. 14.

A motion was made and approved to adopt the amendments, with McKenna, Toth, and Siddeeq El-Amin opposing.

RELATED: Plainfield City Council Votes 6-1 in Favor of South Ave. East Redevelopment Plan
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