PLAINFIELD, NJ - It was Yates House versus Dudley House Wednesday in testimony at Plainfield’s Zoning Board of Adjustment.

While the Yates House for Military Veterans was seeking approvals for a 25-unit home at 810 Central Avenue, the city took steps to convert a former substance abuse facility on Putnam Avenue into a transitional setting for veterans in need of various services. Both buildings are in historic districts, but Yates House is facing strong opposition from property owners in the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District who feel it is too much out of character with the neighborhood. 

Yates House attorney Steven Rother led off Wednesday by submitting a sheaf of documents related to Dudley House.

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“It’s a lot to digest,” he said.

The 25 proposed Yates House apartments average 373.6 square feet, with the smallest only 259 square feet, while the minimum for a studio apartment is 500 square feet.  When Rother asked architect William Doran to analyze the set-up at Dudley House, Doran said it was “just bedrooms and closets,” with one space only 64 square feet. 

ZBA Chairman D. Scott Belin reminded him that the board was only considering the Yates House application Wednesday, but Rother alluded to “discrimination” and said he might have to take an appeal to the Supreme Court. Planning Director William Nierstedt distinguished between the transitional dormitory-like Dudley House and apartments at Yates House, but when Zoning Board attorney Peter Vignuolo also did so, Rother said “You and I can argue in federal court.”

Both buildings have received Historic Preservation Commission approvals for exterior design, though the one for Yates House, after meetings going back to October 2017, was conditioned on further review of materials to be used. HPC Chairman William Michelson spoke at Wednesday’s meeting urging denial of use and density variances for Yates House, and Nierstedt said the HPC was permitted to “testify orally” on the matter.

“That’s why he’s here,” Nierstedt said.

Engineer Daniel Doran and affordable housing expert Rhonda Coe also testified Wednesday.  Daniel Doran said eleven parking spaces “were adequate for the site,” as tenants would not be allowed to have cars, but Belin said 45 were required. Daniel Doran disputed him, saying the state standard did not apply to studio apartments.

Board member Robert Graham asked, “How can a tenant be legally in breach for owning a car?”

When Rother did not respond, board member Jim Spear said, “You’re awfully quiet, counselor.”

“These are homeless vets,” Rother said. “You can either give us a variance or not.”

Graham told Coe he believed the vets would be ”better served in going after private housing, “ but Coe said people with special needs prefer congregate living for the support it affords.

“You can’t get that in commercial housing,” she said.

Among several residents who spoke, Leslie Uslan asked, “Is this good for the city? I want to walk out of here and be convinced this is good for Plainfield.”

Joanne Bandomer asked whether the use would remain “in perpetuity” or maybe become a boarding house, to which Rother said he thought Yates would agree to a deed restriction. ZBA Vice Chairman Alejandro Ruiz asked whether a tenant who lost his rent voucher would be kicked out, but Yates partner Anthony Flax named several other funding sources a tenant might receive, including Section 8 and welfare assistance.

Near midnight, the meeting adjourned and the application was carried to the May 2 meeting, 7 p.m. in City Hall Library, for testimony from a planner.

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