PLAINFIELD, NJ — A marathon five-hour Zoning Board of Adjustment meeting Wednesday ended with approval for a new five-story building on South Avenue.

The application was first heard in April, when just four stories were proposed. The plan Wednesday still called for 1,800-square-feet of retail space on the ground floor, 42 1- and 2-bedroom apartments above, 12 covered parking spaces perhaps with charging stations, 42 parking spaces for tenants and six for the retail space, but no longer with a rooftop deck that commenters in April opposed. The top floor will be set back, planner Thomas Quinn said, so to neighbors the building will appear to be four stories.

Among board concerns, Chairman Alejandro Ruiz questioned the lighting plan. Quinn had praised the beauty of proposed LED lights and their “super-directional” quality that precluded the need for shields, but Ruiz and board member Jim Spear protested the 15-foot pole height. Ruiz said they would be “leaving a dark alley.” Quinn agreed to amend the plan as Ruiz added that police needed to see into the space. When Quinn said lowering the poles might incite vandalism, Spear said, “Someone needs to be an advocate for these neighbors.”

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“I assume there will be cameras,” board member Robert Graham said.

Other concerns were whether firefighters could reach the top floor and whether fire trucks could get into a 12-foot-wide driveway when 20 feet were required. As more tall buildings are constructed, the Fire Division is expected to adapt, and Quinn said he has made animations of fire trucks just like Plainfield’s that show they can access the driveway. The Fire Division’s review of the plan was only received Tuesday, so the applicant, 1014 South Avenue LLC, will likely be in further talks with fire officials.

The applicant will also submit plans for trees and shrubs to the Shade Tree Commission for review and advice. 

In public comment, Woodland Avenue resident Janice Fleming spoke, as she had done in April. She called the new building “too ambitious for the block,” and told the developer, “You have a clean slate – build what will fit.”

“I understand Plainfield has to grow, but don’t punish the people on the block,” Fleming said.

City resident Nancy Piwowar asked whether the pavers underneath the driveway could support a fire truck, and Quinn said he would have to prove it to the Fire Division.

Piwowar took umbrage at the comments about vandalism. 

“People seem to think our kids vandalize things,” she said. “Our kids don’t really vandalize things.”

She also told the developer, “I hope you give jobs to people in town,” and although saying she appreciated that he wanted to invest in Plainfield, she added, “I really feel this is way too much for this area.” 

The site is near the Netherwood train station and is zoned as “Transit-Oriented Development,” meaning projects can have higher density than in other zones.

Another part of the project is a 2-family house on Woodland Avenue that will be renovated.

Developer Vincent Wilt said he and his brother had owned many garden apartments, including Pingry Arms and Cornell Arms in Plainfield. He bought the South Avenue and Woodland Avenue properties a year and a half ago, he said.

In comments before the vote, board member Robert Graham said he liked the project and supported the application. Nancy Gerald said, “I’m about development, that’s why I sit on this board.”

She said changes are coming. “Everybody’s doing it.”

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Spear said, “The administration has failed miserably here,” adding he was not in favor of five stories on that side of South Ave. He said his biggest concern was “greater protection for existing property owners.”  In the end, he voted in favor since the building falls inside the height requirements.

The vote was 6-1, with Ryan Sears voting “no.”

Only two of five redevelopment applications were to be heard Wednesday, but as the meeting inched toward midnight, a person representing Moon Builder LLC for a project at 833 West Front Street asked to be put on the January agenda. The board will meet on January 15, 2020 at which time new or reappointed members will be sworn in and officers will be elected. The meeting will be 7 p.m. in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave.