Tuesday, June 20, 2006

UCIA May Redevelop Four Sites

The City Council may name the Union County Improvement Authority Wednesday (June 21, 2006) as redeveloper of four city sites.

The council business meeting is 8 p.m. Wednesday at Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

The news emerged at Monday’s agenda session, even though it was not on the printed agenda. At about an hour and fifteen minutes into the meeting, several lawyers entered the meeting from the city administrator’s and mayor’s offices next door to talk about the deal.

Daniel J. McCarthy, who said he is the city’s redevelopment counsel, and Ed Boccher, counsel to the UCIA, discussed an agreement for the UCIA to complete redevelopment studies of the North Avenue Historic District, the so-called Macy’s block that is now dominated by the Supremo supermarket in the former department store, the Marino’s redevelopment area on West Front Street and a site at Richmond and East Third streets that has not yet been designated for redevelopment.

McCarthy said the work would be done at no cost to the city. Costs would be recouped in agreements with developers. City Administrator Carlton McGee said Jennifer Wenson Maier, the director of Public Works & Urban Development, will most likely represent the city in talks with the UCIA.

Under questioning from council members, the attorneys assured the legislators that all city rights would be retained up to and including rejection of any deal the city officials didn’t like. While supportive of the proposal, council members Rashid Burney, Cory Storch, and Elliott Simmons wanted it made clear that the council would have the last say.

“The nice thing is that the City Council remains in control,” McCarthy said. “You will see everything.”

McCarthy assured Burney that if the council disapproved of something, “You say ‘no’ and we terminate the agreement.”

Storch asked whether the authority would select developers or make requests for proposals. McCarthy said the authority will probably make a request for proposals for the Macy’s block, but if a developer owns most of another site, that person would be given “the first shot.”

McGee said the city will rely on “friendly sales” to acquire property, “versus the E-word, which nobody wants to use.”

A nationwide debate is going on over the use of eminent domain for private redevelopment as well as public reasons. Formerly, governmental entities could only take land needed for roads and other such public uses, but now they are able to do the same for private redevelopment that will bring in more taxes.

Storch concluded by saying, "I think this is a worthy idea, but we're talking about doing this this week."

"You're absolutely right," Blanco said. "This is a major step, this is a major decision. But you know you ran for council to make changes.

"This city cannot afford the luxury of time," Blanco said.

The city previously designated the UCIA as redeveloper of the downtown Park-Madison site, which was razed in the late 1960s in an ill-fated urban renewal project. It was a dilapidated parking lot for decades before being made into a park in the early 1990s. It now has a four-story governmental office building and various commercial tenants including Baskin-Robbins, Dunkin Donuts, Quiznos, a newsstand, a florist and a pharmacy.

The city also contracts with the UCIA for vehicles and equipment that the authority can buy at a discount for quantity and then lease or sell to municipalities.

The chairman of the authority, Charlotte DeFilippo, is also the chairman (correction: executive director)of the Union County Regular Democratic Organization. All of Plainfield’s elected officials are Democrats and Assemblyman Jerry Green, mentor of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, is the chairman of the local Democratic party.

--Bernice Paglia


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