Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Developers Gear Up

A prime element of city hopes, fears and campaign promises - redevelopment - came to the fore Monday (Aug. 21, 2006) as the City Council heard proposals for a new senior center, a shopping center and a makeover of the city’s historic business district.

The council agreed to vote Wednesday on six resolutions and two ordinances that will fuel progress on the projects. The new impetus follows a council agreement last month to let the Union County Improvement Authority do a lot of the bureaucratic heavy lifting while guaranteeing the governing body and city land use boards their full rights of approval at every juncture of redevelopment.

Some of the proposed legislation is just housekeeping, such as moving one parcel of land out of a previous redevelopment plan to another. But others give the UCIA the ability to start negotiations with developers.

In one resolution, the city recommends to the UCIA that Landmark Development Corp. be conditionally named the designated redeveloper of the North Avenue Historic District. Landmark proposes a new entertainment plaza and 415 residential units while retaining the ornate facades of the district’s 1880s buildings.

AST Development Corp., which built the new Park-Madison downtown office and retail complex, will receive conditional city designation to redevelop the Marino’s tract, named for an auto dealership that vacated the site. A 70,000-square foot supermarket is planned for the West End site.

Dornoch Plainfield LLC will receive “right of entry” permission to examine environmental and “geotechnical” conditions on the city-owned site of the proposed new senior center. Dornoch proposes three floors of market-rate condos over the ground floor senior center.

Council members questioned the presenters about timelines, costs, use of local labor, and whether the developers wanted tax breaks or other consideration from the city.

The developers talked in terms of months, not years, to get the projects going. Up until the past few years, city officials had been unable to achieve any development on the two major downtown tracts, Park-Madison and Teppers, for decades. Named for the former department store, the Tepper’s site now has 75 apartments with stores on the ground level.

Councilman Rashid Burney called the North Avenue district “Plainfield’s calling card” and asked Landmark to make sure the Historic Preservation Commission signed off on all the plans.

Councilman Don Davis said, “We’re looking for ownership, not renters.“

He asked the developers to “look at the vision of what we want for the city,“ saying past projects changed in midstream and the city had to settle for the results.

“We don’t want to settle any more,“ Davis said.

Wednesday’s meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice Paglia


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