Saturday, September 23, 2006

East Third/Richmond: The Process

In a special emergency meeting Saturday (Sept. 23, 2006), the City Council approved both the East Third/Richmond Street “in need of redevelopment” study and a redevelopment plan that calls for high-density, multi-family construction.

There was no prior notice of the 9 a.m. meeting except a verbal announcement by Council President Rayland Van Blake at the end of the Sept. 20 meeting that it would take place. The council is relying on a Sunshine Law provision that allows for an emergency meeting with notice to follow.

Before the council discussed the redevelopment study and plan, Councilman Cory Storch asked, “What would be the harm to the city if we didn’t have this meeting?”

Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson cited the need to keep redevelopment moving in order the help the city’s fiscal position.

Storch, who serves as City Council liaison to the Planning Board, said he voted “no” at Thursday’s Planning Board meeting on the study and plan and pressed for more information Saturday.

Public Works & Urban Development Director Jennifer Wenson Maier said the goal was to avoid “unnecessary delay” and council members Rashid Burney, Linda Carter and Harold Gibson all said the issue had been discussed earlier this week. Storch then expressed a higher “comfort level” with the process, but ultimately voted “no” on the plan Saturday as well.

Several residents spoke out on the process.

Maria Pellum asked whether residents of the proposed redevelopment site were consulted and whether any playgrounds were included in the plan. A recent home buyer herself, she said, “I’m fed up with not having a place to take kids.”

Pellum said the city doesn’t have good schools and playgrounds that taxpayers want.

Dahlia Forbes agreed with Pellum’s comment and said prospective condo owners in new transit-oriented development will expect to have conveniences nearby.

“I understand dollars and cents and the need to bring money here, but please think the process out. Think about the services they need,” she said.

Tony Rucker called for more diversity in the ratable base, not just residential uses. He also questioned the process of the approvals, saying it was hard for the citizens to follow. Calling the council a “check-and-balance system,” he said, “Deliberation is a necessary part to make sure these ideas are good ones.”

The Planning Board took up the study and plan late Thursday night and the public comment portion took place after midnight, by which time most people had gone home.

Flor Gonzalez asked whether the city has made a housing study to determine where proposed high-density projects should go. She also predicted the two-bedroom condos would bring more children into the school district.

Jamie Flanders asked, “Where’s the fire? What’s the last-minute meeting about?”

He suggested that developers think Plainfield will just accept “cut-and-paste” redevelopment plans.

Dottie Gutenkauf commented, “It’s hard to invite the community in helping to train horses, if the horses are already out of the barn.”

She agreed with Storch that more development should take place west of the main train station than to the east. Saying the “in need of redevelopment” finding was “in fact to call it blighted,” she said the temptation is to apply the designation to broad areas that are not blighted. Families are displaced, she said, and the new project may become rentals instead of owner-occupied.

“The rush of the process is my primary concern,” she said. “You act as if you are being chased by a herd of greedy werewolves.”

Gutenkauf urged, “Let all of us look together carefully at what we are doing.”

After public comment, Burney called for more public information on redevelopment proposals. Councilwoman Linda Carter said, “Many of us are not happy with the process,” and said the council needs time “so we can intelligently deliberate.”

“Let’s not accept that every time a project has to be rushed, we have to have an emergency meeting.”

For all that, the council will still not pass the redevelopment plan ordinance on second reading and final passage until Oct. 18. Asked why the council could not have passed it on first reading Oct. 5 and second reading Oct. 18, Williamson said there was a feeling “it needed to be completed.”

--Bernice Paglia


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