Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Heed Maraziti on Redevelopment

Memo to City Council members: Check your April 2005 files for a handout on the redevelopment process.

All except Councilman Elliott Simmons, who took office Jan.1, 2006, should have the document that was presented by the prestigious attorney Joseph J. Maraziti Jr., an expert on redevelopment issues. The presentation fully covered all the steps and rationale for redevelopment decisions as allowed by state statutes.

In describing “Keys to Successful Redevelopment,” Maraziti cited the need for community involvement, sound planning, cooperation between council and Planning Board with a call to “raise the bar high” and exercise “leadership, vision and consistent message.”

Maraziti outlined three steps: Designation of a redevelopment area, adoption of a redevelopment plan and execution of a redevelopment agreement. The document includes several charts that define the process.

Now that Plainfield is faced with several fast-track developments, it is imperative that all – council, land use boards, citizens, property owners and politicians – know and adhere to the state redevelopment law. The council needs to consider its role and not exceed it. The same goes for the Planning Board and Board of Adjustment. Citizens need to know the underpinnings of city decisions and to make sure they meet the law. Property owners need to know their rights in the redevelopment process. Politicians must keep in mind the consequences of skipping steps.

In 2005, Plainfield had many various redevelopment projects in the works. The list included the former Macy’s block, the Marino’s tract, North Avenue between Park and Watchung avenues, the Downtown Station South project, the East Second Street study area, the East Second Street Neighborhood Commercial area, the Tepper’s Tract Plan, Block 612, Arlington Heights, Block 247, Block 316, 600 block of South Second Street, the 197 Properties plan and more.

For 2006, the highlights have shifted to “transit-oriented” development near train stations. North Avenue between Park and Watchung is now a prime target. Planners have also talked about combining the Downtown Station South study with the Block 316 area (behind Bill’s Luncheonette). Another target is the new East Third Street/Richmond Avenue section for an unspecified number of condos. The proposed senior center will now have 63 condos above.

A rejected proposal would have placed 64 condos on South Avenue, replacing an auto collision shop.

The city is now advertising on its web site for a redevelopment project coordinator. Candidates are expected to have at least four years’ experience in various redevelopment activities. For good measure, Plaintalker will gladly give the successful candidate a copy of Maraziti’s presentation.
Many Plainfielders seem to be ready for a gamble on change. The city needs more tax revenues, especially if legislators who oppose Abbott district school aid are able to curtail it. But many who have watched the process in recent weeks are worried that errors could trigger costly lawsuits or other unintended consequences.

As Maraziti states in outlining the sequential steps before making a redevelopment agreement – making a study, designating an area “in need of redevelopment and adopting a redevelopment plan – “These documents make or break the process.”

--Bernice Paglia


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