Friday, September 08, 2006

Planning Board Surprise

A slide show revealed a bit more than intended at Thursday’s Planning Board meeting.

The images were meant to lead the board through an “in need of development” study of the proposed Richmond Street and East Third Redevelopment Area. As Plaintalker reported on Aug. 30, the report did find the targeted properties all in need of redevelopment due to dilapidation or other criteria in the state Local Redevelopment and Housing Law.

But just before planning expert George Stevenson reached the last slide, one titled “Redevelopment Plan” flashed on the screen.

Board member Donna Vose asked for another look and Stevenson returned to the errant slide, which listed “high density multi-family development” as the goal for most of the target area, with a small commercial section on the remaining portion.

By coincidence, each Planning Board member had a document entitled “Plan for Redevelopment” at his or her place, even though Stevenson had painstakingly explained that the redevelopment process called for the governing body to authorize a study by the Planning Board, which then returned to the governing body for approval or rejection. If the study was accepted, the governing body could then ask the Planning Board to “prepare and submit” a redevelopment plan.

Curiously, the redevelopment plan was dated Aug. 23, the same date as when the City Council authorized the “in need of redevelopment” study.

Although planning officials stressed the many steps in the process, Planning Board attorney Michele Donato said the board would review the redevelopment plan on Sept. 21.

“The plan itself is not on this evening’s agenda,” she said.

According to a public notice, the meeting was to include a public hearing on the study alone.

Before the public spoke, board members questioned the criteria for selecting the properties in the study, saying others could have been included.

Councilman Cory Storch, the governing body’s representative on the board, also said he had not seen any specific plans “until tonight.”

After some discussion, the board decided to recommend the study’s findings to the council, but also to add a recommendation to expand the study area because some surrounding properties seemed also to meet the study criteria. The board will also recommend that the council and administration will include the Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority in talks on future plans.

Besides the seeming telescoping of the redevelopment process, the other main issue emerging from the meeting was that the PMUA had major plans to construct corporate offices and to consolidate its equipment and repair facilities in the target area. But after PMUA Chairwoman Carol Brokaw spoke about the authority’s plans to have offices and consolidate equipment and make repairs all in one location, Planning Director Bill Nierstedt said truck repair was not permitted anywhere in the city.

Among interested onlookers were members of the venerable Thul family, whose business in the target area goes back 100 years, according to Larry Thul. Patriarch Frederick Thul, 85, said the family increased its store and machine shop business to seven store locations.

But he said, “I think there’s something cooking here.”

Larry Thul said, “It’s very suspicious to me.”

The family real estate firm rents land to the PMUA and Larry Thul said he wondered whether the city wanted to “pull the rug out” from the PMUA or acquire his property by eminent domain.

Storch, forced by a conflict Thursday to pick the Planning Board over a council meeting the same night, asked for the council to initiate discussions with the PMUA on their plans.

In the end, the Planning Board agreed to recommend the study’s findings to the council, to recommend that the study area should be expanded and to have the council and administration enter into talks with PMUA on plans for the properties.

--Bernice Paglia


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