Thursday, October 19, 2006

East Third/Richmond Proposal Questioned

Residents, business owners and Plainfield Municipal Utilities Authority commissioners spoke out against the East Third/Richmond condo proposal Wednesday (Oct. 18, 2006), telling the City Council it is wrong for the location.

On Monday, Capodagli Property Company LLC showed the council an example of the five Georgian-style buildings that would have 700 parking spaces and utilities at street level, with four stories of condos above, totaling 352 units priced between $300,000 and $350,000.

The site presently has commercial and industrial uses, including the Thul family machinery business that has been there for 93 years. The PMUA had plans to consolidate its operations on the Cottage Place section of the site and has already invested $2 million of taxpayer money, board president Carol Ann Brokaw-Boles said Wednesday.

Commissioners Alex Toliver and Nathaniel M. Singleton Jr. also protested Wednesday.

Larry Thul voiced fears that the developer’s proposed phased construction might end up with the project only half done and the developer walking away in a tough real estate market.

“Then you’re stuck with an abandoned project,” he said.

Thul got a flippant response from City Administrator Carlton McGee, who asked when the business began and said, “Did anyone guarantee your grandfather success?”

Singleton chastised McGee “for insulting this gentleman” and said, “I think your behavior is unconscionable.”

Businesswoman and Hispanic activist Flor Gonzalez also took offense, saying, “I feel highly insulted that the city administrator would talk like this.”

Gonzalez also questioned the viability of a condo project, saying she sees unsold condos all over. She said the city needs a strategic plan and study of housing needs.

McGee later apologized for his remarks.

The flurry of opposition to the project arose in a hearing before final passage of the East Third/Richmond redevelopment plan, which sets out parameters for what can go on the site. The plan recommends high density, residential development. Despite the attempts of officials to keep comments strictly on the plan itself, almost all speakers wanted to be heard on the proposal.

Even before speakers began venting on the proposal, Council President Rayland Van Blake announced Wednesday that a resolution related to the proposal had been withdrawn.

The resolution included conditional designation of Capodagli as the developer and set the stage for the Union County Improvement Authority to begin negotiations on a developer’s agreement.

In recent months, the council seems to have grown wary of perceived haste in pushing redevelopment projects.

The council agreed in June to put the UCIA in charge of redevelopment, with appropriate land use board and City Council approvals at each step. The East Third/Richmond tract, not previously on a list of more than a dozen redevelopment sites, was a target site.

In July the City Council directed the Planning Board to conduct an “in need of redevelopment” study of the site. The study found dilapidated buildings and other problems that led to a recommendation for redevelopment. But at an Aug. 23 meeting to approve the study, Planning Board members also received a redevelopment plan, even though the study should have gone to the council for acceptance, after which the governing body could in turn direct the Planning Board to make a plan.

On Sept. 20, the council declined to accept the study because it did not include Planning Board recommendations to involve the PMUA in talks and to consider possible uses for the west half of the blocks involved. The Planning Board approved the plan on Sept. 21 and the council held an emergency meeting without public notice Sept. 23 to approve both the study and the plan. Several residents came to the 9 a.m. emergency meeting to question the process.

--Bernice Paglia


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