Saturday, December 30, 2006

2006 In Review

Dear readers,
Please click on links to get stories.

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs became the first female African-American mayor of Plainfield Jan. 1. She survived a challenge to her qualifications when a judge in July opined that she did not have to live in the city for four consecutive years before election, but merely had to have a cumulative total of four years over time to meet the City Charter’s residency requirement.

Police Chief Edward Santiago, placed on leave by the mayor on Valentine’s Day, resumed his duties in March. The outcome of his court case against the city is not known.

Significant passings in 2006 included former firebrand Councilwoman Helen Miller, activist Phyllis Mason, watchdog Kay Cotignola, Zoning Officer Jocelyn Pringley and the City Council’s first Latino councilman and president, Ray Blanco.

Transit-oriented development took the stage in 2006, but only one proposal got as far as site plan approval. The Zoning Board of Adjustment rejected the “pioneer” project for condos on South Avenue. Among half a dozen proposals, only the senior center/condo
development for 400 East Front Street has received a green light so far.

In the Fits and Starts Departments, appointments to boards and commissions were spotty in 2006. Blanco as council president rejected last-minute nominees. Other nominations were not enough to make a quorum so that the board or commission could function.

The City Council broke a long tradition by changing the meeting schedule from Mondays only to Monday and Wednesdays. But dissatisfied with that plan, the council is pondering perhaps another new schedule.

The city recorded 10 homicides in 2006, compared to 17 in 2005. Law enforcement officials are mounting an “Operation Ceasefire” campaign to reduce gun violence.

Gang presence in the city was noted this year, with strategies to quell their influence. As reported in the national press, these gangs are violent and dangerous not only to rivals, but to innocent citizens who may be victimized at random.

In what some consider a step backwards for code enforcement, an ordinance to keep housing safe and not overcrowded was repealed. Real estate interests also fought increased inspections fees that city officials said were necessary to make operations self-supporting.

There were many more important stories in 2006, including the departure of Norton Bonaparte and Carlton McGee, immigrant protests, creation of a pedophile-free zone that encompasses the whole city, a plan to place 352 condos at East Third and Richmond and the recent naming of new cabinet members.

On to 2007! The annual reorganization is Jan. 8 and Plaintalker is polishing its crystal ball to look into school board elections, announcements in April of party nominees for City Council, Assembly and freeholders and the Democratic Party reorganization in June. What else - a supermarket in the West End? Stay tuned.

--Bernice Paglia

Kwanzaa 2006

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs welcomed the community to a Kwanzaa celebration Saturday (Dec. 30, 2006) that featured storytelling, music and dance, vendors and a Karamu feast.

The event at Washington Community School brought Hassan K. Salim back to the city. Several years ago, Salim increased Afro-centric awareness here with his Black Gold business on Watchung Avenue, offering books, clothing, jewelry, lessons, artwork, drums, masks and more. Now living in Montclair with a studio in Harlem, Salim presided Saturday over the pouring of the libation and ancestors roll call, an African story-telling session with the children and a Kwanzaa ceremony including the holiday's history and lighting candles on the kinara.
Mfundishi Jhuty Mes Hassan K. Salim, to use his full title, was and is a cultural force. It was nice to see him again.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Budget Talks To Continue

A City Council budget meeting fell through Wednesday (Dec. 27, 2006) because it was not advertised as required by the Open Public Meetings Act.

The council now plans to meet on either Jan. 3 or Jan. 10 to formulate amendments so the FY 2007 budget can be passed. Delayed budget passage will affect the timetable for sending out tax bills and therefore the receipt of tax revenues, possibly causing cash flow problems for the administration, Finance Director A. Raiford Daniels said.

The proposed budget is for the fiscal year that began July 1. It reflected an 8.2 percent increase over FY 2006 when introduced in September. Since then, the city has received word of $900,000 in extraordinary state aid that can be used for tax relief. The council hopes to reduce to tax impact to the cost of inflation, or about 3 percent.

In September, Chief Financial Officer Peter Sepelya said salaries and wages went up by $.7 million and pensions and health benefits each increased by $1 million over last year. Debt service accounted for another $430,000.

Meanwhile, revenues were down by $500,000 in sales of municipal assets, $66,000 in code enforcement fines and $143,000 in court fines, Sepelya said.

Police and fire costs were $20.6 million in FY 2006 but will be $22.2 million in FY 2007.

Total proposed budget: $65.5 million.
Amount to be raised in municipal taxes: $43 million.
Increase without state aid: $305.10 on an average $113,000 home.
Rate per $100 of assessed value: $3.370, up from $3.099.

While awaiting budget passage, the council can appropriate one-twelfth of last year’s budget each month to operate the city. However, the longer it takes, the less can be trimmed from the proposed budget. In July, the council set the tax rate for the last two quarters of 2006 at $3.188, which will offset the final FY 2007 tax rate.

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Another New Council Calendar?

They tinkered with a decades-old meeting calendar earlier this year and now the City Council is ready to do it again.

In April, the council dropped the traditional schedule that called for regular meetings on the first and third Mondays of each month, with agenda sessions on preceding Mondays. The new plan called for agenda sessions on the first and third Mondays, with regular meetings on Wednesdays of the same week, giving a week off in between.

But City Clerk Laddie Wyatt said the quick turnaround from Monday to Wednesday strained her staff by allowing barely a day to prepare documents for the voting meeting.

In recent discussions of how to proceed in 2007, Councilman Rashid Burney suggested a “rolling” schedule with Wednesday agenda sessions followed by a week off, then a regular meeting on the following Monday. The next agenda session would be Wednesday of the same week. Burney and others said they liked having a week off and it would allow more time to get questions answered before having to vote on resolutions and ordinances.

Wyatt raised the same objections to having to deal with two meetings in one week.

On Wednesday (Dec. 27, 2006), the council pored over the three versions - traditional, current or rolling – in an effort to pick one for 2007. Nobody liked the current schedule, but due to the need to adopt a calendar at the Jan. 8 annual reorganization, the council will have to start the year with it and pass an ordinance to change it. Councilmen Don Davis and Harold Gibson sided with Wyatt, saying the traditional Mondays-only schedule was more manageable for her office.

But Councilwoman Linda Carter and Councilmen Cory Storch and Elliott Simmons favored the rolling Wednesday-Monday plan.

Burney and Council President Rayland Van Blake were absent Wednesday and even though Burney had suggested the rolling schedule, the council members decided to wait until all are present to decide on a calendar.

The new schedule in April caused an outcry from citizens who said it would make them choose between Wednesday Bible study and attending council meetings. The calendar also conflicted several times with planning and zoning board meetings, which had not been a problem with the traditional Monday schedule. The Zoning Board had to hold one meeting on the second floor landing of City Hall due to one conflict.

The proposed rolling calendar will clash five times with Zoning Board meetings in 2007, if adopted.

The calendar change will need votes at two regular meetings and 20 more days to take effect. If the council votes on Jan. 8 and 18 under the old schedule, the new one could begin Feb. 7, which also happens to be a Zoning Board date.

The last change caused so much confusion that Plaintalker developed a handy pocket chart for citizens who wanted to monitor the council meetings. Rest assured, once the council picks a calendar, a new chart will be made up to foster civic engagement. After all, as the saying goes, eighty percent of success is showing up.

Magic Packs and Rooftop Gardens

A new senior center/condo complex will include a second-story roof garden and individual heating and cooling units for each of the 63 condos.

Planning Board members had plenty of questions about the site plans before granting approval in less than three hours on Dec. 7. But now that the hurdle of site plan approval has been cleared, maybe it is time to think a bit more about the reality of the roof garden and what developer Glen Fishman described as “Magic Pack” heating/cooling units.

Planners did ask about air conditioning, perhaps recalling the fiasco at the Tepper’s building, where construction advanced pretty far before anybody realized there was no provision for air conditioners in the 75 apartments created in the former department store. Holes had to be cut in exterior walls for sleeves to accommodate the units.

Fishman said the new building at 400 East Front Street would have air vents to the outside and the Magic Packs would be inside closets in each condo. A closer look at the plans showed the placement of the closets, but there was not much further explanation on how they work. Each condo owner would have complete control over the heat and air conditioning as well as responsibility for utility costs, according to a Google search, but compressor noise was mentioned as an issue.

The roof garden, while a popular notion in “green” architecture, also came up a little thin on actual information. The site plan had copious details on landscaping, but just for what was on the ground, unless this writer missed something. The roof garden would be on the second story, with condos in a U-shape around it. Both condo dwellers and seniors would be able to use and enjoy it.

As indicated on the site plan, it is a rectangle with X-shaped walkways. Six tree shapes are shown, with shrubs along the open edge over ground level parking. Balconies on the upper floors inside the U-shape overlook the garden.

Roof gardens or green roofs can help cool a building, offsetting the “urban heat island” problem caused by paving. They also absorb water, reducing runoff into storm sewers. A garden or green roof is also esthetically pleasing. The concept goes back to the fabled Hanging Gardens of Babylon.

Roof gardens may be merely plants in containers, while green roofs are constructed to be self-maintaining, with a lightweight planting medium installed over a waterproof membrane. Plants may range from low-growing mosses and sedums to shrubs and trees.

Green roofs or rooftop gardens have been popular in Germany for several decades and standards have been developed there for several levels of planting intensity. For more about what’s going on in the U.S., see

Maintenance of a roof garden or green roof is definitely an issue, especially in a city where weed trees such as ailanthus can grow several feet in a season. One has only to look at any vacant lot or even the landscaping around the Twin City plaza at Park and Seventh to see what happens when there is no maintenance. A second-floor garden open to the elements will develop weeds and will need all the usual gardening upkeep, such as pruning, removal of dead growth, cultivation and watering.

At the site plan hearing, some of the main concerns were parking, façade details and traffic flow. The hearing on the senior center application began late and the vote came close to midnight. It was obvious that the board wanted to accommodate the developer as much as possible, knowing seniors have been waiting a long time for a new center. Still, there is time to explore how Magic Packs and a roof garden will work in this project and maybe some others in the future.

--Bernice Paglia.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Bells Lend Joy To The Season

People living or visiting near Grace Episcopal Church have a special holiday treat. Traditional carols and hymns float over the neighborhood in the celestial tones of the church carillon, one of four live carillons in the state. The bells are in a square tower with gargoyle rainspouts at its corners.

The Pittis family donated the carillon to the church in 1923 and doubled its size in 1976. Click here for more information on the carillon.

Christmas music takes on a special quality when played on bells, one of the oldest sounds calling the faithful to prayer.
Happy holidays to all from Plaintalker, to those who celebrated the season of light with Diwali, Hanukah and the Winter Solstice and to those who find joy in Christmas and renewal in Kwanzaa. And to all a very Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

A Tale of Two Media

Newspapers all over the country are trying to find ways to change in order to compete with online media. On Thursday, Dec. 7, I found myself in the middle of the issue.

I had agreed to cover the Planning Board meeting for a newspaper, which meant I couldn’t cover it for the blog. I was told there would be an early deadline, which meant a vote was not likely by the time the story was due. One strategy in such cases is to give as much background as possible and indicate there had been no outcome by press time.

And so I spent time at City Hall getting details on the case and went to the senior center to get some comments about it. The application was for preliminary and final site plan approval of a four-story building that would include a long-desired new senior center.

I filed a pre-write before going to the meeting, aiming to add what I could from the actual hearing. Sure enough, the board didn’t get around to the case until10 minutes before a 9:30 deadline. The only other possibility was an 11 p.m. deadline for the paper’s online edition. But the decision didn’t come until nearly midnight.

I went home and sat there with a big story that the $15 million project had been approved. But what to do? If I had just been blogging, I could have had it published within a couple of hours. By agreeing to report for the print media, I was bound to a cycle that meant the story would be more than a day old by the time it was printed.

At that hour, there was nobody around with whom to ponder the options. Should I defer to the strictures of the print media or bag the free-lance fee and just publish the story on the blog? If money can burn a hole in one’s pocket, breaking news can certainly inflame a reporter’s brain with feelings of urgency.

Mind you, I have no idea how many people read this hyper-local blog. I do know the newspaper has a few thousand readers in this city, many of whom only want to read about what’s happening right here. When there are no stories about Plainfield, people tend to say, “There’s nothing in the paper today.”

Some background: I spent 16 years as a newspaper reporter and never even heard of blogs until after I retired. When weblogs first began, there were only about a dozen or so individuals posting them. Now there are millions, of all sorts, ranging from just links to other online material of interest to long dissertations about anything and everything.

Plainfield Plaintalker began in June 2005 primarily as a news source. Interestingly, the blog began breaking stories that the dailies then had to follow. About a year ago, I began freelancing feature articles for the newspaper, but the blog was deemed a direct competitor for news. Thus the either-or dilemma Thursday. Would my stylish fedora from Lord & Taylor have a “Press” tag stuck in the headband or a “Blog” tag? I actually wore this hat to the annual City Council reorganization this year with a “Blog” tag as a joke.

On that Thursday, it wasn’t so funny. Was I letting my blog readers down by choosing the press? Some of them have commented that they like seeing right away what happened at an important meeting that they couldn’t attend.

In the end, I felt obligated to follow through with the press assignment. The news in the pre-write was that after years of failed proposals, a Planning Board vote on a new senior center was imminent. I had to write a whole new story based on what happened after deadline. I e-mailed it over on Friday and it was in the paper Saturday.

Some newspapers are experimenting with 24-hour coverage instead of a night deadline. Their reporters and bloggers could then post any time. But newspapers still want editorial oversight and having staff around the clock is expensive.

Community bloggers can file at midnight, 3 a.m., whenever they want. Not every story is perfect editorially – blogs allow more leeway than trying to fit things on the printed page.

I don’t know what the future holds for news dissemination, but for the print media, something has to give. Readers have portals to breaking news in their bags and on their desks in addition to those on radio and television. It’s still a great experience to sit down with a newspaper and a cup of coffee and see what’s happening, but news on the fly is becoming more and more the norm.

And if you’re a writer with breaking news, a freestanding blog is a lot easier on the nerves than meeting deadlines, dickering with editors and waiting until the paper hits your readers’ porches.

--Bernice Paglia

Friday, December 22, 2006

Daniels Gets Permanent Appointment

A. Raiford Daniels won City Council advice and consent Wednesday (Dec. 20, 2006) to become director of the city’s largest department.

He will be in charge of fiscal and social service activities as head of Administration, Finance, Health and Social Services. The other two city departments mandated by its special charter are Public Affairs & Safety and Public Works & Urban Development.

Daniels was named to his post in acting capacity on Nov. 13 by Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs. In a letter dated Nov. 28, Robinson-Briggs asked for council advice and consent, but at the Dec. 4 council meeting, his name was withdrawn due to a family matter that took him away from City Hall. The vote Wednesday gives him tenure in the post until the mayor’s term expires on Dec. 31, 2009.

Daniels was not sworn in after the vote, as is customary. Staff in the City Clerk’s office did not know when he would be sworn in.

Asked whether he has determined any priorities for the large department, Daniels said Wednesday, “My focus is going to be as per the mayor’s dictates that we prioritize the best financial management and departmental supervision that can be provided.”

The department includes the senior center, a focus of attention this year as officials worked out a plan for a long-desired new senior center. The Planning Board on Dec. 7 approved a site plan for the new center and a condo complex above it.

The directorship has been vacant since March, when Norton Bonaparte left the city to become the first city manager of Topeka, Kan. Bonaparte had been city administrator in the prior administration and was given the directorship in acting capacity when Robinson-Briggs took office.

After Bonaparte left, City Administrator Carlton McGee was informally covering duties for the department as well. McGee left at the end of October to become chief financial officer for the Atlanta school district.

The council has also given advice and consent to the appointment of Marc Dashield as the new city administrator, but Dashield was not present at the Dec. 6 meeting for the vote. He is not expected to come on board until after the New Year, Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson said, because he has to wrap up obligations as chief financial officer in Franklin Township, Somerset County.

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Council Prohibits Extended Liquor Store Hours

It will be a blue, blue Christmas Eve for liquor store owners who had hoped to start selling at 9 a.m. instead of 1 p.m.

Both Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve fall on Sundays this year and a so-called blue law prohibits sale of alcohol until early afternoon, when presumably folks have already been to church to observe the Sabbath. Owners sought City Council approval to waive the prohibition, but the council voted 3-2 to uphold it, even though officials said a precedent existed for the early opening.

Councilmen Harold Gibson, Rashid Burney and Elliott Simmons voted “no” Wednesday and Councilwoman Linda Carter and Council President Rayland Van Blake voted “yes.” Councilmen Cory Storch and Don Davis were absent for the vote.

Carter had asked for reassurance that in past years the city had allowed 9 a.m. openings when holidays fell on Sundays. After receiving confirmation Wednesday that it was past practice, she voted in favor.

Storch came to the meeting after the vote, but said he had intended to go with the majority. On Monday, Don Davis said he endorsed the early opening as a business matter, because consumers would go out of the city to other towns with early openings. Had all been present, Storch would have been placed in the position of tie-breaker.

Gibson said Monday he felt people would not be inconvenienced by the 1 p.m. opening and that the early opening might increase public drinking.

The city has had a significant problem with open-air alcohol consumption and related issues of intoxication, littering and victimization of drunk individuals.

Having more than its fair share of liquor establishments, city officials tried to pare them down by increasing license fees to the maximum allowable and aggressively monitoring licensees for offenses.

From one of Plaintalker’s first entries in 2005:

State law now limits issuance of new licenses so that there will be no more than one consumption license for every 3,000 residents or no more than one distribution license per 7,500 of a municipality's population.
PLAINFIELD population - 47,829
Consumption (3,000) = 15.9
Distribution (7,500) = 6.4

Because Plainfield licenses predate this formula, the city has more than double the amount of liquor stores allowable under the new rule. The number of bars and restaurants serving liquor rose to the point a few years ago that legislation was passed empowering the city to buy out a license, if warranted.

--Bernice Paglia

Building Code Fee Increases May Pass Tonight

The skirmish over increased construction fees may be settled tonight (Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2006) when the City Council votes on a modified ordinance.

Realtors and property owners have objected to a proposed fee increase for renovations and new construction that was proposed at three cents per cubic foot, or $30 per 1,000 cubic feet of building or structure volume. On Monday, Public Works and Urban Development Director Jennifer Wenson Maier said it will be reduced to $24 per 1,000 cubic feet up to 50,000, $18 per 1,000 from 50,000 to 100,000 and $17 per $1,000 for volume over 100,000. A table of increases will be spread out over two years, she said.

The fees in question are part of a lengthy list of building sub-code fee increases that the administration says are needed to pay for the cost of making sure buildings meet state standards for plumbing, electric, fire safety and other parts of the Uniform Construction Code. Both local and regional representatives have come out to council meetings to show their displeasure and have met with the administration to negotiate the lower fees.

The outcry has sidelined another ordinance that would increase fees for inspections when buildings or apartments change hands. Outside the council meeting Monday, real estate agency owner John Campbell said talks are still going on to reduce those increases. The administration had proposed a 350 percent increase, from $50 to $175, but Campbell said the group is seeking an increase only to $75 per Certificate of Compliance inspections.

“The group’s position was that they are going to form a task force and revisit the ordinance in its entirety,” he said.

Campbell also disputed the stated need for the building code increases, namely that the Department of Community Affairs wants that inspections operation to be self-supporting through fees. He showed an annual Uniform Construction Code report for the 2005 fiscal year that indicated about $40,000 more in revenues than in costs.

Realtors and lobbyists for lowering the fees met with Wenson Maier outside the meeting Monday and she first came back to say she was pulling the ordinance from the agenda.

“It will be re-fashioned,” she told the council.

But then it turned out the printed copy did not reflect the proposed changes and she asked for the ordinance to be put up for a vote tonight in a corrected version.

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, December 18, 2006

Council Asked To Extend Designations

Developers for the North Avenue and Marino’s tracts are in substantive talks that are advancing their plans, Union County Improvement Authority attorney Ed Boccher told the City Council Monday (Dec. 18, 2006).

Boccher urged the council to approve 60-day extensions of each developer’s 90-day conditional designations, which expired recently.

The council will vote Wednesday on the extensions.

AST Development Corp. of Lavallette had conditional designation for the Marino’s tract in the West End and Landmark Developers of Jersey City received conditional designation for the North Avenue tract around the main train station.

Boccher said AST received approval Thursday from the chief executive officer of an unnamed supermarket company to enter into a lease and the company’s in-house property acquisition arm approved the proposal on Friday. He said the lease should be entered into within seven to 10 days.

AST has also been meeting with one of the largest property owners on the site and “progress is being made,” Boccher said.

The Marino’s tract is a former car dealership on West Front Street. A supermarket has been the favored anchor for several years, but previous proposals have not come to fruition. At present, the city has no major supermarket and officials have especially hoped to locate one in the West End.

The North Avenue tract is essentially the city’s oldest commercial district by the main train station, between Park and Watchung avenues.

Boccher said Landmark has had offers accepted on three properties in the North Avenue tract and is in talks on a joint venture for another large tract.

The private negotiations could solve the problem of taking land by eminent domain, a concern in all recent development proposals.

Boccher noted that the North Avenue tract may be expanded and the developer may have a strategy to address that.

The original North Avenue redevelopment plan only included a few blocks around the main train station, but officials have suggested expansions to the north, west and south. However, none of the suggestions have materialized into amendments to the redevelopment plan. Any changes must be approved by the Planning Board and City Council.

Boccher suggested requiring each developer to set up a $15,000 escrow account to cover costs associated with the extensions.

Councilman Don Davis asked for timetables on the development proposals.

Boccher said project schedules will be included in any redevelopment agreements.

In another development matter, Councilman Cory Storch reviewed the Planning Board’s decision on an East Front Street project that includes a new ground-floor senior center and 63 market-rate condos overhead. Storch is the council’s Planning Board member.

The board approved a plan with an allotment of 93 parking spaces for all uses.

Previously, the project would have required two spaces per two-bedroom unit but a zoning amendment approved by the council on Nov. 22 allowed 1.5 parking spaces for the proposal.

The developer, Dornoch Plainfield LLC, proposed 95 spaces and was excused from two for safety reasons, leaving 93.

For past stories on development proposals, key in the developer’s name at the top of the blog and you should get all relevant stories.

--Bernice Paglia

Fee Increase Up Again

An ordinance increasing building code fees is on the City Council agenda for Monday (Dec. 18, 2006). The fees cover new construction, plumbing, electrical and fire prevention fixtures and demolishing or moving a building. Fees for plan review and training are also included. If moved to the agenda for Wednesday’s regular meeting, the ordinance will be up for a public hearing and final passage.

This ordinance and another one increasing certificate of compliance inspection fees drew complaints from real estate agents and property owners every time they were brought forward, starting in the summer. The council has backed off the certificate of compliance fees, which reflected increases as high as 350 percent. But the administration said the building sub-code fees must be put in place to make enforcement of the state Uniform Construction Code self-sufficient, as mandated by the Department of Community Affairs.

The agenda session is 7:30 p.m. in City Hall Library.

Other items that may be discussed are:

-Re-naming a street in honor of former Mayor Richard L. Taylor.

-Amendments to the Fiscal Year 2007 budget. The council may hold a budget meeting Dec. 27, along with a special agenda-fixing session for the Jan. 8 annual reorganization.

-All-day liquor sales on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve, both of which fall on Sundays this year. Stores would open at 9 a.m. instead of 1 p.m. if the council grants permission.

-Sixty-day extensions of conditional designation for two developers, AST Development Corp. for the Marino’s tract and Landmark Developers for the North Avenue tract by the main train station.

The public may pick up agendas Monday afternoon in the City Clerk’s office or at the meeting itself. City Clerk Laddie Wyatt and Council President Rayland Van Blake decide what gets on the agenda, not the clerk and the city administrator as previously reported.

--Bernice Paglia

Friday, December 15, 2006

Dornoch Leads Development Parade

As the year winds down, only one transit-oriented development plan has made it to site plan approval.

The administration of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs called earlier this year for a “transit village” approach to redevelopment that would allow increased density around the city’s two existing train stations and two West End locations where stations used to be. But a developer whose South Avenue project was supposed to be the pioneer in the concept failed to get Board of Adjustment approval and dropped plans for a second proposal on South Avenue.

Two developers received 90-day conditional designations in August, but the anticipated redevelopment agreements have not materialized. A developer who proposed a large project on East Third Street just received conditional designation on Dec. 6.

The scorecard:

Dornoch Plainfield LLC – In July, the mayor told seniors about a plan to build a new senior center with 63 condos above it at 400 East Front Street. Developer Glen Fishman has since received several City Council approvals for various steps and on Dec. 7 received Planning Board approval for the site plan. The council agreed Nov. 22 to turn the city-owned tract over to the Union County Improvement Authority for an undisclosed “nominal fee” and to authorize the mayor to sign off on purchase and sale documents. Fishman said he will pay the $15 million construction cost and the center will be built at no cost to the city.

AST Development Corp. – The Lavallette firm that built the four-story office building downtown received conditional designation to redevelop the Marino’s tract on West Front Street, with a supermarket as the anchor. The 90-day period elapsed last month but can be extended.

Landmark Development Corp. – The Jersey City developer proposes residential and commercial revitalization in the city’s original North Avenue business district across from the main train station. Historic 19th century building facades will be retained, but modern buildings in the district may be replaced. The city approved a redevelopment plan but it may be expanded. Landmark’s conditional designation also expired last month without a developer’s agreement in place.

Capodagli Property Company – The developer proposes 352 residential units in five buildings at East Third and Richmond streets, with 700 parking spaces at ground level. The Pompton Plains company plans to phase in development, starting with the former Cozzoli Machinery site. After a flurry of meetings in August and September to approve a redevelopment study and plan, the developer did not receive conditional designation until Dec. 6.

Maxim Development Group – Sal Carfaro planned to demolish his auto repair company on South Avenue to put up 64 condos within a quarter-mile of the Netherwood train station, but the Board of Adjustment rejected the plan in September. Had he received approval, Carfaro planned a second condo project on South Avenue. Carfaro and partner Patrick Gawrysiak also ran into problems with projects in New London, Conn. and Seneca Falls, N.Y. A news article this week in The Day of New London detailed Maxim’s situation and even mentioned the failed Plainfield venture.

All the current redevelopment projects are in the hands of the UCIA, with city approvals at needed junctures. On Aug. 23, the City Council approved an interlocal services agreement making the UCIA the city’s “redevelopment entity.”

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

More Fire Photos

An investigation into Tuesday’s mattress warehouse fire continued today (Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2006) in tandem with demolition of the ruined building.

The wall on Central Avenue gaped open to reveal heavy equipment inside for the cleanup. Firefighters held an overnight fire watch and are monitoring the cleanup for pockets of fire, Chief Cecil Allen said. At 4 p.m., two such eruptions could be seen deep inside the site.

The mountains of debris and ongoing fire hazard spell many more hours of effort before the cleanup will be completed.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Arteferro Spared In Mattress Warehouse Fire

An intense fire damaged a Central Avenue mattress warehouse so badly Tuesday morning that officials ordered the building to be demolished within 24 hours.

Thirty-five employees of Rex Bedding were about to start work at 8 a.m. in the manufacturing part of the building on West Fourth Street when the fire broke out. The main building suffered water damage, owner Isaac Salomon said. Nobody was in the warehouse, he said. The company has been in Plainfield 14 years, Salomon said.

No one was injured in the fire. Earlier reports erroneously placed the smoky fire at Arteferro iron works next door, but officials said that building was not damaged.

Rex Bedding is in an L-shaped building that surrounds the main fire station at Central Avenue and West Fourth Street. Plainfield firefighters used their 95-foot “Aerial Cat” ladder truck to cascade water down on the blaze, with aerial trucks from Roselle, Rahway, Cranford and South Plainfield shooting water from other angles.

Salomon said the manufacturing portion was sprinklered, but the warehouse was not.

The alarm came in at 8:10 a.m., Fire Chief Cecil Allen said. By mid-morning, the Central Avenue metal gate into the warehouse was filled with timbers from the roof collapse. Large cracks marred the façade. Assistant Public Works Director Nagy Sileem said no one could enter the building and it would be demolished “within hours.”

The firehouse suffered some radiant heat damage and some windows cracked, Allen said.

Other fire companies that responded were Fanwood, Elizabeth, Berkeley Heights, Scotch Plains, Roselle Park, Union Township and Springfield. New Providence, Mountainside, Linden and Kenilworth companies were on standby and Bound Brook, Green Brook and Warren assisted with staging, Allen said.

Investigators from the Union County Arson Squad and the New Jersey State Fire Marshal were on hand to investigate the fire.

The fire drew many spectators as well as four news helicopters and at least three mobile news trucks, along with print media and - bloggers.

--Bernice Paglia

More Fire Photos

It's past 11 a.m. and the news helicopters are still overhead. It may be a while before details are available.

Fire Engulfs Arteferro Neighbor

Correction: It was the mattress warehouse.

A massive fire in an ironworks company right next to the city's main firehouse drew aid from fire companies all over Union County Tuesday.

Firefighters in aerial ladders trained hoses on the blaze. As thick gray smoke swirled over the Arteferro building on Central Avenue, as many as five attack points could be seen. Fire equipment from Elizabeth, Springfield, Westfield, Roselle Park, Scotch Plains, Rahway, Cranford and Roselle were on hand.

The block also holds a mattress company. Asked whether they had to evacuate, an employee out on the sidewalk said he was was waiting for the company owner to arrive.

Ash flying west from the building fell on the Whitney Young apartment complex, where residents and onlookers gathered to watch the firefighting effort.

Plaintalker will add details and photos as soon as possible.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Procession Marks Celebration


That’s the amount of appreciation Magloria Pintor said she feels for being able to celebrate the Feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe here the way it’s done in Mexico, her homeland.

About 150 people took part in a procession Sunday carrying flags of their homelands, banners depicting Saint Juan Diego and the Virgin, her portrait draped with a rosary and a large statue of her. Marchers recited the Hail Mary prayer in Spanish as they walked along West Eighth Street.

Pintor and hundreds of others were waiting at the church to take part in more ceremonies. Translating for her mother, Lilibeth Rodriguez said Pinto felt “pride in something special.”

“It’s very nice for us Mexicans,” Rodriguez translated.

The four-day celebration began Saturday and will continue through Tuesday, the actual feast day. The Virgin of Guadalupe is revered as the patron saint of not only Mexico, but all the Americas, a priest said. A new statue of the saint was blessed in a new garden alongside the church, which now has about 4,000 Latino parishioners. Plainfield’s overall Latino population is estimated at one-fourth to one-third of all residents.

See the previous post for times of events Monday (Dec. 11, 2006) and Tuesday.

--Bernice Paglia

Four-Day Observance Underway

A major religious celebration of importance to all from Central America began yesterday (Saturday, Dec. 9) and will continue through Tuesday.

It is the observance of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of the Americas. New Central Jersey residents who revere the saint and want to replicate customs from their homelands will hold processions, Masses and special celebrations including singing songs overnight (Mananitas) on the feast day.

The feast commemorates the 16th century appearance of the Virgin Mary to a Mexican peasant, Juan Diego. Speaking in Nahuatl, his native language, she told him to build a church. After the bishop disbelieved him and asked for proof, the Virgin told him to gather flowers. Although it was winter, he discovered roses and bloom and brought them in his tilma, or cloak, to the bishop. Imprinted on his tilma was the image of the Virgin Mary.

For more information, read here or see this Wikipedia article.

A special Mass for the Feast of Saint Juan Diego was held at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church Saturday. Today there will be a procession starting at 10:30 a.m. in North Plainfield that will go to Library Park. At noon, the procession will resume and go to St. Mary’s for a 1:30 p.m. Mass.

At 3 p.m., there will be a reception in the school basement. After each Mass, there will also be a blessing of the new statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe, in a new garden in her honor.

On Monday, a procession will begin at 10:30 p.m. from 630 West Front Street to the church. At midnight there will be serenading with traditional mananitas. A 5 a.m. Mass Tuesday will be accompanied by mariachis. An 8 a.m. Mass in English and a 7 p.m. Mass in honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe will conclude the celebration.

The matter came up at City Council last week, with Chief Edward Santiago expressing concern that religious processions held on Good Friday and for this feast were getting larger and larger. He said closing off streets for hundreds of marchers was inconveniencing both motorists and NJ Transit bus traffic and the Police Division did not have the staff to handle such events.

Santiago suggested the procession should take place on the sidewalk.

While some members backed the public safety concerns, others said such occasions reflect the region’s increasing diversity and must be supported.

The Rev. Joyce Antila Phipps, a minister, attorney and Plainfield resident who works with immigrants, said Saturday the observance of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe is very important in Central America. Although people think the Day of the Dead is a primary Mexican festival, she said, Good Friday and the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe are the most important.

The fact that the appearance was to an indigenous person, not a European, is part of its importance, she said.

“It’s not just the religious significance, but it’s saying that Mexicans are just as good as everyone else,” she said.

Noting that both Human Rights Day and International Migrants Day fall during Advent, she commented, “It says a lot about the way culture and human rights are connected.”

In countries where religious processions take place, they don’t conflict with other activities because everyone is doing the same thing, she said. Processions are a way of bearing public witness to their beliefs, she said.

“Procession are part and parcel of how people commemorate,” she said, recalling being in San Salvador on March 29 when a procession took place honoring the assassinated leader Monsignor Oscar Romero.

Earlier immigrants, such as Italians whose feast day celebrations are part of New York life, held processions here as they did in their homeland.

City Clerk Laddie Wyatt said the council decided to allow the street processions this year but will take more time next year to look at options. In North Plainfield, Police Chief William Parenti said St. Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church was told several years ago to confine processions to sidewalks to cut down on street disruption.

--Bernice Paglia

Friday, December 08, 2006

Senior Center Approved

The Planning Board approved site plans and granted variances for the proposed senior center/condo complex late Thursday. I was there on assignment to the Courier News. There is a bulletin online at now and the full story will run tomorrow in the newspaper.

The hearing started really late due to the holiday festivities that displaced the board from City Hall Library. The vote took place just before midnight.

Here’s a photo of Glen Fishman, head of Dornoch Plainfield LLC, shaking hands with Police Captain Siddeeq El-Amin, a board member who raised several concerns about public safety and parking at the site.

--Bernice Paglia

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Dashield Is New City Administrator

A nominee for city administrator won unanimous approval at Wednesday’s City Council meeting.

Marc Dashield, currently the chief financial officer in Franklin Township, Somerset County was approved for the top city job “effective immediately,” but neither he nor Mayor Sharon Robinson–Briggs, who sought council advice and consent to the appointment, were present.

Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson said he understands that Dashield needs four to six weeks to finish up business in Franklin Township and at any rate will not be on board before the New Year.

The request for immediate advice and consent breaks a pattern of mayoral acting appointments for cabinet members, seeking advice and consent only after the 90-day acting limit runs out.

Most recently, Robinson-Briggs appointed A. Raiford Daniels as acting director of Administration, Finance, Health and Social Services, the largest of three departments mandated by the city’s special charter. On Monday, the agenda called for a vote on making Daniels permanent by council advice and consent, but the vote was put off because Daniels had suffered a death in the family and was out this week.

Dashield succeeds Carlton McGee, who was named acting city administrator Jan. 1, when Robinson-Briggs took office. He was confirmed when his acting designation ran out.

But McGee left on short notice at the end of October to become chief financial officer for the Atlanta school district. Because he was also in charge of Administration, Finance, Health and Social Services, his departure left two of the top four administrative posts four posts vacant.

By way of contrast, Dashield will be coming from a township with about the same number of residents as Plainfield, but spread out over more than 46 square miles instead of six square miles.

Franklin residents are wealthier and enjoy a much lower crime rate than Plainfield, according to statistics on, based on the 2000 census.

The community make-up in Plainfield in 2000 was more than 60 percent black, with Latinos at more than 25 percent and whites at about 21 percent.

Franklin’s demographics in the 2000 census showed a mostly white population, at 55 percent, with about 26 percent blacks and only 8 percent Latinos.

As newcomers. Dashield’s and Daniels’ success will largely depend on how they come across to Plainfielders, a discerning and picky lot when it comes to leadership.

--Bernice Paglia

Capodagli Back For Vote

Late in Monday’s City Council meeting, officials said conditional designation of a developer for the East Third/Richmond site will be added to tonight’s agenda.

There was no document available Monday for the public to view, but other developers have been given 90 days to work out agreements for their projects. Capodagli Property Company of Pompton Plains is the proposed developer for the East Third/Richmond site and is likely to get the same arrangement.

A redevelopment study and plan for the site was pushed through the Planning Board and council in September, but the name of the developer was not revealed until mid-October (details here). But then the conditional designation was pulled from the agenda and only resurfaced now. The council met in closed session Monday with company representatives and apparently resolved issues that caused the delay.

The project drew criticism from both council members and property owners near the proposed site after it was unveiled. Owners including Larry Thul, whose family business has been here 93 years, said the location was not good for condo development and the concerns of business owners were not considered. To see all the blog entries on the subject, key in “East Third” in the search box at the top of the blog.

--Bernice Paglia

The city’s annual holiday tree-lighting ceremony will take place 6 p.m.Thursday at City Hall.

The holiday mood is already in swing with the festive indoor tree in the rotunda. City families are invited to gather for the lighting of the Douglas Fir on the grounds of City Hall. Besides visits with Santa, there will be two tents in the City Hall parking lot with food for those attending, thanks to Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs.

Green Promises Civics Sessions

Assemblyman Jerry Green told seniors he will bring elected officials to their center next year to explain what they do and to hear the seniors’ concerns.

The promise of civic education came after a senior asked Green to explain what he does as an assemblyman. Green said his job is to make laws and help formulate the state budget. He also heads a housing committee that reviews all proposed legislation on housing issues.

Green spoke after Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs met with seniors Tuesday. He said he and the mayor “spent all day” Monday with the proposed developer of a new senior center and a contract is ready to be signed for the $15 million development.

Questions on elected officials came up after Green said he received personal congratulations from U.S. Senator Bob Menendez for the support he received in Plainfield. But one center member said Menendez should visit and give his thanks in person to voters. She said after elections, voters don’t see the winners for years.

Green used himself as an example of an elected official who spends time with constituents, but said some others don’t.

“You’ve got a lot of them that only show up for their paycheck on Monday,” he said.

Green promised to bring elected officials from local, county and state levels in to meet with seniors.

Center member Emily Washington asked Green to add voter education to his civics lessons, saying seniors may not understand how the new electronic voting machines work.

Asked about vacancies on city boards and commissions, Green said there are many openings and urged seniors to apply. He said one land use board was unable to get a quorum recently, costing a developer a lot of money for experts hired to testify at the failed meeting.

One speaker asked for a directory of vacancies and for the openings to be advertised. Green said he would be “aggressive” about filling the vacancies.

Last year’s Civic Responsibility Act called for a roster of boards and commissions to be created and publicized, but so far it has not happened. The City Council has since added several new boards and commissions, but few appointments have been made.

--Bernice Paglia

Mayor Shows Center Redesign

In her monthly visit with seniors Tuesday, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs showed off a new design for the proposed senior center that is up for Planning Board review Thursday.

Instead of a stucco ground floor façade with bricks above, the new design features vertical bands of stucco and brick. The senior center will occupy the ground floor and the developer, Dornoch Plainfield LLC, plans to have 63 two-bedroom condos on three upper floors. The mayor said she negotiated the redesign in talks with the developer.

Robinson-Briggs met with the building committee in closed session before addressing the seniors at large. She and her confidential aide, Barbara James, showed the old design before unveiling the new concept. The mayor objected when Plaintalker (disclaimer: this writer is a center member) snapped a photo, saying she had not yet shared the change with the City Council.

A contract with the developer has been prepared and Robinson-Briggs said she wants center president Charles Nelson to be among the signatories as a witness. The council discussed the contract in closed session Monday and it may be on tonight’s agenda.

Because the Planning Board meeting will coincide with the city’s annual Holiday Tree Lighting Thursday, Robinson-Briggs asked for just a small group of seniors to attend. At past meetings, seniors have crowded City Hall Library to show their interest in having the project stay on track. The tree lighting was postponed from last Friday, when a storm brought rain and high winds. Robinson-Briggs wants two tents set up in the City Hall parking lot this year to provide food for those who attend, in addition to the traditional visits with Santa.

Planning Director Bill Nierstedt said Tuesday the Planning Board will begin its meeting at 8 p.m. Thursday in a small room on the second floor of City Hall, moving to City Hall Library at 9 p.m. to hear the Dornoch application.

Developer Glen Fishman said his company will pay the $15 million cost of construction for the project. He has predicted that it will be completed within one year after receiving all approvals.

--Bernice Paglia

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Procession In Question

A traditional procession in honor of a Latino religious icon is drawing police concern because of its increasing popularity.

Police Chief Edward Santiago told the City Council Monday that proposed procession in honor of the patron saint of the Americas, the Virgin of Guadalupe, could disrupt both NJ Transit bus traffic as well as the motoring public.

The request is to allow a procession on Sunday, Dec.10 from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and on Monday, Dec. 11 from 11 p.m. to midnight.

Santiago asked the City Council to limit the procession to sidewalks, saying the city did not have the personnel to deal with traffic control along the proposed procession route.

Santiago said just as Good Friday Latino processions have increased, so have the Virgin of Guadalupe processions in December.

He suggested that the celebrants meet at some point, “like a festival,” and also suggested the marchers should use the sidewalk.

The city’s burgeoning Latino populations have introduced customs to the city that were not known before.

The Virgin of Guadalupe celebration dates back to an event in 1531 in which a man named Juan Diego received a visitation of the dark-skinned Virgin and convinced church officials of it by showing his cloak imprinted with the image of the Virgin.

Council members split over whether the request was out of line or just reflective of a new situation in the city.

Councilman Harold Gibson voiced concern about a large number of people on the sidewalk.

“I’m looking at the total safety and security of people,” he said.

“This is something they have been doing for years,” said Councilman Don Davis, who suggested a shortened version of the celebration.

Councilwoman Linda Carter said her concern was over groups who were trying to do the same thing in the city.

Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson said, “My feeling is, either way you go, you’re going to have a problem.”

The matter will be up for a vote tonight (Wednesday, Dec. 6) at the regular City Council meeting, 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice Paglia

Council Calendar May Be Revised - Again

The City Council schedule, tossed from its decades-old Monday dates this year, may be up for further revisions.

As far as this writer remembers, the old schedule called for regular meetings on first and third Mondays of each month, with agenda sessions on preceding Mondays.

But in April 2006, by request of City Council President Ray Blanco, the schedule changed to Monday agenda sessions followed by Wednesday voting sessions with a week off between cycles.

It was easy enough to remember, but also in conflict with other city schedules, such as Planning Board and Board of Adjustment meetings.

Even this month, the Wednesday council meeting conflicts with the Board of Adjustment.

The newest proposal is for Wednesday agenda sessions followed by a week off and then a Monday business meeting.

But trying to track the proposal on a real calendar, it just doesn’t work.

There just aren’t that many weeks in a month.

If the first Wednesday meeting takes place and then there is a week off, the regular meeting is in the third week. But then the next agenda session must take place in that week and the subsequent week off pitches the regular meeting into the next month.

Instead of clockwork, the effect is like a rickety, off-kilter, Rube Goldberg device. If agenda meetings ever get televised, the hapless citizen would have a hard time remembering when to turn on the TV set.

City Clerk Laddie Wyatt has an opinion. She wants the old schedule back. Wyatt said the turnaround from Monday to Wednesday is not enough time to do all the preparation for a council meeting. Wyatt called it “terrible” and “impossible.”

Normally the agenda is set by the clerk in consultation with the city administrator. But because Carlton McGee left the city at the end of October, another question arose Monday. City Council President Rayland Van Blake asked how the agenda was being put together.

Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson said since there was no city administrator and the mayor has not named herself acting city administrator, it was sort of being done “by committee.”

Van Blake remained concerned, saying, “It may not seem like a big thing, but it is a big thing.”

Williamson repeated that the mayor has not named herself acting city administrator and the work was being done by committee.

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs then said, “Maybe some of these discussions could take place if we went back to having meetings to set the agenda,” which brought a frown and further look of puzzlement to Van Blake’s face.

The council met with a candidate for city administrator in closed session and will vote Wednesday on whether to confirm Marc Dashield for the post. Dashield is presently the chief finance officer in Franklin Township, Somerset County. So with any luck the agenda for the last meeting of 2006 – and maybe the day-to-day operations of the city – won’t have to be done by committee.

Wednesday’s meeting is 8 p.m. in Municipal Court, 325 Watchung Ave. Tonight there is a budget meeting in City Hall library from 6 to 9 p.m.

--Bernice Paglia

Monday, December 04, 2006

Ceasefire: Give It Your Best Shot

Operation Ceasefire sounds like a good idea to me.

I live a couple of blocks from a local hot spot for violence, the 500 block of Park Avenue. For many years, groups of young adults would gather there after bar closings on the weekend, to get food at the White Tower and Kennedy Fried Chicken and to mingle. Sometimes as many as 200 people milled around there, causing police to have to shut down traffic. I would hear the loud “thwack” of barriers being tossed off a truck around midnight, then later the shouting and sometimes gunshots and police cars before the barriers were picked up around 3:30 a.m. and noisily tossed in a parking lot.

Because the street was blocked, some of the revelers parked right under my windows in a municipal parking lot and walked to the restaurants. Their loud conversations and smashed bottles added to my inability to get any sleep.

After a fatal shooting one year, authorities tried to get the eateries to close down overnight. That didn’t work, but things did tone down a bit. Still, even now I can look in my journal and see entries about late-night gunshots. Sometimes I call police and sometimes I just take note of the gunshots and wait to see whether I hear a lot of police cars, then an ambulance, then a helicopter. That means it’s really serious.

Somehow I missed the daytime fatal shooting at Park and Sixth. Nor did I hear the blast of gunshots at the other end of my block one early morning when a young man was fatally gunned down in a hallway.

Still, I hear more than enough.

2:45 a.m., 8/6: big volley.
2:26 a.m., 8/13: gunshots.
1:35 a.m. 10/15: lots of gunshots.
2:41 a.m. 11/26: some gunshots nearby and one further away.

Those are all early Sunday mornings.

“Did you see anything?” the dispatcher asks.

Hell no. As curious as I may be, there’s no way I intend to venture out at that hour to peer down Park Avenue.

I think of these late-night gatherings as the Un-Happy Hour, a time when conviviality among armed partyers turns into violence. But maybe it could be worse. A City Council candidate recently complained about “shootings every night” where he lives.

So bring on the task force. Even if some of these shooters are firing just for effect, it is time to cease fire.

--Bernice Paglia

Bulletin for Dec. 4 Council Meeting

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs will seek City Council advice and consent to the appointment of A. Raiford Daniels as director of the Department of Administration, Finance, Health and Social Services and for Marc D. Dashield as city administrator.

Daniels was recently named acting director of the department, the largest of three mandated by the city’s special charter. The post had technically been vacant since March, although former City Administrator Carlton McGee was also handling responsibilities for the department.

Dashield is the chief financial officer of Franklin Township, Somerset County. If approved, he will succeed McGee, who left Plainfield at the end of October to become chief financial officer of the Atlanta school district. McGee was appointed in acting capacity Jan. 1 and received council advice and consent when his 90-day acting term ended.

City Council approval of Daniels and Dashield would also allow Robinson-Briggs to
end her first year in office with a full cabinet, all with terms to end along with hers on Dec. 31, 2009. If the council agrees, the vote will take place at Wednesday’s regular meeting.

In other matters tonight, the council will discuss its calendar for next year and consider approving two processions in celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico.

The meeting is 7:30 p.m. in City Hall Library, 515 Watchung Ave.

--Bernice Paglia

Good In-Tent-ions

Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs decided to amplify the annual holiday tree-lighting this year to include providing food for attending families.

According to city staff, two tents were to be erected in the City Hall parking lot to accommodate the dinner crowd. The mayor’s rationale was that bringing children out at the dinner hour meant some dinner should be provided.

But a weather advisory of thunderstorms and high winds apparently led to postponement of the event

If it is true that the new date will be Thursday (Dec. 7, 2006), it will coincide with a very important Planning Board meeting. The group that proposes a new senior center with condos on three floors above will be seeking site plan approval that night. At past junctures in the approval process, large numbers of seniors have turned out.

So there may be a traffic jam between kiddies seeking Santa and seniors seeking a new center.

--Bernice Paglia

Meetings Ahead, Legal Notice Error

For those who try to follow what’s going on at City Hall, the coming week will be a challenge.

There’s an agenda session Monday, a budget meeting Tuesday, a regular council meeting Wednesday as well as a Board of Adjustment meeting and on Thursday the Planning Board meets.

As soon as Plaintalker finds out what is on the City Council agenda, we will publish a heads-up Monday. It is already known that Thursday’s Planning Board meeting will include a site plan review of the plans for the new senior center and condo development.

Maybe there will be some news about a new city administrator. The city also needs a permanent tax collector instead of a person who is fulltime in another municipality.

For those sharp-eyed folks who check legal notices, disregard Saturday’s notice that MC 2006-38 will be up for final passage Dec. 20. The notice incorrectly states that the ordinance passed on first reading on Nov. 22. This is the controversial ordinance that would increase Certificate of Compliance fees by 350 percent. Ever since it hit the light of day a few months ago, the measure has drawn the wrath of real estate interests. Most recently, local real estate agents and property owners got the backing of statewide organizations that sent representatives to council meetings to raise objections.

However, a related ordinance that would increase building code fees did pass in November and is up for final passage on Dec. 20. The lengthy ordinance details increases in building, plumbing, electrical and fire protection fees, as well as general fees for such things as plan reviews, training and appeals to decisions of officials in charge of the various sub-codes.

Real estate agents also objected to that ordinance, but city officials said the state Department of Community Affairs expects enforcement of the Uniform Construction Code to be self-sustaining. The fees are meant to cover the cost of inspections for new construction and renovations.

In real life, both ordinances have loopholes. If the increased fees for Certificate of Compliance inspections ever pass, enforcement will depend on a landlord or property owner requesting the inspection. Those who currently try to dodge the fees will certainly try even harder to escape a 350 percent increase.

The building code fees will also depend on cooperation from those affected. Many projects take place on weekends and off hours when inspectors are not around. Last summer, officials found major projects that had proceeded without permits or with liberal interpretations of what was permitted.

With a few major development proposals on the horizon, let’s hope the city does not turn around and waive fees as a concession to the developers. In fact, let’s hope that the intent of the ordinance will be honored by not letting anyone, from elected officials to the average citizen, off the hook once the ordinance takes effect. Or is it the case that “some of us are more equal than others” in Plainfield?

--Bernice Paglia