Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Of Jitters and Vision

The City Council will vote Wednesday on authorizing an “in need of redevelopment” study for blocks around the Netherwood train station.

The area to be studied appears on tax maps from Leland Avenue to Richmond Street, dipping down the East Seventh and going north in one section to East Second Street. At first glance, it seems huge. But then on each tax map in the council packet, the properties are marked and they mostly cluster next to the train tracks. Still, more than 90 parcels are involved, including residential, industrial and commercial properties.

By now, many of us know the redevelopment drill: first, order a needs study. Next, make a plan for all those parcels found to be in need of development. Next, find a developer. Then negotiate and approve a developer’s agreement. Only after land use approvals can acquisition, demolition, relocation or construction begin.

(Someone will correct me if I skipped a step.)

Most of the work, including the developer’s agreement, will be done by the Union County Improvement Authority, which was designated in August as the city’s redevelopment arm. The City Council, Planning Board and Zoning Board all still retain powers of approval.

Two big gripes have emerged since the UCIA took over. One is a perception that those whose property is in the path of redevelopment are not being heard sufficiently. The other is that the public at large is having a hard time following the action. But technically, all that is needed to inform the public is a legal notice on hearings along the way.

Speakers Monday talked about the uncertainty that arises when one’s block, business or home is on one of these maps. What does the future hold? How soon will one have to decide on selling or moving? Will value be lost to eminent domain?

New targets for study join a dozen or so already in place.

Never mind a six-burner stove, it comes across as a 12-burner stove with all the pots boiling. But what’s cooking?

Fellow (or sister) blogger Maria Pellum is on a vision quest – not the kind where you go out in the desert to meet your spirit animal, but the kind that says what Plainfield will become in 10 years. So far, she has no answers.

Besides what was on the agenda Monday, Corporation Counsel Dan Williamson had some other items to add for Wednesday, including a developer’s agreement for the North Avenue tract around the main train station downtown. Landmark Development Corp. has proposed more than 400 residential units, a 500-car parking garage, an entertainment center and more around the historic station. If the agreement is approved, Landmark will then have to present site plans for Planning Board approval.

A recent walk through the North Avenue Commercial Historic District, as the tract between Park and Watchung along North Avenue is known, revealed quite a few vacant properties. Landmark’s stated goal is to preserve the historic facades of the 1880s buildings while building behind and above them.

Meanwhile, there is a proposed expansion of the tract to include the PNC Bank building and property and the south half of the East Front Street block between Park and Watchung. That’s where the parking garage may go.

One can just imagine the scenarios that go through property owners’ minds as they ponder these changes.

Next up are the “transit villages” at Grant and Clinton avenues, where train stations once existed. So far, nothing has been proposed, not even a study. These sites may have to hinge on bus or jitney hubs instead of trains, as it is unlikely that NJ Transit would restore train stations there.

These are big changes indeed and all of us must pay attention. Or move to Titusville or Green Village and forget the whole thing.

--Bernice Paglia

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