Saturday, December 27, 2008

Economy Slowed 2008 Development

As 2008 began, the city had proposals for hundreds of condos and thousands of square feet of retail space on the books in nearly 20 redevelopment plans. In her state of the city address, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs named three as top priorities: the new senior center/condo complex at 400 East Front Street, the massive mixed use project around the main train station and a 12-condo proposal on the Tepper’s block.

Enter the economic downturn that worsened to a collapse.

The senior center/condo project, dubbed “The Monarch,” would miss its third stated deadline for completion, the mayor told seniors in July. Communications with the developer, Dornoch Holdings, became spotty even as city Construction Official Joseph Minarovich said the developer still has until October 2009 to meet terms of an agreement worked out by the city and the Union County Improvement Authority.

The $15 million tab for The Monarch, which features 63 condos over the senior center, is being borne privately by Dornoch, so the company did not go through the state redevelopment process. The other two proposals did go through all the steps, which include finding an area in need of redevelopment, making a redevelopment plan and naming a developer.

Frank Cretella’s Landmark Development Corp. of Jersey City is the designated developer for the North Avenue project. The block between Park and Watchung avenues was the city’s original commercial district and is so recognized in a historic district designation. Buildings there go back to the 1880s. Cretella envisioned creating taller new buildings behind the classic facades to accommodate 415 new residential units and 13,000 square feet of commercial space, including an entertainment center that could draw audiences by train from around the metropolitan region.

An expansion of the redevelopment area was proposed in 2008 to include the PNC Bank block. While no movement has been announced on the main project, Cretella recently unveiled a plan to refurbish the PNC building and two more to the south on Park Avenue. In addition, Cretella moved outside the original redevelopment borders to seek city approval for a commercial project on the Tepper’s block that would include the Appliance-A-Rama warehouse and two vacant city-owned blocks.

Heartstone Development received city approval for the 12-condo project on West Front Street, on two city-owned blocks. But after the city cleared the land, a sign was placed on the site declaring it a “pocket park” with amenities provided by Lucent volunteers.

Presto change-o! The site most recently became part of Cretella’s newly-announced commercial West Front Street plan.

By coincidence, all three of these developers had other projects in Rahway, where Plainfield’s director of Public Works and Urban Development, Jennifer Wenson Maier, is also a councilwoman. According to the Rahway Rising blog, Landmark acquired Main Street properties, including one owned by Wenson Maier and her husband, but has deferred development for the time being. Heartstone asked permission to convert a condo project there to rental units. Dornoch, as reported in Rahway Rising, closed offices it had in Rahway and is not responding to officials there on progress at a condo project, “The Savoy.”

So far, no one has questioned the propriety of having a Rahway legislator dealing with the same developers that she is dealing with in Plainfield as an administrator.

City Council action on redevelopment in 2008 included releasing developer George Capodagli from an agreement to build 352 residential units in five residential structures at East Third and Richmond streets. The 268 one-bedroom and 84 two-bedroom units were to have been built on four floors above 700 ground-level parking spaces. After being released from the agreement in June, Capodagli proposed a four-story, 33-unit residential building on South Avenue, but the Planning Board denied the plan.

Perhaps the most controversial proposal of the year never got past the conceptual stage. An Ohio developer, Omni Pointe, floated the idea of a 5-story structure with 224 units and 30,000 square feet of retail space on the former G.O. Keller site at Leland and South avenues. But residents and officials became concerned when the City Council was asked to approve an ordinance that changed zoning on just the north side of South Avenue where the development might go. The TOD-N ordinance would have allowed increased height and density on the site near the Netherwood train station, based on principles of transit-oriented development. Due to the outcry, the ordinance is in limbo.

Overall, redevelopment in 2008 appeared to be stalled in Plainfield, as in many other cities, due to the failing real estate market and more recently by the global economic collapse. At another time, Plaintalker will offer an update on the entire list of redevelopment projects that were last officially reviewed in September 2007.
--Bernice Paglia


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why would any any Plainfield politician question any ethical problems or possible conflict of interest that could arrise with a person serving as an elected or appointed member of more than one city in Union County. Could our Senator from Elizabeth have interest in this? Will there be a change when Mr. Mapp is on the Plainfield Council?

4:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Redevelopment in Plainfield has stalled? I think that's an understatement.....we have no redevelopment in's nothing but a downward spiral.

6:26 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mapp could not raise any questions even if he wanted. He has placed himself under the same banner as Wenson-Maier: a legislator in Plainfield and an administrator in Roselle. The question is: How come voters don't raise these type of questions? And how come Plainfield voters keep getting themselves into the same mess over and over again?

8:17 PM  
Blogger Bill Hetfield said...

The entire redevelopment concept for Plainfield has been a sham! Why? Briggs/Green/Maier have not acted with what is best for the city but what is politically accepatable and that is why redevelopment has stalled. Until we elect someone that will put Plainfield first, and Adrain Mapp's tract record does not suggest that he would be the one, Plainfield residents will continue to complain and then move-on. When will this leader waiting in-the-wings step forward and declare a new day for Plainfield?

9:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

But we got the Dudley House Alcohol Rehab facility back on line so other towns can use our Tax exempt property funded by Plainfield Tax payers.

9:34 AM  

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