This month’s council agenda was again released late – with the council president choosing to have one meeting per month instead of the typical two (Agenda setting and regular meeting), it makes the time to review, research and discuss issues dramatically shorter. It also removes an opportunity for the public to hear, and participate in, public discussions and takes the time from agenda release to council vote down to 3 calendar days instead of 10.
As I have done previously, I am not going to summarize the entire agenda (which can be found here) – but instead point out resolutions/ordinances that I think residents may want to be aware of or those that may seem confusing.
R242-22 (Department of Finance) – Resolution authorizing and approving the redemption and/or defeasance of outstanding bonds and capital leases previously belonging to the PMUA. With the PMUA formally dissolved effective 6/30/22, the City assumed all their assets and liabilities. This resolution authorizes the city to resolve the bond and capital lease obligations using funds transferred to the city from PMUA upon the entity being dissolved. Based on the analysis presented to the council by the authorities prior accounting firm, there was enough cash available at the time of the dissolution to resolve those previously existing long and short-term debt obligations. It should be noted that the city was always ultimately responsible for the obligations of PMUA if the authority had ever defaulted on their debt. This resolution will pay off all the current debt obligations with available cash reserves.
R243-22 (Dept of Finance) – Imposes liens on 145 properties for water bills (due New Jersey American Water) that are more than 60 days delinquent. The total amount of the liens is $130,239 and the property owners all reside outside of the City of Plainfield.
R242-22 (Dept of Economic Development) –Resolution designating certain properties known as Block 713, Lots 1–5 as a non-condemnation redevelopment area. These properties include Park Hotel along 7th Street as well as the long dilapidated professional building on the corner of 7th and Park Ave, as well as the former Unitarian Church now known as the Plainfield Performing Arst Center. This designation will allow the Planning Board to complete a Redevelopment Plan (odds are good it is done already by the way) that will establish the permitted uses on the site(s) as well as the bulk standards (height, depth, parking, outdoor space, set-back from front, side and rear etc. Ultimately, these end up as developments that get tax deals commonly referred to as P.I.L.O.T.S (Payment In Lieu of Taxes).
Municipal Ordinances on First Reading
- Note – Ordinances, unlike resolutions, must have two public readings, in essence they must be voted on at two council meetings. If approved on second reading they go into effect after 20 days. When you hear after a vote “this ordinance has been approved on first reading, that means that it passed the first of two required votes”
MC2022-31 – This ordinance amends Chapter 7 Article 7 of the Vehicles and Traffic ordinance – specifically this amends it by ADDING a four-way stop at the intersection of Spooner and West 4th Street. Unfortunately, it also should include striping the intersections to prevent cars from parking too close to the corners and blocking the line of site for drivers to see oncoming traffic safely.
MC2022-32 –This ordinance is for the purposes of granting a tax exemption for properties at 1030-1108 Plainfield Avenue. This is the location of a previously approved school for children with special needs. This tax exemption is not to exempt the developers from paying taxes, it is a PILOT and establishes the payment in lieu of taxes that they will pay over the 30-year life of the agreement. PILOTS aren’t all the same but this one starts at 11% of Annual Gross Revenue and escalates to 15% by the 30th year, in 5-year sections. There are some other nuances to the fees in the last 10 years but those are essentially the terms of the proposed tax exemption.
MC2022-33 – Ordinance to adopt the redevelopment plan for the property located at 200-216 Garfield Avenue (Corner of East 2nd and Garfield). The redevelopment plan is for mixed use with retail/commercial on ground floor and apartments on floors 2-5 of the 5-story building. The bulk standards are of a little concern, with parking requirement of 1 space per dwelling unit being a potential issue in that area, as we are seeing in other area where new developments are being completed.
MC2022-34 – Ordinance to allow the City to purchase the property at 512-25 Watchung Avenue (also known as the YMCA building) for $5,180,000. Per the resolution “Whereas, the Mayor and City Council of the City of Plainfield have determined that the Property is necessary and suitable for use and redevelopment by the City of Plainfield into a mixed-use residential and commercial redevelopment;”
MC2022-34 – Ordinance to amend and supplement the municipal code (Chapter 17, Article’s IV & X) related to the “Historic Preservation Commission” and “Historic Preservation Controls”. Among other things this ordinance removes the Historic Preservation Commission (made up of residents) from a formal review of any development in an historic area that has to go to the Planning Board or Zoning Board as part of the process. In essence, if a developer must go to either of those boards for ultimate project approval, then they skip HPC and one of those boards will cover the elements related to Historic Preservation and will not need a Certificate of Appropriateness from the HPC. Neither of those boards, for good reason, is well versed in historic preservation elements. In addition, it removes the city itself from being required to obtain HPC approval for any project that is on city owned property, city street or right-of-way. They are literally removing the sentence in the ordinance that reads, in part, “It is recognized that the intent and purposes of this article would not be fully served if the City were to control the actions of others but fail to apply similar constraints to itself…..”
Mayor’s Latest Power Grab: Historic Preservation Commission
July 10, 2022
To the Editor and the Citizens of Plainfield
I am a 40 year resident of Plainfield and I am concerned about Mayor Mapp’s latest “Power Grab” victim, the Historic Preservation Commission.
Lack of Transparency
There are a number of disturbing trends in our City. One is the Mayor’s complete lack of transparency about important actions that deserve full and fair notice to citizens and taxpayers. The most egregious example is the dissolution of PMUA with a “Special Meeting” vote on the night before Fourth of July weekend, with no organized public meetings or opportunity to be heard before that meeting. Taxpayers still have no idea what the City considered doing other than running solid waste and sewer out of the Department of Public Works (Was that really the best decision and why? How much is this really going to cost taxpayers?)
Power Grab by the Mayor from Historic Preservation Commission
The most recent example is the “Power Grab” that the Administration is planning from the Historic Preservation Commission. The City Council Agenda for the meeting on July 11th was placed on the website and sent to the Council on Friday, July 8, with no further announcement or opportunity for citizens to react.
In short, the Administration is attempting to amend an ordinance to release the City from the obligation to request Certificates of Appropriateness before approval of any action that the City takes on public or private lands, streets, easements or rights of way. The City is also proposing that any project that requires approval of Planning Board or Zoning Board of Adjustment will not require Certificates of Appropriateness, only advice from the Historic Preservation Commission.
Essentially, these changes could allow the City to do whatever it wants regardless of historical significance of properties and neighborhoods.
This City heralds its branding as the “Queen City” due to its past historical significance. Major news outlets such as the New York Times have recently featured Plainfield and historic districts. If I am not mistaken, the Mayor lives in a historic district. The City greatly benefits from its many strong historic districts, which attract property owners who are proud of the history of their neighborhoods, that are supposedly protected by our city code and Master Plan. Citizens work hard to preserve their properties and engage in activities that bring residents together for the benefit of the whole. This action is a slap in the face to our historic district community, and raises the specter of another disturbing trend in Plainfield.
Race to Over Development; Developer Special Interests driving the City
To some of us citizens, the current administration is apparently on a race to allow developers to build large apartment buildings, or anything they want, on every square inch of the City, regardless of current density and zoning rules that apply. Plainfield is about 6 square miles with 55,000+ people, how many can we absorb? Most of these projects appear to have insufficient parking to keep cars off the streets. Our Economic Development personnel have apparently bought into 15+ year old data that housing near transit will not need to have required parking. Not only has a pandemic disrupted this, Plainfield is essentially an amenity dessert (No large supermarket, home store, department stores, “date night” restaurants) and people will always have cars, in my opinion, to get to where they need to go outside Plainfield.
Large apartment buildings in historic and other neighborhoods with inadequate parking will dramatically effect quality of life in neighborhoods where people are used to inviting family and friends to gatherings with street parking. The Administration and City Government appear to be driven only by the special interest of developers, to the detriment of citizens.
I hope that the current City Council realizes that some day, we will have a different mayor, and all of the developers will have built their projects and left, like most all developers do. Your names will be associated with the detritus that remains. Do you really care so little about the city that you are willing to do whatever this administration wants? We (you) can say no to developers and choose the projects that are the best for our neighborhoods.
Those of us who pay close attention to the Administration and City Council are probably concerned about why the administration would slip a change like this into a meeting, unless they intend to take an action affecting a historic property in town. Based on lack of transparency discussed earlier in this letter, I doubt that they will tell us why they are doing this Power Grab. I hope that the City Council will demand an explanation and vote accordingly.
1785 Sleepy Hollow Ln
Plainfield, NJ 07060
Thank you, Sean, for an explaination of certain agenda items. If we had an agenda setting, followed by council meeting a week or two later, residents would have time to discuss, research, contact council representatives, etc. The continued refusal of this administration to do that is a clear indication that it is to continue lack of transparency and power and control, residents be damned.
City Council meetings have frustrated me for months since I moved here, the “yes man” attitude and nepotism are stifling. Most Council members just agree with whatever makes it on to the agenda because it’s part of the Mayor’s Master plan, which seems to be negligent of the people’s interests. This new ordinance against the HPC gave me nightmares last night.
I’m of the opinion, in watching the progressive domination of Mapp’s administration over other boards and departments, that he’s substituting diplomacy for tyranny, and we’ve seen how that went down historically. Aside from his group of cronies and minions fearful of losing their jobs, this man is not making any friends here. In the city that trusted and elected him for mayor.
I think this newordinance, in offense of the HPC, was a knee jerk reaction to Thursday’s decision to not let the Redevelopment study on Grace Church pass, and now he’s going to bully his way into getting what he wants. This really is an overstep of democracy.
My husband and I will be present for this evening’s council meeting, but short of a mutiny, I fear our pleasure will go ignored and shit down, much like RSB did to concerned citizens on Thursday night.
Nonetheless, thank you, Sean, for giving this the attention it so desperately needs.
Typos – Pleas*, not “pleasure.” Shut* down, not “sxxit down.”