Anyone who has dealt with code enforcement issues in their neighborhood knows that it a terrible experience. I am often asked by people to help with code enforcement issues in their neighborhoods. As a planning board member I don’t have anything to do with code enforcement but am happy to help people who have either gotten little assistance from the city OR the issue has just dragged on for months without any resolution.
During the 2017 primary campaign we regularly got code violation complaints. We started forwarding these complaints to the relevant departments at City Hall – standard customer/constituent service stuff. I kept a log of the items and would periodically follow-up on the requests and drive by the properties to see if there was any progress. Everyone gets their day in court so I didn’t anticipate that these issues would be resolved overnight, however, as May 2017 turned into July 2018 it is interesting to note that fewer than 10% (it is actually less but I am in a good mood today) of the issues have been resolved – many are worse. One of those is an issue that was reported directly to the Mayor and under Phil Izzo’s (Zoning Officer) management it has gone unchanged in the 14 Months since being reported. I know this because I have countless e-mails to inspections (mostly unanswered) for status updates and have had to OPRA information twice (not fully answered by the way).
Code enforcement in Plainfield, based on my observation, is managed (term used loosely) from a defensive position – mostly responding to complaints versus proactively pursuing code violations. Anyone that has been in e-mail exchanges with Phil Izzo can attest to the delayed responses and utter confusion as he forwards your e-mail with some sort of clarifying point about how someone else will handle it – then he disappears. I don’t fault the inspectors by the way, I have spoken to many of them and get the sense that they are eager for all their work to show results. I chalk it up to poor processes, poor management and a lack of effective oversight by the administration and the city council. A management consultant would no doubt have a field day in that department.
Code Enforcement is always important but even more vital right now. With the level of active development taking place in the city, to the credit of efforts by the Mayor and his administration, effective code enforcement is even more of a priority – especially in those areas with active investments. Strict enforcement will enhance these investments, improve quality of life issues and impact property values.
The Gateway Project on South Avenue is a perfect example. The developer is investing over $50 Million in a project on one of the main entry ways into The Queen City. South Avenue (or any other part of the city) can not be improved in bits and pieces just when new development occurs on a parcel of land, existing properties need to be brought into compliance with the laws.
Here are some examples of issues along South Avenue that, if corrected, would enhance the area and help existing and future development opportunities succeed:
Former Delta Gas Station:
The gas tanks and pumps were removed and now the gravel lot service station is crammed with cars (often on the sidewalk) with an unsightly and unused sign (change of use requires removal), outdoor storage of barrels (of who knows what) and numerous cars in various stages of repair in the parking lot – one appears to be used for parts when needed. The grass/dirt lot next door is being used by someone as a holding area for cars, either for the service station or the car lot next door. Not to mention the lack of maintenance to plantings and general litter on property. This mess has got to make the task of getting good renters at the building across Belvidere Road even harder.
Train Station area to Walgreens:
The building across from Netherwood Station has weeds in place of a missing shade tree (replacing was likely part of their approval to build). Grass and weeds in front of convenience store and likely excessive window coverage (Not to exceed 10% of total window area with 1 sign per business per window, not to exceed 2 signs per business on any wall). South Avenue Liquors has a temporary sign chained to a pole (those signs are required to be taken inside after business hours), banners attached to building for too long (Banners are currently allowed 2 times per calendar year for no more than 2 months at a time), window coverage likely over allowed percentage. Walgreens has a sidewalk that has been in various stages of construction for months and property is often littered with garbage.
From Leland to Terrill Road:
Fig Market has banners and pennants up well passed allowed limit (no longer than 2 months), outdoor storage in parking lot, curbside trees that are not maintained. The Verizon lot, south side of street, is a dumping ground for vehicles. While parking is a permitted use they chronically have vehicles sitting for months without moving. Anyone remember the boat and trailer that was there for years? How about the dump truck that replaced it and had trees growing out of the back? Now its a pick-up truck with a salt spreader that has been sitting there for months, along with a Subaru that will soon be overtaken by bushes. B&B auto has numerous “temporary” signs on their fence in addition to really attractive barbed wire – that should help rent some apartments!
Further down at the old nursery location you have barbed wire on the fence and a rusted sign (change of use or occupancy requires sign be removed) and big metal rusted pipes laying on the property – this is next to Dairy Queen & Coffee Box (who have invested money in new signs and landscaping). Further down at Fine-Fare you have tattered banners that have been up too long and the window coverage likely exceeds allowable percentage.
Correcting these, and other issues not mentioned, will aid in the Gateway Projects ability to rent apartments and demonstrate to other investors that we welcome their investment and are here to help them succeed It will also show support for those who do take care of their properties – McDonalds, Burger King, Dairy Queen, Freppe’s and Giovanna’s (not a complete list).
The city should move quickly to start enforcing the codes along the corridor (ideally from Terrill to Watchung), which should include making sure all signage is legal (i.e. they got a permit and followed all guidelines in place at time of installation).
The city council, in their oversight role, should have Mr. Izzo appear before them at a Council Meeting and explain how he is going to improve the management of the department, when significant improvements will be achieved and how success will be measured and reported (regularly to Council and public) so his progress can be monitored and publicly applauded when successful. Mr. Izzo’s appearance will provide him with the opportunity to discuss what help he needs to be successful – new technology, stronger/additional ordinances and what sort of activities take up the valuable time of his dedicated inspectors that impacts productivity.
I mentioned in a prior blog post that hiring additional staff should not be on the top of the list of options. The reason is that the heavy lift should be temporary – so hiring more people that won’t be needed later is a waste of taxpayer money.
For those of you who would like to report a code violation on your street, in your neighborhood or within Plainfield, I encourage you to call or e-mail Mr. Izzo with your complaints @ 908-753-3386 or firstname.lastname@example.org – you should copy all three of your respective council members so they can assist in getting the issues resolved.
1st Ward – Diane.Toliver@plainfieldnj.gov
2nd Ward – email@example.com
3rd Ward – Charles.Mcrae@plainfieldnj.gov
4th Ward – Steve.firstname.lastname@example.org
At-Large, 1st & 4th Wards – email@example.com
At-Large, 2nd & 3rd Wards – Joylette.firstname.lastname@example.org
At-Large, All Wards – Elton.email@example.com