Thursday, May 31, 2007

Code Enforcement and Quality of Life (Part 4)

I've said before many times: we need a strategic approach to code enforcement. Right now our inspectors are just writing as many citations as possible all over town. I recently visited a homeowner who was cited for a small pothole in her driveway. The city street in front of her house was in far worse shape! Around the corner is a house that is literally falling down. The front and side porches and steps have collapsed and the house is in danger of doing the same. It has been deteriorating for 10 years.

The result is many angry homeowners who are cited for minor cosmetic problems. Eye sores and serious safety concerns must be the priority. When a dilapidated building is allowed to just sit as is, the neighboring property owners are less likely to invest in their properties. When a block or neighborhood is allowed to decline, crime rates up and quality of life goes down.

When our homes look this good, everyone benefits

When a home sells in Plainfield, a certificate of compliance is required. Since we are not using technology to the fullest, the process takes a long time and makes the home buyer and sellers life even more stressful than it already is. This can be fixed by giving inspectors hand held computers. When a home is inspected and passes, the inspector should be able to immediately print out a report for the homeowner or realtor documenting that fact. Just like when you are caught speeding and the police officer immediately hands you a ticket.

What is the role of City Council in what is really the responsibility of city hall administration? Our job is to give them the resources they need (through the budget) and hold them accountable to meet their objectives. The Council is also responsible for the ordinances governing code enforcement. When the administration proposed ordinance revisions to increase user fees, I was one of the Council members to table the proposal. My position is no fee increases until we fix code enforcement. I will be calling for a complete review of the code enforcement operation this year so we are using our staff effectively: to fix eye sores and serious safety problems and to expedite the sale of homes.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Quality of Life in Plainfield, Part 3: Roads

Check out East 9th St between Watchung and Park. Don't you get a good feeling from the smoothly paved surface, the new concrete driveway aprons and the new bluestone curbs? (or are you thinking get a life Councilman). Now take a look at Central St, Oak Lane or the various intersections of Stirling. Potholes, cracks, broken curbs. How did they get this way and what is Plainfield going to do about it.

Well I have good news and bad news. First the bad. We have been neglecting our roads for several decades with no plan for repaving or maintenance other than an annual pothole filling program in the spring. And did you notice that the patches never lasted long anyway.

Here's the good news. Three years ago, the City Council came up with a 15 year repaving plan. I am proud to have been a member of that Council and kudos to Malcolm Dunn, who was the first to advocate the plan. The plan would require an annual bond to cover the costs. It was (and is) very expensive because many of our roads, through neglect, now need complete reconstruction instead of the much less expensive milling and paving. We are a year and a half into that paving program. Here's some bad news. There have been delays in the bond financing which have slowed but not stopped the program. Here's the good. We should be back on track this fall.

More good. The City Council called for a road maintenance program. This means filling cracks, intersection milling and paving and hot patching potholes instead of cold patching. We just purchased the equipment to do this ourselves. This will mean that major problems will be fixed while you are waiting for your street to come up on the repaving list. It will also extend the useful life of our roads, saving taxpayers millions of dollars going forward.

That may be more than you ever wanted to know about Plainfield's roads. Unless you live on Central St or Oak Lane.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Quality of Life in Plainfield, Part 2: Parks and Open Space

In a built up community, the creation, improvement and preservation of open spaces is a must. Plainfields inventory of parks and open space indicates that we need more. We have lost some opportunities over the years and we need a plan to make sure we have places to walk in peace, to play ball, bicycle and have a picnic.

Some recent victories include creation of Plainwood Square Park and swimming pool reconstruction at Seidler Field. Some lost opportunities include conversion of a large, vacant lot on Woodland Ave into a church with a large parking lot and the lack of creative design that led to the plain concrete plaza at Park Madison.

I have been an advocate for open space since (and before) I took office as Councilman. Here is what I am fighting for:

1. Green Brook Walkway - we have set the stage with planning grants, site acquisition and easements. Now we have to start construction. The west end section should be the first to begin. The result will be an outstanding walking and biking path running the complete length of the city.

2. Open space downtown - the City Council has required the creation of a public plaza for the North Ave development project by the downtown train station. We must include similar provisions for upcoming projects.

3. I was a member of the Council that approved the Environmental Commission ordinance. Other towns have used these commissions to great advantage for open space planning and acquisition. It's time we got ours up and running.

4. Our parks must be a showcase for our residents and visitors. I have been advocating that chain link fences enclosing many of our parks be replaced with attractive metal picket fences.

These are just some of the steps Plainfield needs to take. This is not a secondary priority. Open space, quality of life and enhanced property values go hand in hand.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Quality of Life in Plainfield, Part 1: Trees

When Lois and I moved to Plainfield 28 years ago, one of the attractions was the trees. A neighborhood with a canopy of mature trees was very appealing to us. The visual appeal, along with the positive effects on property value and local (micro)climate, make trees an important ingredient of any community. But Plainfield's many mature trees are special.

28 years later: we have lost many trees to age, disease and storms, many more trees than we have planted to replace those lost. What Plainfield needed was a forest management plan.

I am proud to say that we now have such a plan. Thanks to some farsighted staff, we applied for a state tree grant 3 years ago. I called for a budget appropriation for matching funds and the Council made it happen. Since then, we have begun a program of tree planting and improved maintenance. We even started a tree farm. As of this year, we have a functioning Shade Tree Commission of trained Plainfield volunteers to oversee our tree management program. I am proud to have been a key supporter of the ordinance that created this commission. Our tree program is one example of how Plainfield is finally addressing its infrastructure needs.

Plainfield has a lot to be proud of. I'm not just talking trees. I am also referring to the Tree Blog created by a Shade Tree Commissioner, Greg Palermo. He is highlighting the many unusual trees around Plainfield. I didn't know that Redwood trees grow on the east coast. There are two Dawn Redwoods in my neighborhood! Check out the specimen to the right and Greg's blog at

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Effective Public Safety Strategies for Plainfield

Public safety has to be the most important part of Plainfields revitalization strategy. We have seen our crime rates drop over the last decade as part of a nationwide trend. That is good but not good enough. As long as our crime rate is significantly higher than surrounding communities, we will struggle to raise our children and improve our neighborhoods and shopping districts.

Here are some police division strategies that we can use and that I have been advocating for:

1. set up surveillance cameras downtown and in the neighborhoods that have the highest incidence of crime. The basement of Horizons (Teppers)has been set aside for city use as well as a grant for $450,000. This is an opportunity to set up the surveillance facility.

2. have more police officers on foot and bicycle to increase their visibility and interaction with the people they serve.

3. assign officers to a traffic detail so we can finally get a grip on speeding in our residential areas. Our Public Safety Director rightfully says that the increased revenues from speeding tickets would pay the officer salaries. This needs to happen right away.

4. change the police strategy for block associations so they are attending local meetings regularly in addition to or instead of depending on the city wide coordinating meetings.

5. We have a top heavy police hierarchy. We need to increase the deployment of officers into the community by reducing the number of supervising officers. This is being done by attrition and should continue.

The police are just one part of our solution. We need stronger jobs programs, a much stronger partnership between the city and the Board of Education and more mentoring of young people. This is a job for the whole community. What are your thoughts. You can contact me at

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Where I Stand on Public Safety

Plainfield is lucky to have excellent police officers. They work hard fighting drug related crime and more recently have made significant inroads into our gang problem. We will have to be persistent in this fight. We will have to fight on many fronts and use our resources wisely. Are we doing that now? I think not.

If our police officers are working hard, isn't that enough. Not if they are deployed only in crime hotspots. We need a balanced deployment, one that focuses on quality of life enforcement issues. We need increased police visibility in all our residential neighborhoods and our shopping districts. If all we do is fight the perpetrators, we will never see a significant drop in crime. I am talking about getting at root causes of crime, of the "broken windows" view of community revitalization.

We have two problems: crime and the public perception of crime. If you look at crime statistics, you will see that our downtown is really a safe place to shop. Unfortunately, many people have an image of downtown that keeps them away. We have recently added some police officers to this area and they will be deployed so that they are highly visible and not just cruising in vehicles. We need a lot more of this kind of deployment.

In my next blog, I will be more specific about my ideas for improved public safety.
You can respond with you ideas to

Monday, May 21, 2007

A Sustainable Community

Plainfield and the rest of the world are at a turning point. Greenhouse gases, increasing energy costs, congested roadways, suburban sprawl, vanishing natural resources, need I say more? What can we do in our community to come to grips with our place on the planet. For starters:
* individually, we can all use compact flourescent light bulbs
* as a city we can require green building
* as a nation, we can support government policies to develop new technologies
for clean and renewable energy

As your City Councilman I will fight for what our city can and should do to create a sustainable community for our residents. I want a sustainable community where the air is good to breath, the water healthy to drink, the city is a good place to be outdoors for walking and biking and has ample opportunities for all kinds of athletic activities. Where there is a decreased dependence on cars and buildings are energy efficient.

Earlier this year, I fought to include green building language in developer agreements. As the City Council representative to the Planning Board, I made sure our Master Plan re-examination emphasized green building. I will be fighting for an ordinance to require developers to use LEED standards (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).

Plainfield is planning development projects. We face some critical choices. Do we want green building or construction as usual. Sounds like a no brainer but remember that GM and Ford didn't install seatbelts voluntarily. They were brought on board kicking and screaming. As a community we will have to require that our new buildings are energy efficient and environment friendly. If not, they will not hold their value relative to new buildings in more progressive towns. This is not a train we want to chase after it has left the station.

Sustainable development means managing stormwater to minimize flooding. It means pedestrian friendly streetscape, public art, farmers markets and open public space. It means shopping, jobs and residential areas are in proximity to each other.

If development projects can't meet our standards for sustainable, people friendly neighborhoods, then we should hold out for projects that will.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Kudos to Faith, Bricks and Mortar

It's easy to define the problem, to restate it many times over... and Plainfield certainly has its share... of problems and problem staters. The real challenge is to state the solution and then make it happen. Luckily for Plainfield, we have a good supply of doers, people who make our city better through their hard work. And they are an inspiration to the rest of us. They give us hope to sustain our work on behalf of Plainfield.

This is the story of a successful development project recently done in the 2nd Ward near City Hall and the downtown train station. It is dedicated to the non-profit housing development group Faith, Bricks and Mortar, whose President is Robert Wilson. His team of unsung volunteers make home ownership a reality for Plainfielders who would otherwise have no opportunity to be part of the American dream.

Picture East 7th Street near Watchung Ave, a well traveled street in a "transitional" residential neighborhood. "Transitional" meaning some well kept homes, apartment buildings and churches along with some run down properties. A few crime hotspots nearby. A neglected building, shown to the right, is now getting some attention after decades of decline. Picture an outstanding art gallery in a historic building across from an old Victorian multi-family house that has seen better days. A neighborhood that could go uphill or downhill.

This dilapidated Victorian becomes abandoned. Does it burn down, get replaced by a cheap, modern looking prefab home or just gradually fall apart? Fortunately for Plainfield the unexpected happens. Faith, Bricks and Mortar is asked by the city to take on this project.

There are very few developers who would do this project. And likely none who would do what Faith, Bricks and Mortar did. Not only do they restore the exterior to its early days of glory, not only do they create condo units to keep it on the tax rolls, they reduce the density of the property from a six family to a two family. This non-profit group takes on financial risk to make this happen and they succeed. Both units are sold and the neighborhood tilts in a positive direction.

Check out the Faith, Bricks and Mortar building today (I wish a had a "before"photo):
I will highlight people and projects in Plainfield in the future because this is what makes Plainfield a community worth living in, a place to be proud of. No local group deserves more thanks than Robert Wilson and his Faith, Bricks and Mortar crew.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Development, Part 2: Telling the good from the bad

I favor the Transit Village approach for Plainfield but I have reservations which I will explain below.

Transit Village is a concept whose time has come, especially for a densely populated state like New Jersey. It means redirecting development away from our shrinking farmlands and green space and concentrating it where the infrastructure already exists - where the mass transit is, near shopping and jobs. In Plainfield, it means concentrating development around one or more train stations. We are currently in the pre-construction phase of a large mixed use residential and retail project across from our downtown train station.

The Transit Village approach can reduce the tendency towards suburban sprawl and revitalize urban centers. But it can also be an excuse for poorly conceived projects that benefit “in and out” developers but not neighbors and property tax payers.

Remember urban renewal? It was supposed to eliminate slums in the 1960’s. Until recently, the empty Park-Madison block in downtown Plainfield was an all too real example of the failings of good intentions and big picture planning. How do we use the transit village concept so that all stakeholders benefit from development? Here are some ways:

1. Mix of commercial and residential

Development must benefit property taxpayers. Even though most of the development profits seem to be with residential projects and the denser the better, commercial development must be part of the mix in tax starved urban towns like Plainfield. These towns already carry undue burdens of costly public safety and human services. Residential tax ratables do not solve town’s tax problems because the new revenue is offset by the cost of services to the new residents. Municipal tax experts are telling us that commercial ratables are necessary to reduce the property tax burden. A healthy development mix that includes commercial and retail is good for everyone as it is creates more local jobs and reduces vehicular traffic. Towns will have to take a strong negotiating approach with redevelopers to accomplish this goal.

2.Dependence on sound land use planning

Downtown living is a good thing as long as open space, security, parking and traffic congestion are addressed. Although towns are competing for experienced developers and must be responsive to their needs, the driving force for development must be the needs of the town residents. Their elected officials and volunteer land use board members must be proactive in creating a vision that works for everyone. The town Master Plan and Zoning Ordinance must be used to guide beneficial development. After land use plannning comes project planning. Residents and business owners must feel confident that their input is important and that plans are not just developer driven.

3. Competition

A town like Plainfield, with unique features, will not benefit from cookie cutter development. In order to attract developers that respect our cultural diversity and history, we will need to use competitive bidding for some projects. Its not just about price, it's about finding creative partners that are the right match with Plainfield.

Tomorrow my blog will continue with "telling good development from bad". Let me know what you think at

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Where I stand on development, Part 1

Plainfield needs development. Our vacant and underutilized downtown properties offer a great opportunity to ease our property tax burden and improve the quality of life for Plainfielders. We also have development opportunities along our rail corrider.

Development can help us achieve our vision of a vibrant central business district with shops and restaurants that attract not just segments of our population but all residents. We can create opportunities for the arts to flourish. We can not only protect our historic and architectural resources, we can require that new construction adds to the character of our historic streetscapes. Along the rail corridor we can create new job opportunities for our residents.

Development does not guarantee these benefits for Plainfield residents. It must include significant input from the community to make sure that we are doing it right. It's not just the developers money that is at risk, it is our resident's quality of life that is at risk. After all, our children and their children will have to live with the results of development for many years to come. With this in mind, I propose the following measures to create a shared vision for development in Plainfield:

1. We should always try other ways to spur development and only use redevelopment as a last resort. Redevelopment is a very costly and time consuming enterprise that takes a lot of government involvement. Other methods that must be used include

* Effective code enforcement to help maintain the integrity of buildings and neighborhoods

* Increased police presence in our downtown

* Active marketing of Plainfields assets to attract new businesses

We must do much more to prevent the need for designating an area as blighted.

2. We need a moratorium on all new redevelopment studies until a shared vision for development in Plainfield is created.

3. The Planning Board and Council should conduct a study of all currently approved redevelopment studies and plans that have not led to action and recommend which ones should be revoked or put on hold.

4. Property owners should be encouraged and offered incentives to become partners in redevelopment projects. Eminent domain should be a step of last resort only.

5. The city should start a community visioning process that will guide future development for the downtown and the rail corridor. This process should be led by the Mayor and Council and should elevate the status of residents and business owners from bystanders to active participants.

6. The visioning process should include active outreach to the community so input is obtained by people who do not attend Council and Planning Board meetings.

7. This vision process should build on the strategic planning process conducted in Plainfield eight years ago.

8. The community input should be used to create a report and guidelines that city officials and developers can use to proceed with development.

Development is needed in Plainfield but it will only be beneficial if we make residents and business owners partners in the process. This is not an easy task but a necessary one if we want to get it right. I am working with my Council colleagues and the city administration to put these recommendations into effect. Let me know what you think at

Check here tomorrow for more on development.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Bio and Experience

Hello, I'm Cory Storch. I am seeking re-election as City Councilman for the 2nd ward. I have been a Plainfield resident for 28 years. My wife, Lois Mattson, and I have raised two children here. My family and I have become very involved in Plainfield in many ways and love our city very much.

Here is a little background on my life and work in Plainfield. Both of my children attended Cook School. When they were at Cook, Lois and I became very involved with the school community through the Parent - Teacher organization CSAC (Cook School Advisory Committee). I participated on the CSBAC (Citizen's School Budget Advisory Committee) for six years, and chaired it for two years. After my involvement with CSBAC I decided to run for School Board and was elected. My School Board colleagues and I changed a polarized Board of Education into a cohesive working group. When I was School Board President, I presided over the search committee for Superintendent of Schools which resulted in the hiring of Larry Leverett. I served on the Board of Education for six years.

I was appointed to the Plainfield Planning Board in 2000 and have served continously to the present. I have been an advocate for lower density building in residential areas and I am proud to serve on a Board that has had a positive impact on the quality of the projects that come up for review and approvals.

I was elected to the Plainfield City Council in 2004 and have been a consistently independent voice on the Council with the two adminstrations and Mayors I have worked with. I ran for municipal office because I saw that the potential of Plainfield was unfulfilled and that there was an opportunity for positive change. What was needed was teamwork among city leaders. I thought I could make a contribution. I will detail what I have accomplished in a future blog. For now, I will say that I have been part of a turnaround for our city. There is much to do and I want to see this positive trend gain momentum and demonstrate substantial progess. I feel that my commitment to Plainfield, my years of experience in local government and my understanding of Plainfield, gained from much involvement in civic affairs, can continue to be an asset to Plainfield citizens.

In addition to my local government work, my family has been deeply involved in the local community. I was a coach for the Plainfield Youth Soccer Club for eight years. Lois, my mother in law Jean Mattson and my daughter Alexa have all served on the YWCA of Plainfield Board of Directors (Alexa is a current member and Lois serves in an advisory capacity). We have been active supporters of the Plainfield Symphony and many other worthy Plainfield causes.

In my professional life, I have been Executive Director of Bridgeway Rehabilitation Services, Inc. for 19 years. Bridgeway is a non profit agency that was recently recognized as outstanding provider agency of 2007.

I ask for your support in the June 5th Democratic primary election. I am optimistic about Plainfield and I hope you will give me the opportunity to help Plainfield. In future blogs, I will share my vision for our city in detail and my platform/goals for the next four years. You can contact me at or 908-412-1343. I am looking forward to hearing from you.