Saturday, April 11, 2009

Transit oriented visioning study

Plainfield is considering a community visioning study for the land around our two train stations. This study would be a partnership between the city, Rutgers and NJIT. Some of New Jersey's leading development and transportation experts would work with graduate students, local residents and business owners to shape a blueprint for the future of Plainfield's land around the downtown and Netherwood train stations. Here are the arguments against doing this study and why they can't be allowed to derail the community visioning process:

  • We've studied the train station development options to death. In fact there has been much planning done around the downtown station. Thanks to the current and previous city administrations and the Planning Board, we have the North Avenue redevelopment areas, Phases One and Two. We also have a redevelopment agreement with a designated developer, Landmark. We have not, however, created an overall plan for the whole train station area. Doing this is extremely important if we want a well coordinated plan for this area, which is the centerpiece of all future Plainfield development. We will need to include the following into our overall vision:

1. the downtown station south area,

2. the area around Union County College (with the college as a partner)

3. the huge and mostly vacant parking lot between the Green Brook and Front St between Roosevelt and Watchung

4. Furthermore, the overall downtown plan needs to mesh with planning around the West End study area (aka the POWER study) and the Netherwood station.

  • We already have input from the community. After all, our hard working Planning Board meets in public and advertises its activities in the Courier-News. But if you have attended a Planning Board meeting in any town, you know that the usually small and devoted public struggles to follow the highly technical discussions and often has to wait several hours to ask questions or state concerns. Not exactly a community oriented process. It is safe to say that new Planning Board members (myself included) need about a years worth of meetings to get up to speed. So how difficult it is for the average citizen to influence the process? Very. And how many have the perseverance to stay with the process? Very few.
  • We can't afford it - the only valid concern in my opinion. Considering that we spend over $70 million each year on city government and property taxes continue to escalate, we should think hard about any new initiatives. They need to be either: 1) absolute necessities, 2) expenses that lead to cost savings or 3) investments in Plainfield's future that will bring significant value to residents. This study definitely fits the investment criterion and also the cost savings one when you think about an engaged, supportive community as opposed to a fearful, resistant one that creates roadblocks to Plainfield's future plans. Funding for this study can come from the UEZ fund, not from property taxes. We have spent UEZ funds on things with much less lasting value than the proposed study.

The new Manhatten tunnel is coming with a one seat ride from Plainfield. Development and economic growth opportunities will arise in advance of its expected completion date in 2017. Unlike the past, this time Plainfield must be ready. I say to my fellow Council members and to the Mayor: our leadership is needed to create a vision for Plainfield's future, a future that holds much promise as long as we are ready for it.