Sunday, February 7, 2016

Development in Plainfield - Looking into the Future

For many years the development discussion in Plainfield has been about how to get started. Can we work off a wish list without acknowledging trends in the marketplace?  Do we have to solve our crime problem before we can develop our downtown?  Can we change our local politics enough to attract investors?

We have answered those questions well enough (for now).  Now that momentum is just starting to build, we are debating decisions about tax incentives for development.  We seem to be convincing enough local stakeholders that we do need incentives like payments in lieu of taxes in order to spark development.  We are also answering questions about where to develop:  mostly around our train stations and along the rail line, and at the Muhlenberg campus of course.

 As we see projects and project plans pop up around Plainfield, we have to pay more attention to the future.   Here are some other questions we need to grapple with:
  • What do we do with our underdeveloped land along the rail line between our train stations and west of the downtown station?  We are calling for mixed use (residential with retail/commercial) development within 1/4 to 1/2 mile of the train stations and perhaps a proposed transit hub on the west end.  What about the rest of the 4 miles along the rail line?  What if developers keep proposing more residential only or mixed use that is mostly residential?  I hope we will not allow that.  We need retail/commercial development that creates jobs and allows residents to spend their money in town instead of the Rt 22 and Westfield stores.
  • Do we want our municipal facilities to remain right next to our train stations?  Is there a better use for the land occupied by the Municipal Court complex and the Netherwood fire station?  Are there mixed use developers out there who will pay enough for these properties so the city can afford to relocate these operations to equally suitable or more advantageous locations?
  • Is there a threshold for too much development, that a section of Plainfield could become too congested?
  • Do we need to protect more properties under historic district ordinances before some old landmarks are gone forever?
I am glad that we can now boast so many millions of dollars of investment in development.  But the real measure of successful development is how it benefits the neighborhood, the residents and businesses that occupy that neighborhood.  No easy task to fathom this because it has to include the needs of future residents and businesses.  But we can learn from how development 30, 50, 100 years ago has affected Plainfield today. 

We have to think about what new development plans will look like 30, 50 years from now.  And also what conditions will be like 30, 50 years from now if we do nothing.