Sunday, October 15, 2017

Illegal Conversions of Residential Buildings

Notice to Property Owners  - Plainfield Will No Longer Tolerate the Illegal Conversion of a Home or Apartment Building to Add New Apartments that Are Not Permitted by Within Their Zone.

I saw with my own eyes the City condemning a home in the Crescent Avenue Historic District that was illegally converted into a four unit building.  The property owner did what so many have done before - adding apartments or just rooms for rent - in the basement or the attic or wherever they could be squeezed in - with little regard for zoning regulations, safety concerns or lack of parking. For many years, Plainfield City Hall was not up to the task of regulating residential conversions.

Not any more.  The building mentioned above is now vacant.  All tenants were relocated at the expense of the owner.  The owner has to come back to City Hall and propose how this building will be made compliant with our building codes and zoning ordinance.

The city has also hired an inspector to work on weekends to enforce our regulations for the weekend renovators who seek to do illegal conversions when the city is not watching.

Illegal conversions are bad for our city.  They are bad for the tenants who unwittingly rent unsafe apartments that have inadequate or no means of escape in the event of a fire.  Or whose plumbing or electrical wiring poses a health or safety problem. Tell tale signs of illegal conversions are a lot of mailboxes and/or PMUA trash receptacles at a residence that appears too small for so many people to warrant it. 

If you think there is an illegally occupied residence in your neighborhood, please contact the city inspections office at 908 753 3386 or public works directors office at 908 753 3375.  It wouldn't hurt to copy your City Council representatives either.  I am best reached at or

Monday, August 21, 2017

Welcome to the New Alcoholic Beverage Commission

Plainfield City Council has served as the local Alcoholic Beverage Commission (ABC for short) for many years.  The ABC reviews and renews liquor licenses annually.  Earlier this year this responsibility was handed over to a citizen commission appointed by the Mayor and Council.

I was reluctant at first to give this up but the wisdom of this decision is already clear.  I've spoken to the commissioners and their plans are encouraging. The chairman, Oscar Riba, is a retired bar owner and with his fellow commissioners, have begun to draft new ordinances to improve enforcement of ABC laws.

There are two major issues facing Plainfield's liquor license approvals and renewals.  Some of our bars have all too frequent calls for police to deal with disorderly conduct.  The ABC can impose conditions on a bar that has disorderly conduct problems and/or is not complying with the law.  This can include hiring security staff and installing video surveillance cameras.  Ultimately the ABC can deny a license but needs to use a progressive discipline approach to avoid having the state ABC overturning a local decision on appeal.  When the ABC was under our City Council, it has imposed conditions on occasion but not often enough.  It seems that some city council members were susceptible to influence by liquor license holders.

The state law has a limit on licenses allowed in each municipality based on population.  Cities like Plainfield over the limit when the state law went into effect were allowed to grandfather the licenses in effect at that time. Now we want new restaurant licenses to stimulate downtown development and, Plainfield being over the limit, they are hard to come by. Plainfields' licenses rarely come up for sale.  Not long ago, a bar owner purchased one to prevent a competitor from taking away his clientele. He just pocketed the license.

There are bills in the New Jersey legislature to allow new licenses in redevelopment areas but the bar and restaurant lobby opposes measures to create new licenses.  They are protecting the financial interests of their constituents who have invested significant dollars for their licenses. 

I urge our new ABC Commission to research this problem and draft a resolution for the Council so we can advocate in Trenton for what Plainfield needs.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

A Way You Can Beautify Plainfield

Most residents know that city trucks come through our neighborhoods each month to take away leaves, branches and lawn cuttings.  What many don't know is that there is a state law requiring yard waste to be put on the street within 24 hours of the scheduled pick up dates.  Not earlier.

                               This should go on the street the day before pick-up

There are two good reasons for this law.  The first is to help improve the appearance of our streets. Be respectful of your neighbors.  We all have a stake in keeping our streets and properties looking good.  And if you have a yard maintenance service, make sure your contractor complies with the law.

The second reason is an environmental one.  Sediment and yard waste on the streets can wash into our storm drains.  This can cause clogging and back ups.  Eventually sediment silts up streams and rivers.  This is especially true in high population areas like Plainfield and a lot of New Jersey.

                     This is what happens when yard waste gets put out too soon

 So your adherence to the law is good for you, your neighbors and the environment.

Check the city's website or see below for the summer pick-up schedule and zone map.  It also is mailed to each household.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

More Progress in Plainfield - Our Roadways

There is legislation up for approval at the July City Council meeting to substantially advance our road paving program.  Here are the Second Ward streets on the 2017 Third Phase Roadway Program list:

Belvidere Ave, Ravine Road, East Ninth Street, Franklin Place,Putnam Ave, Crescent Ave, Sleepy Hollow Lane, Hilltop Rd, Hillside Ave

From the resolution:  "The Department of Public Works has begun utilizing several methods to improve the roadway conditions. With limited funding available, this cost cutting method is being utilized to achieve roadway restoration throughout the City of Plainfield.  

The street selection is based upon deterioration ratings and roadways that are not requiring total infrastructure improvements, such as; curbs, tree removal inlets, etc. 
What is meant by this language is that we can pave more streets if we cut back on improvements other than the actual paving.  There is, however, another resolution for July for $675,000 in concrete improvements.  I assume these will be done as needed instead of for the full lengths of streets paved.
The remaining streets for the project include but are not limited to the following:   

Randolph Road, , Hillcrest Ave, Geneva Place, Seneca Ave, Chelsea Blvd, Colonia Pl., St. Nicholas Ave, George Street, New Street, Hamilton Ave, Ransome Pl., Orchard Street, Berckman Street, Edwin Pl., McCrea Pl., Stelle Ave, Central Ave, Stillman Ave,  Madison Ave (from North Plainfield border to West Seventh Street) , Wiley Ave (from Edwin Pl. to E. Third Street), Grant Ave (from West Seventh Street to the South Plainfield border.
I'm not much into special character smiley faces but  for this occasion     :)

Monday, June 5, 2017

Plainfield needs the Adrian Mapp team.

I have been involved in local government for most of the 38 years I've lived in Plainfield.  I have not seen the kind of progress we are seeing in the last 3 plus years with Adrian Mapp as mayor.  This is especially true since the City Council majority, with the addition of Joylette Mills Ransome and Charles McCrae, became solidly with the Mayor this past January. 

We are not just a team.  We are a team for Plainfield.  Its been so long since Plainfield has had the Mayor and Council working together like we have.  There is an important distinction to be made.  We are not for Adrian Mapp first.  Plainfield comes first.  That's why we ran for office in the first place.

Some of you might not like all of us or everything we are doing,  I still urge you to vote for Mapp and Mills Ransome. I ask you to look around town at visible signs of progress.  Behind that are less obvious positive changes happening at city hall.  For you doubters, I hope you will come to the polling place and make a rationale decision, not one based on rumor and emotion. 

Plainfield had a good mayor in Al McWilliams but there were not enough years of Mayor Al and the City Council working together on a Plainfield agenda to make enough of a difference.  We now have that opportunity.

Steve Hockaday is the newcomer to the Mapp team.  As I get to know Steve, I am impressed and grateful that he is running for City Council.  He is an intelligent young man who is running for office for the right reason.  He has a Plainfield agenda.

This is a contested Democratic primary election.  Vote on June 6.  Support Plainfield.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Stigma Free Zone is launching on April 8 at City Hall

The Plainfield City Council has passed a resolution declaring our city as a stigma free zone.  This signals that community minded Plainfield residents will conduct an ongoing public education campaign to reduce the stigma that so often is associated with mental illnesses.  The Plainfield Stigma Free Zone recognizes that:

1. Mental disabilities are nothing to be ashamed of.  One is four are affected.
2. Behavioral health problems can be successfully treated.
3. These services are available to city residents of all ages.

Please join the Plainfield Stigma Free Zone (STZ) steering committee on Saturday, April 8 from 12 PM to 2 PM at City Hall.  There will be speakers (a resident personally dealing with a mental illness; Cory Storch, Bridgeway CEO; Mayor Adrian Mapp; Mark Williams, Bridgeway Board of Trustees Chairman; Judy Sturm, CenterPath Board of Directors; and others).  Mental Health First Aid classes will be held at 11 AM and 1 PM in City Hall, led by a certified instructor. Join us to show your solidarity with our cause.  There will be refreshments.

More information can be found with this link:

The Plainfield Stigma Free Zone initiative was inspired by similar initiatives in Bergen and Morris counties and started by Bridgeway Rehabilitation Services, a non profit mental health service organization.  SFZ is supported by the City of Plainfield, the Plainfield Foundation, Union County Mental Health Board, CenterPath Wellness, Park Avenue Self Help Center, Union County College, First Unitarian Society of Plainfield, United Church of Christ Congregational, RUACH Ministries, Mental Health Association of New Jersey and other stakeholders.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Stigma Free Zone Coming to Plainfield

Plainfield is becoming a stigma free zone in support of the many people and their families coping with a mental illness.  This is a public education campaign to teach our community about mental health and encourage people to go for help, to be not afraid of being stigmatized. Mental health treatment and supports actually work.  And they are available.

mental health education is happening across the country

There is a stigma free zone steering committee sponsored by Bridgeway Rehabilitation Services, a non profit mental health service organization where I work.  Committee members include the First Unitarian Society of Plainfield, Ruach Ministries, United Church of Christ Congregational, the City  of Plainfield's recreation and health departments and Tap into Plainfield.  Mayor Adrian Mapp, Police Director Carl Riley and School Board President Emily Morgan have expressed their support.  There will be a resolution at the March City Council meeting declaring Plainfield a stigma free zone. This will be a community-wide campaign.

Psychiatric problems affect 1 in 5 people.  When you count the impact on their families, employers, teachers and friends, it becomes clear that everyone is touched by mental illness in one way or another.

Stigma often comes with mental illnesses.  That's because there are many myths that cause fear and shame about conditions like depression, phobias, bi-polar illness and schizophrenia .  The fear leads to discrimination.  The shame is the leading reason people do not seek help for their psychiatric problems.   The real shame is while treatments have been proven effective, untreated mental illnesses cause huge negative impacts in our community - on families, on businesses, on the many people struggling with these conditions.

A mentally health person is a better student, a more productive worker.  A mentally healthy young person will not turn to drugs or join a gang.  A mentally healthier community is what Plainfield can become when we know the facts about mental health,

Saturday, February 11, 2017

New Development Ordinances Come to City Council

Mayor Adrian Mapp and his administrative team have proposed  new tools for Plainfield's redevelopment arsenal.  The Council will vote on second reading on Monday night on the following:

1. a redevelopment plan for North Ave around the Netherwood Station.  This plan will set standards for what the city wants from developers.  The plan covers North Ave between Leland  and Berkman Avenues, mostly on the train tracks side of the street. This is where a long row of mostly vacant factory buildings has gradually deteriorated for decades.  This is part of the Netherwood transit village vision for mixed use residential living and commercial uses.

2. a proposal to make Plainfield's Urban Enterprise Zone (UEZ) an area in need of rehabilitation.

3. a proposal to update Plainfield's 5 year tax abatement ordinance to spur investment for improvements to the mostly vacant and dilapidated upper floors of buildings in our downtown that are now only used for first floor retail.  The UEZ also covers East 2nd Street and South Second Street, underutilized commercially zoned areas in our First and Fourth wards that need incentives for revitalization. 
     buildings in need of improvement near the downtown station

The second and third ordinances mentioned above are tied together in that tax abatements are generally allowable only in areas of New Jersey declared in need of rehabilitation or redevelopment.

An objection was made at the last Council meeting on the grounds that when we give tax breaks, the Plainfield is losing revenues and that has to be made up by increasing homeowners' property taxes.  Actually the opposite is true.  Under the 5 year tax abatement ordinance, the base property assessment is still taxed at the going rate.  It's only the improvements that are not taxed for the 5 year period and after that the taxes will go up based on the value of the new improvements.  A good deal for Plainfield, especially considering that many properties in the UEZ are deteriorated and have not been maintained or improved for many years.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

A Report on Plainfield Development

I went for a walk down South Ave from the Netherwood train station to Richmond St.  The city is focusing redevelopment along South Ave near the train station and there are some vacant factory buildings further down towards downtown that have gotten some recent attention.

Across from the train station - Sumo/Crown Bank have been slowly working on the four story mixed use building which is taking a long time preparing for occupancy.  But there are signs that work continues.

Corner of Berkman and South - the large factory building was getting new windows as I walked by.  This will be a storage facility when it is ready.

Next door - is the Edward Paul building, a large factory building that has been out of use for many years.  It is equally distant from each of Plainfield's train stations but not within the transit village zone.  Its future involves a crucial development decision.  In the past, developers have expressed interest in renovating it for residential use.   But if we allow that, the door is open for residential use the full length of the rail line between the train stations.  This is undesirable.  We need a balance of residential and commercial.

Another property with commercial development potential is next door to Edward Paul - the corner of Richmond and South, currently a vacant lot.  

Commercial development is important because it brings tax revenues without the expenses for services that new residents bring.  It also brings much needed jobs.  Our Planning Board has wisely zoned the city to maintain the character of residential areas and concentrate commercial development around our train stations and our shopping districts.  This block between Berkman and Richmond along the rail line needs new businesses.  With the momentum created by the Mapp administration, we should raise our expectations and not settle for less than well balanced, quality development that will have lasting value for current and future residents, especially those needing employment.