Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Ordinance for the South Avenue East Redevelopment Plan

From Cory Storch, City Councilman, Second Ward, Plainfield, New Jersey
Statement at the December 11 City Council Meeting Regarding the South Avenue East Redevelopment Plan"

Plainfield has become business friendly and is attracting more developers than at any time in the city’s recent history.  This is a positive reflection on the work of city government, especially in the last 5 years.  Have we reached the point where Plainfield does not have to accept developer proposals as is or accept all requests for tax abatement?  I believe that time has come for Plainfield.   We have positioned the city with more negotiating leverage to have our developers give our residents what they want.  In other words development that is not just for the sake of development.
Ordinance 2018-28 is before the Council for approval.  I urge my colleagues to reconsider this ordinance.  It permits the use of retail convenience with fuel services.  We have existing retail convenience at the corners of South and Terrill and South and Leland.  Why would we add more of the same when for many years, all Plainfield stakeholders have expressed a desire for the South Avenue commercial corridor to increase the variety of shopping experiences for residents and visitors.  Why would we permit fuel services in a transit oriented redevelopment area?  Strangely enough a bank without drive through facility is a permitted use.

There is much good in the proposed redevelopment plan for South Avenue East.  We can correct this major flaw by voting not to approve the ordinance and sending the plan back to the Planning Board for revision.  City Council has that power and should use it.
FYI the ordinance passed by a vote of 6 to 1.

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Update on Airbnb (aka short term occupancy rentals)

I was invited to a gathering last night of people interested in this subject.  40 people showed up, half of whom are currently doing short term rentals in Plainfield.  The other half attended to show support for those that are renting to the burgeoning market of renters who are booking through Airbnb, Home Away, VRBO and other websites.

There was a consensus to reach out to municipal officials after the organizers collect input from those in attendance and draft recommendations to share with city hall.  I promised to alert elected officials of what is happening and have started to do so.

Many of the rentals are in the second ward but I was surprised to see, by a show of hands, that these rentals are happening in all four wards.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Airbnb in Plainfield

There is a minor Airbnb presence in Plainfield and it presents an opportunity for our city.  Airbnb is permitted in New Jersey under state law.  This law requires landlords to charge a state occupancy tax and also allows municipalities to charge a local occupancy tax by local ordinance. 

I learned that Plainfield Airbnb attracts people who want an inexpensive rental experience in an up and coming city that offers diverse cultural attractions (ethnic cuisine for example) and interesting history and architecture.  Our two train stations offer an easy ride to Newark and Manhattan for business trips and tourism. 

Cities like Newark and Asbury Park have jumped on this bandwagon.  I looked at the Asbury Park ordinance and it addresses resident concerns by requiring renters to be at minimum 21 years of age and it requires the landlord to live in the building where the units are being rented.  These municipalities not only receive fee revenues but they regulate the rentals (which also include rentals through VRBO and Home Away) through a registration and inspection process.

I am doing more research and will be sharing information with Plainfield officials with the idea of presenting an ordinance to the Council for consideration in 2019.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Plainfield Police are Accredited

This is an impressive accomplishment and one that reflects well on the whole department.  Police Director Carl Riley has led the department through an arduous and time consuming process that includes a lot of policy development and employee training over a number of years.  It culminates with a survey team of outside experts closely examining whether or not our police department measures up to an extensive set of best practice standards.  Since best practices evolve over time, accreditation must be maintained and periodically renewed through ongoing employee and policy development.

Accreditation is standard practice in the health care world.  The organization I work for, Bridgeway Rehabilitation Services, goes through this practice every three years.  Our funders require that we do so.   It is not easy and requires the commitment of every person in the organization.  What makes the police accreditation particularly notable is that it is not required of police departments in New Jersey but we did it anyway.  Because of the desire to continually improve the public safety services to our community.  Kudos! Congratulations to everyone: from the director to the captains to the front line officers, dispatchers, administrative assistants, IT staff and anyone I might have left out.  It cant be done without a total team effort.

Monday, September 10, 2018

My Position on the Proposed Plainfield Administrative Re-organization

I will not be in attendance Tuesday night for the vote on MC - 2018 - 22, the ordinance to re-organize city halls departments and set salary ranges for Directors.  So I want to make my position on the ordinance clear. 

I regret not attending or calling in for the Council meeting but as CEO of Bridgeway Rehabilitation Services, I must attend a Board of Trustees meeting in Fords.  This schedule conflict is a rare occurrence since most Council meetings take place on Mondays. 

The proposed re-organization will benefit the city.  Three departments may have worked in simpler times, like the 1950s.  But for many decades Plainfield has been forced to operate with a hodgepodge of offices and bureaus under the Public Works and Administration/Finance departments.  Increasing the number of departments is a long time coming and create a more efficient and cohesive city hall.  Public Safety will also benefit by splitting Police and Fire into separate departments.

For 2018, there is no budget impact. For the future, the re-organization does not need to incur a cost increase if the administration is sensitive to the property tax burden and Council is vigilant and committed to lean annual budgets.  Ultimately it is up to City Council to approve an annual budget and a property tax rate.

Although I support the ordinance, I proposed changes at the last meeting.  I am convinced that council could improve this ordinance and better protect the financial interests of taxpayers in future years.  Here's how:

1. Combine the positions of Director of Communications and Public Information Officer.  Nothing was presented by administration officials or the Mayor to justify having both positions.

2. Eliminate the 8 bureaus under Public Works.  This is existing language no longer relevant to delivery of city services (example - a bureau for sewer and waste management that was needed prior to the creation of the PMUA).  Administrations argument for keeping this language was "just in case we need to revert to the previous way of service delivery".  A weak argument at best.  We can make the changes if the need arises.

3. The appointment and supervision of the City Clerk should reflect what every other municipality calls for - the Clerk is nominated and approved by the governing body and works for the governing body.  Some have called Plainfield's government a strong City Council government because the Council has to vote on nearly every action of the administration.  That does not take into account that the administration and Mayor have staff to delegate work to and the City Council has only the Clerks office, which has many responsibilities beyond assisting the Council.

The benefits and concerns as I see them are not just in relation to the current Mayor, Council and administration.  I am concerned about future Mayors, Councils and administrations.  We are poised to approve a new ordinance that will affect Plainfield for years to come.  I predict it will be approved Tuesday night as proposed by administration.  Whether it does or not, the role of City Council is to balance the actions of other branches of local government and to approve budgets that the tax payers can live with.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

I Support Expansion of Plainfield's Historic Districts

The Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) has been working on a plan to expand two of our historic districts:  Netherwood Heights and Van Wyck Brooks.   I commend their work and urge Plainfielders to get behind this initiative.

Historic homes and neighborhoods have been advantageous to those living and near them.  Preservation preserves the integrity of architectural assets, stabilizes neighborhoods, improves quality of life and increases property values (which is a benefit to the whole city). 

Some residents are concerned about government telling them how to renovate their homes and the increased financial burden they think comes with it.  I can speak from experience.  I was told by my insurance company to install a railing on my front steps.  The  HPC requested I use the simplest (and least expensive) design available so as to not have the railing detract from the other features of my homes front side. 

I have heard many examples of HPC rulings that balanced the financial concerns of the applicants with historic preservation.  Of course there are some property owners who were told that they improperly replaced original windows with plastic frames which were out of compliance with the preservation standard or used aluminum siding.  Property owners should be aware of the historic district regulations so they do not labor under common misconceptions such as:
  • HPC approves the colors of your house paint.  HPC does not.
  • HPC regulates building interiors.  They do not.
  • HPC regulates exterior work regardless of whether it can be seen from the street.  HPC regulates only that which can be seen from the street. 

There is an HPC meeting tonight.  Unfortunately I have an unavoidable work schedule conflict and will be late.  But I encourage you to come out and learn about Plainfield's latest historic preservation imitative.  This is one of the positive aspects of the overall Plainfield improvement process.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Gordon Fuller, A True Public Servant in Plainfield, Will Be MIssed

I learned yesterday that Gordon Fuller had passed away.  Sincere condolences go to Barbara, his children and his whole family.  Gordons extended family included many friends in the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District and throughout Plainfield.  Gordon was active in many local causes and truly instrumental in the success of duCret School of Arts and the Plainfield Planning Board.

I knew Gordon best through our work together on the Planning Board.  I was appointed in the late 1990s and Gordon had already been serving for many years.  I soon realized that Gordon was the person in the room with the most knowledge of the many facets of the municipal planning process - zoning, engineering, etc.  He was a person to listen to.  Not only that but the way he conducted himself at the meetings.  Professional, objective, polite, diplomatic when not agreeing with an applicant or another board member.  He was the historian when reference was made to the past.  In short, Gordon was a valuable asset to the city for many, many years.

Until I joined the Planning Board, I didn't fully understand how important it is to the well-being of a city, how in subtle and not so subtle ways it can influence the future and impact every resident.  Gordon understood this well and was a model that the rest of the board learned from at every meeting.  His influence on Plainfield has been as substantial as any elected or appointed local official.

I also got to know Gordon and Barbara at social events in town.  He was always fun and interesting to talk with and a gracious host for parties.  He was very committed to the DuCret School of Arts and served on it's board.

His families loss is also Plainfield's loss.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

I support Linda Carter for Assembly

I enthusiastically support Linda Carter as the Democratic candidate for Assemblywoman in District 21.  Linda is a seasoned legislator who knows the needs of Plainfield and the legislative district.

I know from experience about Linda as an elected official.  We served together on the Plainfield City Council before she became a Freeholder. In fact, we ran our campaigns for City Council and were elected together as allies of Al McWilliams. I appreciated her for her intelligence and common sense.   Linda has the temperament and people skills to advance Plainfield's agenda and the heart to stand strong for her constituents.

Plainfield finally has the local, county and state levels of government working together for us.  Linda is the right choice to keep the progress going and help make government even more responsive to the needs of Plainfield.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Union County Dems Need a Leader, Not a Boss

The competition for the next chairperson of the Union County Democratic Committee has some positives once you look beyond the usual politicking.  My view is that each of the three candidates brings a refreshing and less traditional style to politics.  Yes Nick Scutari was associated with the previous chairpersons who did operate from the "boss" model of government that has not served New Jersey well.  But Nick was a supporter of Al McWilliams when the "boss" basically cut Al off at the knees politically.  Bosses expect loyalty above integrity and that time must not have been easy for Nick.

Colleen Mahr as Mayor of Fanwood has been a friend to Plainfield through her Raritan Valley Rail Line advocacy and the contract for PMUA services that increases employment of Plainfield residents.

I am voting for Nick Scutari. He is in the best position to help Plainfield and he has shown himself to be an independent thinker in the state legislature. But I will feel good regardless of who comes out on top when county committee men and women cast their votes for county chairperson on February 21.  I believe that both of these candidates would bring positive energy and a more inclusive style to the Union County Democratic Party.  We need it. 

We also need to get beyond the perception that county government is run by a boss.  This perception is based on experience and wont be changed easily.  But a vote by secret ballot for county chair will go a long way to mending the past.  Too bad we are leaving this decision up to a judge.

Regardless of what happens on February 21, I urge the county committee leadership to do a complete review of the by-laws towards increasing transparency and inclusion.  And the new leadership would do well to find an important leadership role for the third candidate for county chair: Anthony Salters.  He is a long shot but his message is respectful of the democratic process and positive.