Published in the Courier News, Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Plainfield official lobbying to close boarding facility
Assemblyman cites development, funding issues in council meeting talks
By CELANIE POLANICK
PLAINFIELD -- On West Seventh Street, when the mentally disabled residents of the Park Hotel Boarding Home have nowhere else to go, they walk down the street and wander in and out of stores all day, Assemblyman Jerry Green said.
Green, D-Plainfield, visited the City Council meeting Monday night to seek support for his efforts to lobby the state Department of Community Affairs not to renew the Park Hotel's operating license. As federal and state funding sources for social services dry up, Plainfield's lower real estate prices are part of what's making the city a magnet for people who need extra help and the agencies who serve them -- including those who aren't from Plainfield, Green said Monday afternoon.
This trend has financial consequences for the city, from reducing tax revenues to dampening the success of local businesses, he said.
"We're trying to move the city in a new direction," Green said. "We're trying to be very positive toward the redevelopment of the downtown area."
The 182-bed residential facility is run by a for-profit company, Plainfield Hotel LLC; representatives of the company did not return a phone call Monday for comment. The facility does not have any unresolved violations with the DCA, DCA spokesman Chris Donnelly said.
The facility is in the heart of Plainfield's downtown, across the street from a redevelopment zone. It hasn't been upgraded in 30 years, and the residents have no place to spend time other than their rooms or the streets of the city, Green said.
"These people have no recreational grounds," Green said. "The businesses in the community complain about the fact of them not having a social area or an area to congregate. They often spend their time in the different stores, just wandering ... They have no other place to go. ... This is no direct attack on anyone. I'm obligated as an elected official to make sure that these people are given what I consider quality housing."
Green also wants to push for restrictions on allowing additional facilities such as the Park Hotel Boarding Home to come to Plainfield, because they create additional need for emergency services and police intervention. Last year, Muhlenberg Hospital lost $9 million in costs of treatment for people who couldn't pay for it, Green said.
"Not only are we talking about a quality of life issue, we're talking about the city no longer being able to subsidize the services that go with a facility of this nature," he said.
Generally, the council seems to share Green's concerns, but the issue is still in the discussion phase, Councilman Rashid Burney said before the meeting.
Although the Park Hotel is a for-profit business, numerous nonprofit organizations similar to it don't pay property taxes, thereby reducing the city's number of taxable properties, Burney said.
However, there isn't much the city can do legally to force the facility to close or move, or to stop new ones from moving in; the state calls them "inherently beneficial uses," and the city has little regulatory power over them, Burney said.
As the cost of operating these homes rises, the city may be asked to foot the bill -- and that's too much to ask, Burney said. Last year in August, a halfway house run by the city with funds from Middlesex and Union counties was short $56,000 -- costs had gone up, but the funding hadn't, Burney said. When the figure ended up on the city's budget, the council had to say no to it, he said.
"I certainly want to help the disadvantaged members of society," Burney said. "I just feel that at this point, we've got more than our share. Per capita, we've got more than any of the other municipalities around us. We certainly want to take care of our own -- we just don't have the resources right now to take care of everybody else's."
Celanie Polanick can be reached at (908) 707-3137 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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- Plainfield resident since 1983. Retired as the city's Public Information Officer in 2006; prior to that Community Programs Coordinator for the Plainfield Public Library. Founding member and past president of: Faith, Bricks & Mortar; Residents Supporting Victorian Plainfield; and PCO (the outreach nonprofit of Grace Episcopal Church). Supporter of the Library, Symphony and Historic Society as well as other community groups, and active in Democratic politics.