Published in the Star-Ledger, Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Lawmaker urges closing of group home
He opposes the renewal of Plainfield facility's license
BY ALEXI FRIEDMAN
A Plainfield group home that for decades has served nearly 200 special-needs adults, including the mentally disabled, faces an uncertain future now that the city's powerful assemblyman wants it closed and residents relocated.
The facility, the Park Hotel Board Home, is the largest of its kind in Union County and lies in the city's downtown business district, making it a target as Plainfield continue its push for retail and residential development.
In asking the city council to consider opposing a license renewal for the Park Hotel -- the license expires Aug. 31 -- Assemblyman Jerry Green said the institution on West Seventh Street and Arlington Avenue is antiquated and cannot adequately care for its residents.
Green also wants the council to seek a moratorium from the state on future group homes in Plainfield because most are nonprofit organizations exempted from paying property taxes.
The Park Hotel, a for-profit, 182-bed facility housed in a six-story building, is also tax exempt [note by DD: this is an error, the property IS ON THE TAX ROLLS].
Any action by the council would serve only as a recommendation once time comes for the state to renew or revoke the Park Hotel's license.
Such a license would only be revoked if the facility has significant violations or had opened without a license, neither of which is the case with the Park Hotel, according to Sean Darcy, a spokesman for the state Department of Community Affairs.
Thee assemblyman made his case to the council Monday night, saying Plainfield has welcomed its share of social service agencies over the past 30 years and that it's time for other municipalities to do their part.
The point, Green said, is not to throw residents on the street.
"I want to make it very clear, we're concerned about people in that facility first," said the assemblyman, who is chairman of the Legislature's housing and local government committee. The Park Hotel is regulated by the Department of Community Affairs and its residents are overseen by the Department of Human Services.
Green said he wants to work with the state to find other locations in the county and wants the city to help him in that effort, sending the message "that we're prepared to do whatever we can to make sure these human beings are treated fairly. Currently, they are not."
Calls to Park Hotel officials for comment yesterday were not returned.
In a letter to city council President Rayland Van Blake, the assemblyman cited a trend in mental health services toward smaller institutions with fewer than 20 beds.
"The state would not approve a facility such as the Park Hotel today, given changes in policy," he wrote.
Green also posed his request as a public safety issue, saying Park Hotel residents "roam the streets of Plainfield," adding that merchants in nearby stores have complained about their behavior.
While individual merchants may feel that way, Lisa Cohen, who heads up the Plainfield Special Improvement District, said she has not heard such criticisms from members. Cohen is also owner of Suburban Jewelers on East Front Street.
In fact, some Park Hotel residents occasionally stop by her store to make small purchases or to say hello, she said.
Still, Green's plan was warmly received by several council members, including Rashid Burney, Don Davis and Cory Storch, who called the Park Hotel "beyond outmoded."
Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs, meanwhile, said she's had discussion about the issue with the assemblyman, and "encourages the conversation." Echoing his statement that the city has enough group homes and service agencies, Robinson-Briggs said other municipalities should "take on their own responsibilities," adding, "we'll all deal with our own quality of life issues as well."
One longtime resident, however, disagreed.
Speaking during the public comment period, Bernice Paglia reminded the council that a town's responsibility shouldn't be just to taxpayers. Citing the high number of Plainfield youths in juvenile detention centers outside the city, she said, "Maybe there should be [a] big juvenile detention facility in Plainfield." Paglia, who also writes a daily blog about the city, added, "When we talk about our town, let's have an open heart on who our own really are."
Alexi Friedman may be reached at (908) 302-1505 or firstname.lastname@example.org
This story did NOT appear in the online edition of the Star-Ledger and was transcribed for this archive by Dan Damon.
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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.