Monday, July 16, 2007

Development - Courier - Mayor says projects moving forward

Published in the Courier News, Monday, July 16, 2007

Shopping, condo projects moving forward in Plainfield

Staff Writer

PLAINFIELD -- Four major redevelopment projects promising commercial and residential growth -- with more tax revenue for the city coffers and more shopping opportunities for the city's residents -- are expected to move forward in upcoming months and years, Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs said.

Robinson-Briggs met with the editorial board of the Courier News last week to discuss what's been happening in the 48,000-person city since she took office as its first female mayor in January 2006.

Topping her list was news about the four new developments:

-- The Teppers II project from 216 to 226 W. Front St. will replace a dilapidated building with a four-story structure combining 12 market-rate condominiums with 6,250 square feet of commercial retail space on the ground floor.

Robinson-Briggs said she expects the project by Hearstone Development LLC to be finished by next year.

-- Work is under way on the North Avenue Transit Village, encompassing the downtown train station to East Second Street and Watchung Avenue to just west of Park Avenue and West Second Street.

The project is expected to include market-rate condominiums and about 120,000 square feet of retail space across several mid-rise structures, Briggs said. City Administrator Marc Dashield said the project by Landmark Development Corporation will take place in phases, starting in about two years.

-- At Plainfield Avenue and West Front Street, AST Development Group wants to build 63,000 square feet of commercial space at the former Marino's tract, including a major supermarket, Robinson-Briggs said.

A redevelopment plan for the 7.3-acre parcel now owned by the Liccardi Auto Group of Green Brook has been in place since 2000.

"This would be a way to provide jobs for people in Plainfield and surrounding areas as well as more ratables," Robinson-Briggs said.

The project -- still years away -- would generate $190,000 in annual revenue for the city, officials estimate.

Lavallette-based AST Development -- the company responsible for the redevelopment of the downtown Park-Madison tract -- received City Council approval in August 2006 to negotiate and execute an agreement with the Union County Improvement Authority for the redevelopment of the former Marino's Tract.

-- Earlier this month, the city broke ground on a new Senior Citizens Center on East Front Street. The four-story facility is expected to include a senior citizens center and veterans meeting space on the first floor with 63 two-bedroom condominiums on the upper three floors, Robinson-Briggs said.

The new building will generate $400,000 in ratables for the city, officials say, and has an anticipated completion date of early 2008.

All four projects were highlighted during a community forum conducted last month at Washington Community School.

During the session, residents could question city officials directly on the development plans poised to transform existing streetscapes.

"We were trying to add a personal touch," Robinson-Briggs said. "We wanted to let the community know we want them included in the projects. This is their city."

Other outreach efforts

During the editorial board meeting, the mayor also reviewed other services and programs her administration is offering for the city's residents.

  • With sweltering, 90-degree temperatures leaving no doubt summer is here, Robinson-Briggs said all of the city's pools at three separate locations are up and running.

  • The city will sponsor outdoor film screenings in upcoming weeks. "The Pursuit of Happyness" will be shown at 9:30 a.m. in Aug. 4 at Library Park on East Eighth Street and Park Avenue.

  • For young people, the city is running a job placement program that will put about 100 teenagers in touch with public and private employment opportunities for the summer, she added.

  • "It really isn't enough to tell them don't do drugs, don't be in gangs, stay off the corners," Robinson-Briggs said. "We have to provide them with options."

  • The city has partnered with Union County College to distribute information on how high-school drop outs can receive free GED training at the college's Plainfield campus, she added.

  • Robinson-Briggs said the city is investigating an expansion of teen center services or the creation of a new teen center. Existing centers don't offer extended hours that may address the needs of the city's older youth, she said.

Sense of security

Officials also are working to create a sense of security within the city's borders. As part of Operation Taking Care of Business, police officers have stepped up patrols on foot, bike and Segway motorized scooters in Plainfield's business district to crackdown of quality-of-life crimes like loitering and graffiti.

Briggs added that officers have been rewarding children with coupons to the local Dairy Queen if they see the children wearing helmets while bike riding.

Plainfield is also one of the newest municipalities in New Jersey to undertake Operation Ceasefire, a state-funded program that uses community outreach, strategic planning and state-of-the-art equipment to reduce gun violence.

Dashield said the city has been putting the community outreach side of the program together since February with clergy members, school officials, police officers and other community members. A nonprofit agency has been selected to provide services for shooting victims.

Dashield said he expects the program to be in full force this September.

Complimenting the police efforts are smaller but important municipal beautification efforts, Briggs said.

The city, private-sector partners such as Comcast and local volunteers have worked to clear debris-filled lots and alleyways as well as other properties, including a cemetery on Plainfield Avenue, partly owned by the First Park Baptist Church.

Briggs added that, with the assistance of a local master gardner, the city has also started a community garden on Berkley Terrace to grow squash, string beans, tomatoes and other produce for its senior citizens.

The idea is already paying off.

Local Girl Scouts visited the mayor's office a few weeks ago with about 30 pounds of produce, Briggs said.

Martin C. Bricketto can be reached at (908) 707-3176 or


For more information on upcoming programs in Plainfield, including the date of the next community development forum, call the mayor's office at (908) 753-3310.

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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.