The needler in the haystack.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Vision 2025: Listening sessions this week on Childhood & Youth Education; Public Safety

Participants in last week's first "listening session"
on Access to Healthcare, Seniors and Recreation.

The "listening sessions" that are the foundation of the Plainfield Vision 2025 project continue this week with two separate opportunities.

Monday evening will see a session on Childhood & Youth Education at the Plainfield High School cafeteria, getting under way at 7:00 PM.

On Wednesday evening, the first of three sessions on Public Safety will be held, also at the PHS Cafeteria and also starting at 7:00 PM. (The other two Public Safety sessions will be October 12 at Cook School, and October 16 at Washington Community School. All start at 7:00 PM.)

The purpose of the sessions is for community members to brainstorm ideas for action items in the subject area -- both large and small -- as well as to identify stakeholders and resources (including funding sources).

Each session follows a similar pattern: Attendees are invited to jot down one idea on each of three Post-It notes provided when they arrive; the action team then sorts the notes into groups with a similar theme, and participants gather around tables (one theme to a table) to further discuss and refine the suggestions on the Post-It notes. To close the evening, each table reports out its ideas to the whole group.

Records are kept of all suggestions, which will then be incorporated into a public presentation to be made on November 4 at Plainfield High School.

This week's sessions are in the PHS Cafeteria, facing the Kenyon Avenue parking lot, where there is ample parking with entry directly off the lot.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]
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Saturday, September 23, 2017

Expansion of former Abbott Nursing Home as veterans' housing on HPC agenda Tuesday evening

The Abbott Manor Nursing Home, 2007.


Andre Yates, owner of the former Abbott Nursing Home at 810 Central Avenue comes before the Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) on Tuesday evening in connection with his proposal to build a 3-story addition at the rear of the now-vacant building and  convert the building to 25 apartments for homeless veterans.

The matter was referred to the HPC by the Zoning Board of Adjustment, which held that the proposal must pass muster with the HPC before it can come before the zoning board.

From a bulk viewpoint, this sounds very much like the proposal of a previous owner to build an addition and convert the building into a nursing home for sixty residents.

Folks will recall that the Van Wyck Brooks Historic District and Grace Episcopal Church (whose rectory abuts the property in the rear) fought a long and expensive -- though ultimately successful -- court battle over the proposal (see my 2007 post on the case here).

Union County Superior Court Judge Walter R. Barisonek's ruling in the case was hailed as groundbreaking, setting a precedent in New Jersey on the importance of historic districts and that "an inherently beneficial use" may cease to be so at the wrong location. (See my post here, which includes a link to attorney Bill Michelson's summary of the ruling, which had been given orally.)

Yates quietly purchased the property in 2012 from Reynaldo and Maria Lapid for $100,000 (see my post here). Since owning the property, Yates has not been diligent about maintaining the structural integrity of the building until pressured to do so by the City.

The city has had to keep after Yates about
maintaining the building's structural integrity.

In 2013, he incorporated a non-profit (Yates House for Military Veterans, Inc.). A search for the organization's 990 filings with the IRS turns up no public reports on the finances and officers ever filed (this does not mean they were not filed with the IRS, but only that they don't appear in publicly-used websites -- for example, see here).

In June 2013, then-Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs and GOP Assembly candidate John Campbell, Jr., backed Yates' bid to turn the former nursing home into veterans' housing. In September of that same year, TAPinto published a story (see here) on a golf outing fundraiser for the nonprofit at the Galloping Hill Golf Course in Kenilworth, which was billed as the group's first fundraising event.

Yates also came under scrutiny in the demolition of a fire-damaged building in the 100-block of North Avenue in March 2015 (see post here). The demolition was done on an emergency basis and then-Director of Public Works and Urban Development Eric Watson awarded the no-bid contract to Yates, who sub-contracted the work (see post here).

The subcontractor was negligent in tearing down a parti-wall between the building and its neighborhood, causing debris to crash through the roof of a restaurant next door (Mi Buenaventura), damaging equipment and forcing the restaurant to shut down immediately.

It seems that wherever Mr. Yates goes, controversy follows in his wake.

Note that the City is renovating the former Dudley House on Putnam Avenue, which served for years as a substance-abuse halfway house, into apartments for homeless veterans, a fact which Mr. Yates may not bring to the fore in discussing the need for veterans housing.

The HPC meeting is scheduled for 7:30 PM, Tuesday, September 26, in City Hall Library. It is item (4) on the agenda, which means it will not be taken immediately the meeting gets under way.

City Hall is at Watchung Avenue and East 6th Street. Parking and entry to the building in the rear.

Plainfield Today --

Guidestar:  "Yates House for Military Veterans, Inc."
TAPinto:  "Golf tournament benefits veterans"
  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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Thursday, September 21, 2017

As Lesniak's sun sets, he burns his political bridges

Sen. Ray Lesniak and Mustapha Muhammed.
(from Facebook video).

InsiderNJ's Max Pizzarro ran a story Wednesday (see here) on Sen. Ray Lesniak's endorsement of Mayor Adrian O. Mapp's independent opponent in the November general election, Mustapha Muhammed.

As Lesniak's political sun sets, it is sad to watch him burning his bridges

Once one of the four or five most powerful figures in the Legislature, and widely known and respected for his advocacy of liberal causes, he now seems to be sinking in a sea of self-pity and vindictiveness which ill becomes him.

In the run-up to the June primary, politics watchers were puzzled by his on-again, off-again behavior towards running for the governor's nomination. By the time he exhausted everyone with his coyness, Union County's important Democratic players had moved on: Chairman Jerry Green, Sheriff Joe Cryan, and Sen. Nick Scutari had followed the lead of most other North Jersey counties and lined up behind newcomer Phil Murphy.

Cryan and Green were quoted in the media making kind comments about Lesniak, but indicating that their choices had been made and were firm. Lesniak pouted: he allowed as how he didn't think Cryan's statement was satisfactory.

Now, he's endorsing Mapp's opponent in the mayoral race (see the Facebook endorsement video here).

The video, posted to Muhammed's Facebook account on Sept. 15, is mostly taken up with Muhammed running through a stump speech patter, with Lesniak's brief endorsement tucked in at the end.

I was curious about the venue. It appears to be on a play area of sorts (there is a view of a macadamized basketball court) and on the periphery of some other event that is happening off screen.

Someone told me they saw Muhammed with Lesniak in tow, along a with a camera crew, at the summer concert at Milt Campbell Field on August 9. That would explain the background of the video.

To my knowledge, Mayor Mapp has always had good relations with Lesniak, so why this apparent attack? Is it really about Mayor Mapp? Or is it about taking a swipe at Jerry Green, toward whom Lesniak is still bitter over the way the June Primary election worked out.

But who does he have to blame for that?

In the meantime, Muhammed may just be an opportunist, hoping that Lesniak will toss some of his considerable campaign cash into Muhammed's Plainfield campaign.

Will bitterness and betrayal be Lesniak's final legacy?

  -- Dan Damon [follow]
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Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Plainfield Vision 2025 gets off to a good start

Volunteer Diane DesPlantes explains how the 'Listening
Session' works.

Attendees wait for session to start.

The 'Access to Healthcare' table hard at work.


Mayor Adrian O. Mapp's Plainfield Vision 2025 project got off to a good start Wednesday evening with a "listening session" on health, human and social needs.

Chief of Staff John Stewart Jr. welcomed approximately 50 attendees and explained the goal of the "Plainfield Vision 2025" project -- for citizens to propose things to be done in various focus areas to improve the city and explore new initiatives.

Volunteer Diane DesPlantes explained how the evening would unfold and Jeff Spelman explained the first part of the process -- brainstorming with Post-It notes.

Everyone had been given a handout explaining the ground rules for the "listening session" when they arrived. Attached to the sheet were three Post-It notes. Participants were invited to jot down one idea for discussion on each note and hand them to volunteers for posting on a blackboard.

Afer the exercise was completed -- the hubbub in the room increased measurably as folks got into the swing of it -- the group was then invited to break up into five tables to dicuss the ideas that had been generated.

The tables were --

  • Access to healthcare
  • Food stability
  • Senior concerns
  • Childrens' concerns
  • Recreation

Participants were invited to sit at a table that interested them; in the end, tables ranged from 7 to a high of 16 participants.

The table worked their way through the ideas that had been generated on the Post-It notes and kept notes on ideas as they developed.

At the end of the exercise, one person was selected to report from the table to the entire group.

Ideas ranged from a "universal event calendar" for city activities to more lighting for recreation facilities and a reassessment of policies regarding hours, to a grand plan to turn Park Avenue into a "medical mall" (recalling the "doctor's row" which used to be its nickname near Muhlenberg Hospital).

John Stewart took care to record the table reports and told me they would be posted to the city's website, so you can check there for complete details.

One thing the organizers could do to improve the experience is give more explicit details about exactly where in the building the event will take place.

Several people were parked in front of Hubbard School when I arrived, but the doors were all locked. Someone finally figured out we were supposed to meet in the cafeteria, which is in the back on the Stelle Avenue side of the building. It would have been much easier if we had known in the first place.

The next two sessions are --

  • Monday, Sept. 25, at Plainfield High School (Childhood & Youth Education;

  • Wednesday, Sept. 27, also at Plainfield High School (Public Safety; this is the first of three sessions on Public Safety).

For more information on Plainfield Vision 2025, check the city's website here or call John Stewart at (908) 226-2509.

  -- Dan Damon [follow]

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