The measure to put the Muhlenberg Hospital track study on next week’s agenda passed six votes to one. As articulated by third ward Councilman and mayoral candidate Adrian Mapp, “we should allow this study to go forward so that we get a professional recommendation that we can evaluate and make an informed decision.” Second and third ward Councilwoman Rebecca Williams agreed, adding that “a good study, and objective study…certainly provides a lot of opportunity for the community, our community, to weigh in.”
Second ward Councilor Cory Storch, while voting yes, was a bit more skeptical, expressing that this study should examine the real economic feasibility of any explored avenues, taking into account whether the market conditions are conducive to each potential type of development. Councilor Mapp countered that this study should not make such a determination. Mapp’s opinion was seconded by council Attorney David Minchello, who explained to Mr Storch that the order is “best use first, then feasibility”.
First ward Councilman Bill Reid was the only vote against adding the study to next week’s agenda. Reid explained that approving the $50,000 independent analysis “gives the opportunity for something other than a medical facility.” Reid, who recounted wishing that he could have come up with the $18,000,000 needed to save Muhlenburg, put himself squarely in one camp – those who have not given up on reviving a large medical facility and are strongly opposed to any non-medical use. The camp includes many who, unlike Reid, approve of the study.
This is in contrast to the other camp – those who consider reviving a hospital absolutely impossible – a sentiment best verbalized by Cory Storch. Mr Storch expressed how he likes when people “recognize that we are not going to get the hospital back.” Storch continued, saying “the grieving process has to move on”, urging Plainfielders and fellow councilors to be realistic and look to the future, not to the past.
Council attorney David Minchello briefly explained that there were five companies who responded to the request for proposal. They ended up selecting a company that had experience with a closed hospital in Asbury Park. He conceded that “the study does look at the JFK proposal but is in no way bound to it”. The six month study will also take public comments into account as there will be several meetings, according to Minchello, who finished by saying “we are looking for an expansive study that takes into account all the best uses for the site”. Minchello later confirmed that the city is not yet collecting taxes on the Muhlenberg site as the matter is in litigation.
Overall, the council was somewhat vague about ideas for the future of Muhlenberg, deferring to the study and, with the exception of Bill Reid, electing not to declare unacceptable the idea of apartments.
Citizen John Jefferson of Evergreen Avenue ridiculed the prospect of luxury housing units, suggesting that we look at the Summit Medical Group which has “all sorts of facilities and centers.” He even suggested that these centers could have a “serious IT component”, implying that medical records could be stored there, too.
Harold Yood of Cushing Road expressed that this study “was far too late, and should have been done immediately after the property was closed”. He added that JFK may have the title, but it really belongs to the people of Plainfield.
Nancy Piwowar of Myrtle Avenue was the first speaker to invoke the idea of gentrification, noting that, while the white figures in JFK’s animation may reflect her, they certainly don’t reflect the people in this community today.
John Campbell, Sr. of Highland Avenue explained how he warned people that other “luxury” apartments around town wouldn’t work in the past. He then reminded attendees that so many of our condominium sites are not eligible for FHA loans because they are not majority owner occupied, and that high down payments and strong credit requirements make majority owner occupation in Plainfield hard to achieve.
What October council meeting would be complete without candidates running for office? There were several.
Assembly candidate John Campbell put himself in Mr Reid’s camp, stating that “the best use is a full service medical facility. I don’t think acute care is sufficient”. He criticized JFK’s lack of marketing of the property, suggesting that a buyer could potentially be found if they “put a sign out front” so to speak, calling 600 units “a detriment to our community.” Campbell cited his real estate background, claiming that New Yorkers and other out-of-towners that come to Plainfield most often want a yard and a tree lined street, not a dense urban fabric.
Mayoral candidate Mustapha Muhammad approved of adding the study to the agenda while stressing the “duty and responsibility we have to do the best we can to get a hospital,” acknowledging that these are the wishes of the citizens of Plainfield. He suspected that “the powers that be, and others, were quite clear about what was happening with the hospital” adding that we don’t have to “cow, bow, and submit to what is being offered.” Muhammad urged Plainfield to unite for a common cause.
Mayoral Candidate Sandy Spector demanded that the council be vigilant and do their homework concerning this study. Spector speculated that 600 new units would put have an impact on the school system, posing the questions: “Where are these people going to do their grocery shopping?” and “To whom are we going to market these properties?” She stressed that the city wants a medical facility and needs care.