Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Lots of smoke, no magic in development plans

As the Administration rushes pell-mell into large-scale housing development projects just as the housing market is dramatically softening, it is reassuring to see that the Council (as Bernice points out) asks the right questions of developers -- specifically -- "where's the marketing study?"

The studies so far have been noticeably of the smoke-and-mirrors type, as witness the presentation to the Zoning Board over the proposed South Avenue condo project.

But the Council is wise to stick to their guns, PT thinks, given the market and the fact that the REALLY BIG GUYS -- who do REAL market studies -- are currently CANCELLING PROJECTS.

Take, for example, K. HOVNANIAN. The firm, known for its well-researched and highly successful projects pulled the plug on a development of 372 age-restricted homes it had been planning in Mt. Olive, along the bustling Rte 80 / Rte 46 corridor. The reason given,
said company spokesman Doug Fenichel in a Ledger story last week, is that the --
"economic times have changed, and when we reviewed the numbers ... they didn't make as much sense as they did when we began the project ...The demand isn't as high as it was," he said. "It makes us look at the numbers differently."
So, if the BIG DOGS are beginning to be cautious, what should the message for Plainfield be? Certainly not to throw caution to the wind.

PT is not arguing that we shouldn't have development -- but it should be SMART DEVELOPMENT, no?

For instance, development that doesn't
TOSS ASIDE plans already in progress by other entities -- as the Administration has done in this case with regard to the PMUA -- which has THE MONEY and THE PLANS in hand. PT always thought a bird in the hand was worth two in the bush.

And development that doesn't SHRINK the industrial-commercial-business portion of the tax base by driving perfectly viable 93-year-old businesses like Thul -- which, by the way, employs local residents -- out of the neighborhood and out of the city.

When asked at Monday's agenda-setting session about marketing data,
Capodagli Property Company's General Counsel Rosario “Sam” Presti Jr., cited a "recent study" in the New York Times that indicated "a minimum amount of school-age children" would be generated by a project like this one. What?!

This is MARKETING RESEARCH? In the first place, the Times DOES NOT DO MARKETING STUDIES. Secondly, who, what, when, where, how? Not a shred of evidence was adduced to indicate whatever Presti was referring to had ANY RELEVANCE to the Plainfield market.

We don't need developers who go belly up in a soft market because they didn't do their marketing homework and overstretched their resources. We don't need high-rise shells rusting away and tarnishing the image of the community as happened in Asbury Park for so many years.

But Presti went on to make an even more revealing -- and unintentionally hilarious -- comment.

When asked by Councilman Davis about opportunities for minority contractors, Presti replied that of course the developer would work with the municipality and would inquire, for instance, of the municipality for a list of MINORITY TILE SUPPLIERS, etc., as the need arose. I kid you not!

Suppressing a guffaw, PT suddenly realized just how MINORITY-FREE all this recent development buzz has become.

So, is it to be the case that one of the outcomes of Assemblyman Green's and Mayor Robinson-Briggs' costly victory in last year's campaign is that MINORITIES WILL HENCEFORTH BE CLOSED OUT OF MEANINGFUL PARTICIPATION in Plainfield's renaissance, except maybe as hod-carriers?

A sad fate indeed, given that high-profile minority sports figures like Shaquille O'Neal, Magic Johnson, Keyshawn Johnson and Oscar de la Hoya are setting up development joint ventures to help revive urban real estate markets. (See the story in last Saturday's NY Times -- original here and archived by PT here).

Malcolm Dunn's reaction would have been withering. The Council could take some inspiration from him here.

-- Dan Damon

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