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PLAINFIELD, NJ-A 4.5-acre tract in the heart of this city’s downtown has been vacant for decades, and city officials have long coveted it for redevelopment. That was the goal back in the late 1960s when the existing, but vacant, building stock was razed.

City planners are targeting the site for a $33 million mixed use development with office and retail components, but the major snag is that the site has been used as a park for more than a decade, and there are state environmental rules that make it very difficult for parkland to be developed commercially.

Now, this Union County city of 50,000 has gotten some help from the state legislature, which has passed a bill exempting the so-called Park-Madison Green site from those rules, mostly on the basis of the fact that its development as a park was not carried out with any Green Acres funding. Another element of the exemption is the fact that the site has long been designated for redevelopment anyway, and that its use as a park was essentially a “temporary” move.

The proposed project still faces a number of hurdles. The bill must still be signed by Gov. James McGreevey, and even if it is, the project faces ongoing challenges from environmentalists, including legal action. In the latter case, an appeals court ruled last summer that the site should remain a park because, while no Green Acres funding was involved, other public money was used to convert it to an urban park. City officials have appealed that decision to the state Supreme Court.

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