By MARTA ESQUÍROZ For The Leader/Times
CRANFORD — The township committee announced on Tuesday night the hiring of the firm Topology to carry out the first steps on the redevelopment projects.
Mayor Kathleen Miller Prunty explained that Topology will begin the “dropped component” from July to September. This operation consists of the presence of Topology in different parts of the downtown, as well as at various functions and events such as the township’s 150th anniversary. The goal is to allow residents “to talk to” Topology representatives about redevelopment.
“They will talk with citizens about styles, building styles, open-space design, streetscaping,” Mayor Miller Prunty said.
The mayor further explained that the second part will be the “formal component,” where Topology will meet with “various organizations,” such as the Downtown Management Corporation, downtown business and property owners, the Green Team and planning board.
The mayor advanced the creation of township forms and online services to submit questions if “you’re not part of any of these groups.”
Related to this matter, the township presented the Affordable Housing Overlay Districts Ordinance, the goal of which is to designate zoning districts of the different parts of the downtown and its regulations. This is included in the Fair Share Plan to address the township’s Third Round Affordable Housing obligation.
Commissioner of Public Works and Engineering Thomas Hannen, Jr. took issue with Section 4, Chapter 225, Accessory Uses, Parking Garages, subsection A, related to the construction of a parking garage on Lot 1 in the North Avenue Redevelopment Area.
This part of the document specifies the parking garages that will be allowed, which includes those “wrapped by a building containing multifamily residential dwellings on at least three sides of the four-sided parking” section, which Mr. Hannen proposed to eliminate from the ordinance.
Township Attorney Ryan Cooper responded that this action “would not accomplish anything.”
“This ordinance is approved by the court [who] appointed the special master, and any edits and changes would need court approval,” Mr. Cooper said, adding that “parking garages are already permitted uses entirely in downtown.”
“The North Avenue Redevelopment Area is a redevelopment plan that is on an ordinance. Thus, it is not subject to these kinds of things. I will have to recommend the amendment,” Mr. Cooper said.
Responding to the township attorney, Mr. Hannen expressed that this was approved by the Special Master that “is more concerned about the number of affordable housing units placed in that area” than the “construction of a parking garage in Lot 1.”
“Two of the three proposals submitted included a parking garage, and this will set the table to say that it is not what is interested in that area,” said Mr. Hannen.
The mayor stated that “the purpose of these three submissions is for developers, architects and planners to submit ideas on what that site will look like.
“They are not proposals that have been considered for a project. Neither has a developer been designated,” Mayor Miller Prunty said as she reminded the public that this is the beginning of the process where the township is “still gathering information, feedback and input from the community to create the redevelopment plan.”
In the roll call, Mayor Miller Prunty, Deputy Mayor Brian Andrews and Commissioner of Public Safety Jason Gareis voted in favor, while Mr. Hannen and Commissioner of Finance Mary O’Connor vote against it.
During the public-comment portion of the meeting, which lasted for more than two hours, several residents spoke against the redevelopment plans.
Resident Deirdre Koczur told the governing body that suggestions of these last proposals over the past few years, “have [done] nothing other than destroying some of the most famous landmarks downtown…You are not marching the goals, objectives and needs of Cranford. It seems we are witnessing the destruction of everything our town holds dear and the fabric of our town, while the longer we allow these developments to monopolize our downtown. What you’re suggesting is above and beyond the requirements of eight units. And it feels tremendously that we are being sold out.”