CRANFORD — The hearing for 750 Walnut Avenue closed December 14 at the Cranford Planning Board meeting with lots of suggestions from residents and Hartz Mountain Industries finishing their testimony.
Henry Kent-Smith, lawyer for Hartz Mountain, brought back Paul Devitto after his site investigation of the berm. The site investigation was spurred by public concern over how much the berm would actually conceal the property. Mr. Devitto said he and the township engineer, landscape architect and shade tree commission representative analyzed the berm. Mr. Devitto said they came up with two planting schemes, A and B. Scheme A is for sparser areas of the berm that would include more shrubbery and evergreen trees while scheme B would just be filling in any spots that might need more coverage.
Mr. Devitto also had rendered photos to show what the berm would look like when the trees and shrubs were put in as well as rendered photos to show what the plants and shrubs would look like in five years for planting schemes A and B. He said the max planting would include 100 evergreen trees, 30 sub canopy trees and 200 large shrubs. Mr. Devitto said placement of the trees and shrubs would be decided with hand staking. He added that he did not want to create any competition between new and existing trees so the planting plan will be an organic staggering of the trees and shrubs.
Residents and board members said, after being told the new trees would be around six to seven feet when initially planted, that they initially wanted taller trees so the development could be screened as much as possible. Mr. Devitto explained that if they were to go with something bigger initially, it might harm the trees themselves. He said for the first few years after a tree has been replanted, the tree focuses on repairing the roots rather than growing the upwards. Mr. Devitto added that he felt it was better for the tree in terms of health to just start smaller and let it grow out.
Board member Peter Taylor asked if trimming any of the existing trees would be part of the proposal. Mr. Devitto said there is a note on the plans that trees in poor condition (specifically, the white pines with low-hanging branches) would be pruned.
Rita LaBrutto, of 104 Arlington Road, expressed her frustration with the board, saying she felt the application was rushed and that the board was not handling the application well. She then jumped into questions, starting off with asking when shrubs became part of plantings on the berm, saying it was only supposed to be trees. Nick Dickerson, board planner, said the berms purpose is to help separate properties from one another as well as “minimizing the visual impact to other properties.” She also asked if Hartz Mountain was willing to add a rendering of the building behind the berm, to show how much it would truly screen the property, to which Mr. Kent-Smith replied no. When she asked the board if it would ask, Jonathan Drill, board attorney, said she could ask that to be a condition but the board itself would not impose that on Hartz Mountain at that time.
Christine Esposito, of 11 Behnert Place, then got up and first asked if there was a rendering of the plantings and signage of the new entrance that will be added to 750 Walnut. Mr. Devitto said there was no rendering, just the planting scheme was shown for the area. She then asked if the area was specifically talked about and Mr. Devitto said they discussed how to best take care of the trees in the area, saying the trees would be mostly preserved. She also asked if there would be a rendering for the sign in that area and if the board would deliberate the application without a rendering. Mr. Devitto said there was no rendering and the board would deliberate on the application without a rendering.
Mr. Kent-Smith then brought back Keenan Hughes, professional planner, to the stand for public questioning. Diana Sen, board member, asked Mr. Hughes about the community-impact statement submitted on April 6, specifically if there had been an updated statement. When Mr. Hughes answered no, she then asked why the PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) was not included in the statement. Mr. Hughes said there was no official PILOT at the time and so he could not factor that in to the community-impact statement. Ms. Sen then asked why it had not been updated and Mr. Drill clarified further, saying he thought she was asking, since the PILOT program had been approved by the township committee the night before, if he thought there should be an updated statement. Mr. Hughes said he had no opinion if Hartz Mountain was asked to do it and he would do that if it was a condition to approve the application.
Further, Mr. Kent-Smith brought up Zachary Chaplin, of Stonefield Engineering, to finish up testimony on the sidewalks. Mr. Chaplin started off by saying that 95 percent of the sidewalk is four feet wide, give or take an inch. He added 62 percent of the sidewalk will be expanded to six feet. Mr. Chaplin also explained there is a steep slope up against the bridge as well as a concrete swale to where there is only 50 feet of sidewalk that widens out, meaning the places Hartz Mountain will not be replacing the sidewalk is because it is not feasible. Mr. Drill made sure the board knew that it did not have to grant the exception for the sidewalk but to make sure it does not add conditions such as “move the utility poles out of the way” and Mr. Kent-Smith “respectfully disagreed.”
Other residents raised questions about traffic patterns and asked whether Hartz Mountain would follow through with some of the mediation efforts it had previously proposed, including a flashing crosswalk sign and speed bumps.