WESTFIELD — After several hours of testimony by hired experts and residents alike, the Westfield Planning Board voted on Monday to refer the Lord & Taylor/Train Station Redevelopment Plan (locally known as One Westfield Place) back to the town council for final review and adoption.
The planning board will have a larger role to play in the process once official site plans are released, Board Attorney Alan Tremulak said, but at this stage of redevelopment, the planning board’s only legally mandated role was to “determine whether or not the plan is consistent or inconsistent with the town master plan.”
“You have a mandatory requirement to identify any provisions of the plan that are inconsistent,” Mr. Tremulak said. “But, the state statute [the New Jersey Local Redevelopment And Housing Law] also allows a board to make any other comments or recommendations as the board deems fit.”
The meeting, which wrapped up just before midnight, began with a presentation by Chris Colley of the town’s redevelopment advisement firm, Topology.
Mr. Colley, who gave a similar presentation to the town council at its last meeting on January 31, enumerated sections of the amended 2019 Master Plan that allow for the possibility of “increased building heights,” “a larger number of habitable stories” and other provisions drafted with redevelopment and the three proposed zones of the project in mind.
“The redevelopment plan really has its genesis in the 2019 Master Plan re-examination report, which recommended transit-oriented development (compact, mixed-use communities). The plan also follows recommendations for the redevelopment of several municipally-owned parking lots and the Lord & Taylor properties,” Town Planner Don Sammet said. “Mr. Colley has outlined the consistencies of this plan in great detail. I wholly concur with Topology and with what Chris has put forward.”
After asking some questions of their own, members of the board ultimately agreed with Mr. Sammet and unanimously voted that the plan as presented was consistent with the established Master Plan.
The decision was met with anger and disappointment by approximately 35 residents who attended the meeting to voice their concerns surrounding the project and its potential impact on the community. A majority of the gathered crowd identified themselves as members of Westfield Advocates for Responsible Development (WAFRD), a citizen-action group that recently filed suit against redeveloper James Ward in connection with another local redevelopment project, The Sofia.
Mr. Tremulak explained that because Monday evening’s discussion was confined to such a limited scope and was not an official public hearing, there was no legal obligation for the board to hear any public testimony. As a compromise, Board Chair Michael Ash suggested that representatives from the group read the contents of a written memo into the public record for further consideration.
The memo, which was mailed to the planning board shortly ahead of Monday night’s meeting, details inconsistencies identified by the group between the Master Plan and the Lord & Taylor/Train Station Redevelopment Plan.
“Overall the Redevelopment Plan is substantially inconsistent with the values and goals of the master plan,” the group stated in the memo, adding that the plan as presented is also inconsistent with certain sections of the town’s 2021 Unified Land Use and Circulation element (ULUC). The memo goes on to note that, “the Redevelopment Plan increases development beyond both the ULUC and land use ordinances, reduces available parking and increases traffic congestion. The Redevelopment Plan runs counter to the Guiding Principles and Goals & Objectives in the ULUC, specifically to the size and scope proposed.”
In the west zone of the project (comprised of the existing Lord & Taylor building, its adjacent parking lots and two other municipally-owned lots on the other side of North Avenue West), the WAFRD memo identified the proposed shift in usage from commercial to mixed-use/residential as well as the building’s height and number of stories as potential conflicts with the vision statement of the Master Plan.
According to the memo, “the objective was to promote more walking wallets, to facilitate increased density [and] to promote economic vitality of the downtown business district, not create new retail to compete with the downtown district retailers. This is antithetical to the stated purpose for the development of this zone and therefore runs counter to the previously stated objectives of both the Master Plan and the ULUC.”
The memo, which was read in its entirety by WAFRD representatives on Monday, also outlines potential complications related to traffic, circulation and parking.
“There were many noted concerns relative to preventing overdevelopment; lack of parking; traffic congestion and cut-throughs to residential neighborhoods,” WAFRD founder Carla Bonacci said Monday, citing a 2019 public-input survey that helped to inform the Master Plan.
As presented, the redevelopment plan indicates that 801 of the town’s existing parking spaces will be impacted by the project. Mr. Colley said Monday that in addition to 696 “replacement” spaces (slated to be spread between two public parking decks and a small street-level lot at the South Avenue train station), space also will be made available in privately-held office parking areas for use by the general public on weekends and during evening hours.
The plan, Mr. Colley continued, also details minimum parking requirements recommended by THA Consulting for each type of usage (residential, commercial and retail) throughout the project. HBC|Streetworks, the project’s redeveloper, is proposing between one and two spaces for each new residential unit; 2.5 to four spaces for each 1,000 square feet of retail space; and eight to 12 spaces for each 1,000 square feet of restaurant space.
“The obligation of the plan is to take those [recommendations] into account, and we did that,” Mr. Colley said.
Language found in the redevelopment plan also indicates that additional parking-study reports will be required as part of the pending redevelopment agreement.
In summation, Ms. Bonacci said via the memo, “there is another solution where we can achieve our common development objectives that will move our downtown forward in a manner that will not destroy our heritage, small town environment and block viewscapes to our most historically sensitive structures in town. Preserving our heritage is core to who we are as a community but with acknowledgement and incorporation of public input in a meaningful manner, we can both move our town of Westfield into the future without sacrificing our basic common values.”
From here, the redevelopment plan will be returned to the Westfield Town Council for a public hearing and, potentially, final adoption on Tuesday, February 14, at 8 p.m.
After thanking the residents for their input, Mr. Ash noted that any member of the public with lingering questions or concerns surrounding the project should make it a point to attend the scheduled hearing.