On November 7, Westfield voters will choose whether to endorse the town council’s urbanization transformation strategy or to preserve the idyllic, historic, suburban character that has been Westfield’s identity for nearly 250 years.
The council’s fast track approval process for the massive, 8-phase, decade- long, One Westfield Place project has divided the town’s residents into Suburban versus Urban advocates. Earlier this year, over 2,000 residents signed a petition asking the council to hold a non-binding referendum on this controversial project. In a TAPinto survey this February, 70 percent of over 1,200 respondents said they were against this project. The council ignored the concerns and quickly approved the project, including for up to $57 million in bond borrowings to take place in 2025, 2026 and 2027. Fast forward to October, four Westfield residents, Todd Saunders, Dr. Michael Armento, Michael Domogola and David Kiefer, have stepped up to run for council to restore checks and balances to the governing body and to slow down the mayor’s extreme overdevelopment urban agenda.
Why do I say extreme? The council changed the zoning on the Lord & Taylor property from retail to residential, instantly increasing the value of the land by 2 to 3 times for the developer. Also, the council’s zoning change allows greater density and building height, creating more value gain for the property owner. Despite existing zoning’s 40 foot building height limit and the current building’s 38 foot height, the council approved a 6-story, 75 height design for this 3building project, including two enclosed connecting skywalks over 50 feet off the ground. This was the council’s deliberate choice. Unfortunately, these massive structures will become the identity of the future Westfield, not the current skyline of our beautiful church steeples.
In addition, the Central Business District zone’s building height was increased from 40 to 55 feet, adding new incentives to demolish 1 to 2 story historic buildings to be replaced with 4-story modern buildings. Be prepared for a building boom over the next decade. The downtown building sell-off has already begun with a number of properties recently advertised as Redevelopment opportunities.
A new council will have the power to return the zoning to a 40 feet height limit, and to remove the “blighted” designation from each of the remaining town parking lots. A future council will likely be asked to approve a change in zoning of the proposed SouthAvenue office buildings to residential use, and should deny this. Most real estate experts have doubts whether office buildings will ever be economically feasible on this site, owing to the decades-long weak demand for suburban office space and Westfield’s lack of proximity to highways, unlike Morristown.
Building higher and denser will bring more people and cars to downtown. Many residents complain that traffic has already gotten worse as development occurs in other parts of Westfield and surrounding towns. If One Westfield Place is fully built, there will be an additional 1,250 office employees and 800 cars coming into downtown each weekday just from the office buildings. Our council has significantly discounted this traffic impact on the residents, with some members admitting that this inconvenience to residents is worth it to “save the downtown retail businesses”.
I urge my fellow Westfielders to vote on November 7, and to choose representatives who are dedicated to preserving the suburban character of the town and to restoring checks and balances to our governing body. I enthusiastically endorse Todd Saunders, Dr. Michael Armento, Michael Domogola and David Kiefer for Town Council.
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