Driveways for Walnut Ave. Redevelopment Questioned

For The Westfield Leader

CRANFORD — Heated words and questions abounded in front of the Cranford Planning Board September 9 over the Hartz Mountain redevelopment on 750 Walnut.

Hart Mountain’s lawyer, Henry Kent-Smith, and a few expert witnesses returned to finish testimony from the August 21 hearing. Several residents still had questions for Matthew Seckler, a principal at Stonefield Engineering and Design and professional traffic operations engineer. Although, things started to get heated after Dawn Beresford, of 706 Lexington Avenue, began questioning Mr. Seckler about traffic studies that did or did not happen.

When she started asking about Union County traffic standards, specifically about how when she talked to a member of the Union County planning board she was told the driveways currently meet standards, Mr. Kent-Smith intervened.

“What we are talking about is a total redesign of a project that’s been approved as part of a redevolpment plan that has been vetted before the court and now you’re asking for a complete project redesign. We are not going to do that” Mr. Kent-Smith said.

Mr. Drill responded, “Mr. Kent-Smith, before you get on your high horse, no one’s asking for a redesign. It’s a question, a legitimate [one], in my opinion, cross examination question which is do the existing driveways meet that standard, yes or no…if you guys don’t want to answer that, then you don’t answer it.”

Mr. Kent-Smith quickly added the question felt “irrelevant” to the application at hand. Mr. Drill pressed further and asked what the redevelopment’s plan said about the driveways. Mr. Kent-Smith answered the driveway will conform to the county standards, which he noted Ms. Beresford first read that the driveways needed to align with current roadways. Mr. Drill added someone would need to answer the question to move on and Mr. Kent-Smith said, “They comply.”

Shortly after this, George Collins of 5 Behnert Place, brought a series of 11 exhibits, most of them photos, to show Mr. Seckler. Jonathan Drill, board attorney, explained he had already spoken to Mr. Collins and the board had purposely not seen the exhibits beforehand because, “if Mr. Collins wants to put them into evidence, he’s going to have to wait until he testifies.”

After the exhibits were handled, Mr. Collins showed several different pictures to Mr. Seckler that Mr. Kent-Smith was also looking at alongside with him. Mr. Kent-Smith, after a few questions, began arguing the relevancy of the first exhibit. According to Mr. Seckler the first exhibit was an aerial photo of a warehouse. Mr. Kent-Smith objected to the exhibit being used for questioning, as he did with many of the exhibits that were shown.

Most of Mr. Collins’ questions had to do with how much tractor trailer traffic there might be at the new proposed warehouse, based on the different projects Hartz Mountain had built around New Jersey. Mr. Collins even provided a map for an exhibit, having Mr. Seckler show what routes a tractor trailer might take to get onto major highways.

Mr. Seckler continued to explain the business side of the redevelopment would be a flex space and would not have the depth of a standard warehouse so he did not expect there to be constant tractor trailer traffic. He added some of the uses he has seen for flex spaces include photography studios, storage, painters and general contractors.

Angela Leary, of 4 Behnert Place, asked about how signage would work to “mitigate cars or whatever coming out of the driveway aligning to Behnert Place to deter traffic from coming down that street?” Mr. Seckler explained there will be “roadway markings, stripings, and signage that there is not through movement between Behnert and from the residential driveways across.”

Pat Gallagher, of 15 Alan O Kell Place, also asked what would be done with traffic that may get displaced and would clog up three dead end cul-de-sacs. Mainly how residents would get in and out of the cul-de-sacs if there was traffic, as there has been in the past when there were accidents on the parkway. Mr. Seckler explained the no-thru way from the redevelopment’s driveways would apply to Lexington Avenue as well, so ideally there should be no added traffic.

And finally, the planning board’s traffic engineer Maurice Rached, explained that from the discussions he had with the county, he had some suggestions for the board. He first explained what the county was and was not in favor of. The features the county were not in favor of was a median along Walnut, any raised “geometry”, i.e. crosswalks, staggered driveways or intersections, and a bicycle lane. The county was in favor of reducing the speed limit along Walnut from the current 35 mph to 25 mph, a crosswalk across Walnut, a flashing beacon for the crosswalk, widening the sidewalk, and improving the intersection at Raritan Road and Walnut Avenue.

The next hearing is scheduled for Wednesday, September 21, with the planning board beginning their workshop meeting in Room 108 of Cranford’s Municipal Building at 7:30 p.m. and the hearing will begin no later than 8 p.m. in Council Chambers. Residents can either watch live on Tv35 or Tv35’s livestream on Facebook.

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