By KATIE MOEN For The Westfield Leader
WESTFIELD — One Westfield Place came one step closer to fruition on Tuesday when, after several hours of public testimony, the governing body voted to introduce the redevelopment plan for official adoption.
The measure passed with a vote of 6 to 1, with Mayor Shelley Brindle and Council members Linda Habgood, Emily Root, Michael Dardia, Mark Parmelee, Scott Katz and Dawn Mackey voting in its favor and Councilman Mark LoGrippo voting against. Ward 3 Councilman David Contract was absent from the proceedings.
“We have an obligation to make decisions that are in the long-term best interests of the community,” Mayor Brindle said. “I have a significant amount of confidence in the professionals and experts that got us here, and most importantly, I have a lot of confidence in what this is going to do for Westfield.”
The meeting, which lasted until nearly 1 a.m. on Wednesday, saw numerous outbursts from the crowd despite repeat efforts by Mayor Brindle to bring the group under control.
At approximately 12:30 a.m., Councilman LoGrippo again made a motion to delay the vote to allow residents more time to understand the redevelopment plan, but did not receive any support from the rest the group.
Mr. LoGrippo, who said that he did not feel comfortable voting to approve the plan while Councilman Contract was traveling on business, called the response from his colleagues “very disappointing.”
“We heard a lot of good testimony here this evening, a lot of powerful statements. I think we should extend this to at least March or April,” Mr. LoGrippo said, adding that he would have liked more time to review the redevelopment plan before putting it to a vote.
The meeting began with an overview of the redevelopment process by Town Planner Don Sammet, followed by a presentation by Chris Colley of Topology, the town’s municipal planning firm.
“I think it’s almost as important to understand what’s not being voted on tonight,” Mr. Colley said. “A redevelopment plan is not a final design of a building. It is also, critically, not a financial agreement. It’s a set of parameters that governs general minimums, maximums and design standards.”
Topics like the proposed PILOT agreement, the configuration of each of the proposed buildings, detailed site plans and certain design elements, Mr. Colley continued, will be addressed at a later point in the redevelopment process.
The 117-page Lord & Taylor/Train Station Redevelopment Plan (which can be viewed in its entirety on the town’s website) dedicates 10 chapters to topics ranging from the redevelopment process itself to parking, public spaces, affordability, circulation (traffic) and the roles and responsibilities that the council and local planning board will need to assume going forward.
Building and Design
Mr. Colley began his presentation by outlining plans for the three identified locations for the project: the west zone (comprised of the Lord & Taylor building and its surrounding parking lots); the north zone (located along the North Avenue train station parking lots); and the south zone (situated on the other side of the NJ Transit line along South Avenue). Mr. Colley explained that, as per the town’s Master Plan, buildings slated for construction as part of the redevelopment project may be taller and comprised of more “habitable floors” than other buildings in downtown Westfield.
At the Lord & Taylor site, the redeveloper, HBC|Streetworks, is proposing a six-story, mixed-use complex comprised of three individual structures — the existing department store building (slated to be retrofitted for adaptive reuse) and two ancillary structures that will house the proposed 138 age-restricted residential units.
According to Chapter 3 of the plan, the central building will have an addition to become a four-story structure with a maximum height of 75 feet. The two new buildings will be six stories each, but will have the same maximum height restrictions.
The 16 town homes slated for construction across from the Lord & Taylor property will have a maximum of three stories for a total height of 40 feet.
As proposed, designs for the two principal office complex structures at the South Avenue train station lot will be capped at a maximum of four stories and a height of 65 feet.
Mr. Colley noted that all of the new buildings will be designed to incorporate recessed upper stories, called step backs, which are intended to mitigate the perceived height of the structures from the street.
Three public parking lots will be affected via implementation of the plan: Parking Lot 2 (which currently consists of 71 parking spaces near the North Avenue train station entrance), Parking Lot 3 (which consists of 549 spaces at the South Avenue train station lot) and Parking Lot 8 (which consists of 181 spaces along the rail line on the North Avenue side of the tracks). All told, 801 parking spaces will be impacted.
According to section 7.2 of the plan (“Replacement Public Parking”), “it is anticipated that new parking facilities will be created to help replace existing public parking.”
The plan notes that 528 spaces will be included in the project’s two proposed parking decks, with 320 slated for completion on the north side of town and 208 anticipated for the south-side garage.
Another 168 street level parking spots will be incorporated into various areas throughout the community for a total of 696 proposed spaces.
When asked by Councilman LoGrippo whether the town’s current designated commuter spaces would be equally distributed between the north and south sides of the community, Mr. Colley said that those types of details would be worked out at a later point in the process.
Circulation and Traffic
According to section 6.2 of the plan, “some intersections within the Traffic Study Area may be negatively impacted as a result of the development” if no effort is made to mitigate them. In its preliminary traffic-impact study, the redeveloper identified 15 key areas where improvements may be necessary. These intersections include: Scotch Plains Avenue and South Avenue (where modifications are proposed to the signal timings); Route 28 and South Avenue (proposed modifications here include improvements to the circulation patterns of the existing Westfield Circle, the creation of a multi-use trail and new signage, among others); and North Avenue and Clark Street (where curb extensions, new crosswalks and a new traffic signal are proposed).
Other proposed changes include plans to align Elm Street with the North Avenue train station parking lot, to restrict right-on-red turns at certain high-volume intersections, and to reduce westbound traffic on South Avenue from two lanes to one to allow for on-street parking.
The plan includes four notable changes to the town’s public spaces: The North Zone Square (currently home to the town’s Christmas Tree); The South Zone Green (slated for development in what is now the South Avenue train station lot) and the Boulevard Extension (a proposed shared pathway and pedestrian thoroughfare that will run between the principal South Zone office buildings) and permanent modifications to Quimby Street.
In addition to outlining proposed landscaping and design elements, Chapter 4 of the plan provides a look at some of the potential uses envisioned for the different spaces.
According to the plan, “The North Zone Square and South Zone Green will become the central public spaces in downtown Westfield. Located on opposite sides of the train station, the successful execution of these plazas will transform these portions of the existing parking lots into a continuous stretch of public space that is accessible via multiple modes of transportation.”
Permanent or temporary retail and restaurant uses may be located within the plazas once they are complete.
Changes also are proposed to the existing NJ Transit tunnel that runs between the two train station lots. The plan lists “retrofitting existing stairs for bicycle compatibility, lighting, changes in materiality, restorations, art treatment, and other similar amenities” as potential upgrades to the area.
The plan also outlines a number of built-in protections designed to safeguard both the town and its taxpayers throughout the process, all of which can be found in Chapter 8 of the plan.
The redevelopment plan will now go to the town’s planning board on Monday, February 6, for consistency review before returning to the council for a final vote on Tuesday, February 14.
For more information, or to view the redevelopment plan in its entirety, visit: westfieldnj.org.
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