Cranford Board Recommends 750 Walnut for Condemnation

By ALEXANDRA LEBOVITZ
Specially Written for The Leader/Times

CRANFORD — After a lengthy meeting and the testimonials of two experts, Cranford Planning Board members voted September 16 to recommend to the Cranford Township Committee that the 750 Walnut Avenue Study Area should be designated as a condemnation area.

After hours of testimony regarding Block 541, lot 2 on the Cranford Tax Map, it was determined that the area be recommended as a condemnation area in need of redevelopment.

The business of the meeting was a continuation of the planning board’s hearing on September 2.

Hartz Mountain Industries, which owns 750 Walnut Avenue, contacted two witnesses to give testimony during the meeting regarding the site. William Sitar was accepted by the board as an expert in industrial, commercial, and flex space in mid and northern New Jersey. Mr. Sitar was questioned as to whether or not the lot is obsolete, and detailed the positives and negatives of the area. He stated that the current office space would be challenging to lease and use, as the office market is challenging right now, especially due to coronavirus. Mr. Sitar said that it would be better if the building was to be made into a flex warehouse concept, which he stated “would be a viable, marketable alternative for this property.”

Stanley Slachetka also gave testimony, and was accepted by the board as a professional planning expert with particular expertise in redevelopment and housing law. Mr. Slachetka commented on the conclusions of Topology’s Preliminary Investigation Report for the board.

Hartz requested that the board continue the hearing and delay its decision to allow Hartz to have its own study commissioned, but this request was voted against by all eight members of the board in attendance. Chairperson Kathleen Murray said that the board was transparent about engaging a planner in April 2020 to conduct the study, and Hartz had made no suggestion in the previous meetings that it needed time to conduct its own investigations.

The board was asked to deliberate whether to recommend or not recommend to the township committee that the 750 Walnut Avenue Study Area be designated as a condemnation area in need of redevelopment. Dr. Christopher Chapman and Ms. Murray spoke in favor of recommending, while Peter Taylor and Roy Walton spoke in favor of not recommending. Deputy Mayor Kathleen Miller Prunty raised a motion to recommend the property as a condemnation area in need of redevelopment. The motion passed, with five members of the board voting in favor, including Mayor Patrick Giblin.

There will be a resolution for the board’s next meeting, currently scheduled for Wednesday, October 7.

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