By JESSE WINTER
For The Leader/Times
CRANFORD — During a special meeting held Monday evening, the Cranford Township Committee voted to keep the Walnut Redevelopment project four stories in height, as opposed to five stories. The five-story option was the desire of the owner of the property at 750 Walnut Avenue, Hartz Mountain Industries, Inc., a commercial developer out of Secaucus.
The vote was unanimous, with Mayor Kathleen Miller Prunty, Deputy Mayor Brian Andrews, and Commissioners Jason Gareis, Thomas Hannen, Jr. and Mary O’Connor all voting in favor.
The decision came after negotiations between Cranford and Hartz stalled, requiring a Court-Appointed Special Master to come in and mediate the process, according to a letter released by the township.
“On August 4, 2021, after two days of mediation, the Court-appointed Special Master agreed to support either of two options: four-story buildings, all residential, with no parking underneath; or, five-story buildings, four residential with parking underneath. The Special Master also supported the Township’s request to do a community survey but set a deadline of August 23 to report the results,” stated the press release.
According to the results of the survey, released by the township during the special meeting, 553 people participated. Of that total, 392 voted for the property in question to be a four-story design, while 161 voted for a five-story building.
The survey was published on social media, the township website, and emailed to residents in the neighborhood of 750 Walnut Avenue.
In the wake of the vote, Mayor Miller Prunty announced that Cranford Township Planner Annie Hindenlang of the firm Topology of Newark will continue working on the draft redevelopment plan. The township anticipates a town-hall-style meeting will be held in mid-September, where residents and those impacted by the Walnut project will have an opportunity to provide feedback, concerns and questions.
The forthcoming redevelopment plan will include “more detail about building design, open public park space, parking, landscaping, driveways and more,” read the township’s letter. Additionally, “an independent traffic study will assess impact on Walnut Avenue and surrounding streets. The results of the traffic study will decide where and how Hartz will construct traffic calming measures in the area, including pedestrian improvements and bike lanes.”
Moreover, the Walnut Avenue redevelopment project will include 250 residential units, 38 of which will be state-mandated affordable-housing units. The project also will include two sub-districts within the site, one designated for residential use and containing the 250 residential units, and a second district containing 250 square feet of commercial space, according to the township website’s presentation of the Walnut project.
The Walnut site additionally will provide a park open to all Cranford residents that will be maintained by Hartz.
Monday’s meeting, well attended by the public, offered participants opportunities to ask questions of the governing body, town planner and attorney.
Gina Black of Columbia Avenue asked, “Are we through the points of contention, or can we expect more pushback from Hartz Mountain?”
Responding to the resident’s question, Mayor Miller Prunty said the story issue has been resolved, with the Special Master agreeing to accept the decision rendered by the township during the night’s special meeting.
“This is the final word on this issue,” said Township Attorney Ryan Cooper, adding, “Right now, there are no other points of contention. We don’t have an issue, until we have an issue.
“We have to finish up the redevelopment plan, and we’ll have the next draft of that in early September. And right now, no, we don’t anticipate any other issues,” Mr. Cooper stated.
Perhaps the biggest concern regarding the Walnut Redevelopment Plan raised by residents involved the traffic impact of the project. Like most multi-use projects of this scope, which results in an influx of parking from tenants and also those using the residential portions of the site, questions regarding safety and traffic flow become a major concern among residents in the surrounding, impacted area.
“Regarding 750, at what point will we also get the specifics, or even the general idea of, what’s going to happen with the warehouses and traffic entering and exiting into that part of the property?” asked resident Don Smith.
Mayor Miller Prunty again emphasized that Cranford will conduct its own independent traffic study, the results of which will be available to the public during the September town-hall-style meeting.
“Let me also remind everybody, that the township committee has said several times, that while Hartz did a traffic study, the town will do its own independent traffic study to look at parking on site; traffic patterns not just on Walnut Avenue, but neighborhood streets and pedestrian issues,” said the mayor. “All of that is coming, and there will be an opportunity to comment on that.”
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