By JESSE WINTER
For The Leader/Times
WESTFIELD — The future development of Westfield is fast becoming a reality after the planning board passed a Circulation and Land Use Element, amending the town’s master plan. The measure passed during the board’s Monday meeting.
The finalized plan, according to a presentation given by consultants hired by the town, H2M Architects and Engineers, and the firm WSP, aims to “enable a process where land use and transportation professionals are encouraged to work collaboratively.
“The result is to project a community form that will allow not just the governing (body) but property owners to make investments that reflect the desire of the town to create and enhance the build environment that meets residents’ social and economic needs,” it was stated in the presentation.
The plan, which provides a framework for future development and improvements, but does not legally mandate specific development, touched upon major issues such as transportation within town.
One area identified as needing attention within the finalized Circulation and Land Use Plan were the intersections of Central Avenue (CR 613) and South Avenue (CR 610), and Central Avenue and North Avenue (NJ 28). The plan recommends safety improvements be made to these intersections.
Additionally, traffic-related improvements such as new traffic signals were recommended for Prospect and East Broad Streets; Chestnut Street and East Broad Street. A Euclid Avenue extension also was called for in the plan – along with the plan calling for further examination of the Westfield circle in regards to traffic improvements.
The consultants for the town in regards to circulation, transportation and pedestrian movements throughout Westfield advocated a holistic approach to improving the town, which includes making the town conducive to both walking and biking. The plan suggests prioritizing a sidewalk plan, implementing town-wide crossing improvements and recommended what is called bicycle network plans.
According to the presentation circulation recommendations hinged on focusing on “maximizing people’s ability to take advantage of different transportation modes.” These modes include Bikeshares and E-scooters, along with jitney and car-share services.
In more planning news, the board adopted an amendment to its 2018 Housing Element and Fair Share Plan. The amendment deals directly with the Handler building on North Avenue and the Williams Nursery site, located on Springfield Avenue. Both sites are within affordable-housing-zoned districts included in the town’s Fair Share Housing Plan. The town’s Fair Share Housing Plan aims to meet the town’s court-mandated obligation to provide affordable-housing opportunities for eligible families and individuals.
Westfield Town Planner Donald Sammet explained the amendment’s purpose.
“In other words, we’re really shifting the affordable-housing obligations from one site to another,” said Mr. Sammet. “It’s important that I emphasize the town’s affordable-housing obligations do not increase with this amendment; it’s just shifting where the affordable-housing units are going to be built, from point A., the Handler Building site, to point B., the Williams Nursery site.
“This amendment allows for the adoption of a redevelopment plan for the Handler Building site, so commercial development could occur there, in lieu of 100-percent residential development as is allowed for in our existing zoning,” remarked Mr. Sammet.
With the Handler Building no longer planned to accommodate residential units, including affordable-housing units agreed upon in the town’s 2018 agreement with Fair Share Housing — a non-profit that advocates for each municipality in the state to provide “its fair share of affordable housing” — the agreed-upon six affordable units are being transferred to the Williams Nursery site.
Consequently, the Handler Building site is now eligible for commercial development and is not slated to host affordable-housing units under the town’s current zoning laws.
The amendment increases the density restrictions at the Williams Nursery site, which calls for any future residential development on the site to account for 32 units of affordable housing, up from
26 units mandated in the old agreement before the Handler Building’s obligations were transferred.
No members of the public commented prior to the amendments yes-vote.
The planning board also reviewed and found the town’s decision to opt out of recreational cannabis to be in line with Westfield’s master plan. The review and finding came after an ordinance banning recreational cannabis facilities for the foreseeable future was passed on introduction by the Westfield Town Council on May 11, and sent to be reviewed by the planning board.
Mr. Sammet echoed the Cannabis Commission’s findings that the governing body of the town opt out at this time, and not allow cannabis-related businesses in Westfield, due to an incomplete picture of what recreational cannabis would look like in town.
“The state is only beginning to develop regulations on licensing, local approval processes and health and safety issues,” remarked Mr. Sammet.
Mr. Sammet, as town planner, gave his account to the planning board that the ordinance’s prohibition of recreational cannabis is not inconsistent with the planning board, citing the master plan’s guidance of “maintaining and enhancing the viability” of businesses throughout the town.
Without knowing the full picture, Mr. Sammet argued, “it’s difficult to know if the recreational cannabis would be in-line with meeting the town’s retail and service needs.”
The ordinance, reviewed and approved by the planning board, will be back to the council for adoption at its Tuesday, June 15 meeting. Moreover, opting out now does not preclude the possibility of the town opting in to recreational cannabis at a future date, the planner noted during the meeting.
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