Local population could grow with proposed development

CRANFORD, NJ — Plans by Hartz Mountain Industries to build 905 apartments at 750 Walnut Ave. in Cranford, by its own admission boosting the town’s population by as much as 8 percent, have residents in both Cranford and Clark concerned.

A hearing on the plans by the Cranford Planning Board was originally scheduled for Wednesday, June 7, but Hartz Mountain requested the date be pushed to Wednesday, July 5. The hearing is now expected to be Wednesday, July 19.

Hartz Mountain wants to rezone the current 30.5-acre property from commercial to residential, according to the executive stormwater statement prepared by Stonefield Engineering and Design. The development includes construction of five buildings, along with the two swimming pools, two clubhouses, driveways and the installation of a new traffic light at Walnut Avenue and Behnert Place. Parking would include 1,723 spaces within two garages, as well as surface parking.

Two of the five apartment buildings would be four stories high, while the other three would be five stories. Residents have expressed concerns about increases in traffic.

“The proposed plan includes five buildings with parking and amenities which, if permitted, will be built in two phases,” James Rhatican, director of land use and development of Hartz Mountain, told Cranford Life in a telephone interview on Friday, June 16. “If it’s approved, we will begin the first phase immediately, which will consist of half the project. The other half, which consists of the rear portions, won’t be constructed for another five years. It’s a $1.6 million project.”

According to Rhatican, “The population increase will be about 1,846 people and 136 of them are estimated to be students.”

For neighbors in the area of the development, that means a lot more cars on the road.

“Between Hyatt Hills, Clark Commons and the new apartments, we’ll never get out,” Lydia Allen of Cranford told Cranford Life in a telephone interview on Thursday, June 15. “It’s really sad, but we feel like we’re left with no other option but to sell our home, if this passes. With the population increase, we’ll have to hire more police and teachers, which means paying more taxes. I’m at 751 Walnut Ave. We feel like no one cares about us and they care more about the new 1,810 people that will be moving into the apartments.”

Her neighbors in Clark have the same concern, taking to Facebook to document their objections.

But Hartz Mountain representatives have said the additional vehicles on the road generated by the development will not result in any difficulties. The company submitted a traffic-impact study along with its application. It plans to address the increase in traffic by transporting commuters who live in the apartments by shuttle bus to the train station. The study states that the redevelopment “will not significantly alter surrounding area traffic operations.”

“We plan to minimize traffic by having commuters take a shuttle bus to the train station,” Rhatican said. “We estimate that many of the people moving in will be rail commuters.”

According to a statement released by the Zoning Department, about half of the site with existing offices will remain operational. The first phase consists of the construction of two multifamily residential buildings with 433 units. The second phase will include the construction of the three other residential buildings with 472 units.

According to the planning report prepared by Phillips Press Grygiel LLC, planning and real estate consultants for Hartz Mountain, the current vacancy at 750 Walnut Ave. would “likely wither under the pressures of the changing office landscape, without a significant repositioning of this property.” By rezoning the property, office use would be phased out, as residential use increases.

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