Clark Commons project to improve traffic flow

File Photo The US Gypsum property will be demolished to make way for Clark Commons.
File Photo
The US Gypsum property will be demolished to make way for Clark Commons.

CLARK — Clark Commons, the new town center retail development that will be built on the former US Gypsum property, should be a reality by 2015, bringing with it over $2 million in traffic flow improvements to the area.

Prior to unanimously approving the $50 million, 241,000-square-foot complex, the board learned about the roadway improvements developer William Krame will do. This will include improvements to Central Avenue, Raritan Road and Walnut Avenue, and the addition of traffic signals entering and leaving the center should ease congestion problems that motorists now encounter.

The Gypsum property was vacant until this year when Krame, of Krame Development in Paramus, saw merit in the acreage, suggesting the township change the zoning on the 28-acre site from industrial to light commercial industrial. This paved the way for this developer to present to the township his vision of an environmentally friendly commercial town center with retail businesses located in a park-like setting.

Krame will be looking for retail businesses for the town center that require 5,000 to 15,000 square feet of space, noting this should attract retailers that are large, but not considered “big box.” Big box stores usually are considered to be stores like Target, Kmart and Walmart.

The majority of the one story buildings proposed would range in height from 23 to 30 feet, depending on what decorative facades, cornices and awnings are used. For example, one “anchor” or end store could have an arch that towers as high as 40-feet.

The developer said at the first meeting in late July that his company went to great lengths to make the project “first class.”
“The materials we will be using are not like a strip mall. We have chosen brick, stone and various building heights with awnings and things to make it visually appealing,” Krame explained.

“We are convinced that this project will be, by far, the nicest anywhere in Middlesex or Union counties,” he said, adding that they will be going to great lengths to ensure there are no smaller “Mom and Pop” type shops at the center so there is no competition with businesses on Westfield Avenue. The developer also specifically noted there would not be any dry cleaners or nail salons taking up residence at Clark Commons.

“We want this retail complex to appeal to a whole spectrum of residents, from new mothers to athletes,” Krame said, adding that they are trying to keep the entire project “family friendly.”

Also planned are four restaurants on “pads,” or separated from the retail buildings. The developer estimated 425 full-time jobs would be created as a result of the new businesses and restaurants.

When the former Gypsum plant is demolished, Clark Commons will only take up 18 percent of the property, not 40 percent as the former industrial buildings do now. The new retail development buildings will form a semi-circle around the 1,279 parking spaces fronting the town center that will be lined with trees, and annual and perennial plants interspaced with decorative lighting.

Close to the juncture of Raritan Road and Walnut Avenue, a detention basin, or pond, will be constructed to capture runoff and provide a common area with a Gazebo where people can meet and relax.

The complex itself will have four entrances and exits; three on Raritan Road and one on Walnut Avenue, across from Suburban Road. The main entrance will be across from the Hyatt Hills Golf course facility entrance and include a traffic light. The remaining two entrances and exits on Raritan Road will be at the corner of the property but will only provide a right turn in and out of the complex in order to reduce traffic congestion. Likewise, the entrance and exit on Walnut Avenue will only allow a left turn in and right turn out.

In order to reduce traffic congestion in the area, Raritan Road will be widened by one lane heading toward Central Avenue. The Hyatt Hills entrance will also be moved several feet closer to Walnut Avenue so it lines up with the entrance to Clark Commons.

Central Avenue, which has considerable traffic congestion even though it is four lanes, will be widened to six lanes in the area of the traffic signal at Raritan Road in order to add an additional left-turn lane at both approaches. In order to make this improvement, the developer will be obtaining easements from Rite Aid and Balley’s Fitness at one approach and Exxon and an office building at the other.

At the side entrance to ShopRite and the old railroad tracks, which will be removed, the developer will widen the roadway to add a dedicated left turn lane in both directions entering either the super market or drug store.

According to Krame’s traffic expert, Scott Kennel, the improvements to the roadways will more than accommodate any increased traffic from the complex and traffic conditions will “operate equal to or in some places better than current conditions.” He also pointed out that while the intersection of Raritan Road and Central Avenue now operate at an F level, according to traffic classifications, with the improvements to this area, traffic movement will increase to a level E.

Kennel pointed out that the roadway improvements that will be made by the developer “goes beyond the applicant’s fair share and makes conditions better than they are today in several areas.” He also mentioned to the board that many of the improvements were not required by the traffic impact assessment, but Krame is undertaking them voluntarily.

These traffic improvements, though, must be approved by the county before construction is undertaken. Township Business Administrator John Laezza explained in an interview with LocalSource late last week that this could happen as early as December.

“We had to pass a resolution first, which we did this week, and then wait 45 days before demolition of the building can begin,” he explained.

When asked how traffic in the area will be impacted during these road improvements, Laezza was quite frank about the problems motorists will encounter.
“Our words to citizens are it’s an improvement. It may seem as though the world is coming to an end and then when it’s all done you say ‘isn’t this great?’” the business administrator said.

Laezza also pointed out that the township has needed traffic improvements in this area for a very long time and now Clark is getting these improvements without an impact on taxpayers.

“We told the developer what type of traffic improvements we would like to see and he agreed,” he said, adding that the developer volunteered to do $2 million in roadway improvements for a project that is going to give the township over $1 million in tax revenue a year.

“This is a great project and there will not be any impact on our schools,” he quipped, referring to other residential developments in the township where residents complained about the possibility of the schools becoming overcrowded.