Cranford spends millions to avoid building apartments

CRANFORD, NJ — For years, Cranford has been fighting the proposed apartment units to be built on Birchwood Avenue. The state rates fifth for the least amount of affordable housing in the nation, and Cranford has spent millions to reduce the amount of units to be built in this area. They have also expressed concern about flooding in this area.

The original 400 units have been reduced to 300 and now 250, and the town plans to continue further action to reduce the number even more. At the next town meeting on Dec. 28, this issue was to be further addressed. Frank Capece, who wrote a column in the Dec. 22 edition of Union County LocalSource about the issue titled, “Return of Corporate Doublespeak,” revealed the town will most likely buy their way out of this proposal.

Of the 225 units proposed now, about 30 of them will be low income housing. At the previous town meeting, along with the $18 million buyout, officials spoke about what they’ve done to help ease the situation, which Capece refers to in his column as doublespeak, covering up an unpleasant truth without telling an outright lie — he claimed that instead of admitting they’ve created a bigger mess of the situation, township officials prided themselves on reducing the amount of units which will be built.

Residents such as Rita LaBruto also expressed concerns on the matter, and she claimed in Capece’s article that the area is in need of elevation in order to alleviate the potential for flooding. She also suggests that the units be for senior housing. She claims there is a need for senior housing in the area and mentions Clark’s Woodcrest development, which no had problem quickly renting all of their units.

“A few years ago the town voted to keep the Commerce Drive area as office space,” LaBruto told LocalSource over the phone. “We thought that making it a residential area would impact the schools. We also thought the space would be more useful to businesses such as Union County College in case they wanted to expand. The town disagreed with our decision and the affordable housing lawsuit was filed. The town plans to buy their way out of 360 units to 225 at the Dec. 28 meeting. It will cost $17.5 million to buy the property and then we will get a developer to bid on the 225 units and see what price we can get for it. So far it’s costing about $14 million plus legal fees which is costing taxpayers. It’s not a good situation.”

As of right now, the project is still completely conceptual and no definite plans have been set in place. The town has plans to reduce the number of units to 225, but as of right now they are still set on the original 360.

“The current approved project is 300 units in a 55-foot main building and an $8 million parking deck,” Township Administrator Terence Wall told LocalSource over the phone. “There will be 60 additional rental units in a second building. The purchase value is $1.5 million less than the appraisal. The appraisal is $19.5 million. The goal is to reduce density, mitigate traffic impacts and reduce other secondary impact to taxpayers with the revised program. It’s important for people to realize this is a process.”

Mayor Andis Kalnins and incoming Mayor Thomas Hannen were contacted by LocalSource, but neither of them responded prior to press time.


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