CRANFORD, NJ — A sliver of land between a church and a restaurant specializing in grilled cheese sandwiches has become the unlikely battleground between residents hoping to preserve a 90-year-old house and a developer that wants to raze it to construct a new building.
According to plans presented to the Cranford Zoning Board on Monday, June 11, by Joseph Triarsi, the attorney for Eastman Properties, the house is “dilapidated” and should be torn down to make way for a three-story, mixed-use building on the 60-by-120-foot lot at 106 Eastman St.
The Craftsman bungalow is a classic example of a style of architecture noted for its gently-pitched gabled roofs, wide-open eave overhangs, exposed rafters and decorative beams and braces under the gables, supporters say. It also has a sun porch that extends across the front of the house with an oval window with many small panes of glass. Behind it is a carriage house that was converted to an apartment.
The proposed new building would have two commercial spaces on the first floor and two, two-bedroom apartments on both the second and third floors.
However, long before Triarsi began to make his appeal to the board for five variances and multiple waivers, word of the plans had already spread through the township. In a town where some houses date back to 1750, such as the Norris Oakley House, and others once hosted William Randolph Hearst and Gloria Swanson, like Cranford Hall, any plan to tear down old houses receives scrutiny.
Monica Shimkus, a resident of Miln Street, the nearest cross street to the bungalow, started a petition on change.org in hopes of saving the home from being destroyed. As of June 24, 151 people had signed the petition.
“This home, like Cranford’s other old homes, must be protected,” the petition reads. “Allowing people to destroy these homes is the same as destroying our town. The house is in very good structural condition and demolition would be a waste of resources as well as destruction of an example of fine, careful and quality home building. There are about 25 mature trees on the property, the removal of which would have consequences on flooding, shading, and air quality to the surrounding area as well as wildlife habitat.”
Additionally, the Cranford Historic Preservation Advisory Board posted on its Facebook page that the bungalow is “a unique architectural resource in Cranford’s historic downtown. Its position serves as a buffer or transitional property from Cranford’s downtown to the residential neighborhood to the north. Losing one more historic resource will be taking another step toward eroding the charm that makes Cranford attractive to residents and visitors alike. HPAB urges the zoning board to carefully consider the application.”
Several residents attended the June 11 meeting and posed questions to Eastman Properties’ architect Andrew Podberezniak and its engineer, Edward Dec, regarding density and proposed parking.
Podberezniak said at the meeting that, based on township regulations allowing for the construction of up to 20 units on 1 acre of land, the Eastman lot can accommodate 3.28 units. To build four, a variance would have to be issued by the Cranford Zoning Board. The plan calls for eight parking spaces, including one handicapped-accessible spot, to accommodate the residents of the four proposed apartments, but employees of the commercial spaces would make use of so-called “shared parking” on the street.
Triarsi said it has not been determined what type of businesses would occupy the first-floor spaces. One space is 712 square feet, the other is 825, Podberezniak said. The exterior of the proposed building would be 75 percent brick or stone, as dictated by township rules, he said. The remaining 25 percent would be siding.
Triarsi and additional representatives for Eastman Properties are scheduled to return Sept. 17, to continue its presentation. Shimkus said several residents are planning to attend that meeting. According to her, two people currently live inside the bungalow, one upstairs and one downstairs, and two more live in the converted carriage house.
On a recent afternoon, trees in the front yard of 106 Eastman swayed in the breeze and resident Christine Newport said there are already too many cars in town during rush hour, so adding more people and cars would make this worse.
“Just look at the windows in this house,” Newport pointed out. “You can definitely tell it’s an old house. They have a glossy waviness to them, so I know the house is very old. All the houses they are building now look the same. They’re big, they’re overbearing.
“The town loses some of its charm, its quaintness when you tear homes like this down.”