CRANFORD, NJ — The superintendent of schools and the school board president issued a joint statement expressing concern that a proposed 905-unit apartment complex planned at 750 Walnut Ave. would have a “dramatic and substantial impact” on the school district.
The statement by Superintendent Scott Rubin and board President Kurt Petschow come in the wake of a study commissioned by the district that revealed Hartz Mountain Industries’ plan for the site could potentially increase the student population in the township by 39 percent.
According to the study conducted by Ross Haber and Associates, the apartment complex could add as many as 353 students to Cranford schools.
“The demographic study that was recently completed projects that 750 Walnut development plan could have dramatic and substantial impact on the school community,” according to an email statement by Rubin and Petschow to the LocalSource on Aug. 3. “We are therefore extremely concerned about the district’s ability to maintain and enhance the outstanding level of quality education that children of Cranford currently enjoy, given our current level of resources.”
A recently released ranking of New Jersey schools by Niche.com listed Cranford as the 28th-best public school district in the state.
The Haber study, completed in May, stands in stark contrast to Hartz’s projections on student-population growth. James Rhatican, vice president of land use
and development for Hartz, told LocalScource in a June 16, 2017, telephone interview that the complex would
add about 1,846 people to Cranford’s population, including 136 school-aged children.
According to the Haber study, Hartz arrived at its projections using an inaccurate formula. The Hartz study, also referred to as the Rutgers Study, was “based upon data collected prior to 2006.” Therefore, it does not consider such factors as the collapse of the housing market, the changes in the rules governing Mount Laurel housing and changing economic trends.
Instead, the Haber study “looked at the impact of similar types of units” in Monroe, Ridgewood, Summit, Westfield and Fair Lawn. According to the study, “these are all districts that we have provided multiple projection reports to and have found our results, based upon the parameters we used,” to be accurate within a plus or minus 3 percent range.
According to the Haber study, the proposed complex at 750 Walnut Ave. would increase the school population to the point that the town might have to build new schools to accommodate it.
A design concept unveiled at the July 18 Cranford Planning Board meeting gave residents their first glimpse at what the proposed 905-unit apartment project. A series of architect’s renderings depicted three five-story buildings and two four-story ones constructed on the 30.5-acre tract on the boundary with Clark on the corner of Walnut Avenue and Raritan Road, bordered by a freight rail line to the northwest and Hyatt Hills Golf Complex to the southwest.
The designs, which included two pools with clubhouses, several courtyards and 1,775 parking spaces, were unveiled to 70 or so residents as Hartz Mountain Industries continued its application to get the site rezoned to eliminate the office and warehouse uses in favor of a multifamily residential use. It is attempting to leverage Mount Laurel housing rules in order to convince town officials to approve the project.
Architect Bruce Englebaugh’s concept showed that 28 one-bedroom, 82 two-bedroom and 29 three-bedroom units in the development would be classified as Mount Laurel housing.
A Superior Court judge ruled that Cranford has until Dec. 31 to satisfy its Mount Laurel housing obligations.
Several members of the Cranford school board attended the planning board meeting Aug. 1, but did not speak during the public portion. Maria Loikith, a school board member, said the board had passed a resolution stating its concerns about the planned apartment complex.
“Adding 905 units on 30 acres would cause our schools great hardship,” Loikith said via Facebook Messenger on Aug. 3. “The increase in population would be detrimental to the way we currently utilize our existing school buildings. Our schools are not equipped to handle this influx of students. … Cranford is a sweet place to live with small-town charm. We hope to keep it that way for generations to come. This development is not what our schools need if we want to continue to function at the high level of success we have today.”