Developer claims 750 Walnut to create same traffic pattern

MAKING THE CASE — Traffic engineer Karl Pehnke, left, testifies before the Cranford Planning Board at its Sept. 13 meeting while Hartz Mountain Industries Vice President of Land Use James Rhatican looks on.

CRANFORD, NJ — A proposed 905-unit apartment complex at 750 Walnut Ave. would generate “roughly the same” amount of traffic as it would if it were a fully occupied industrial complex, according to an engineer for Hartz Mountain Industries.

Karl Pehnke, the traffic engineer for the developer, estimated at the Sept. 13 Cranford Planning Board meeting that there would be about 387 “trips,” or vehicles entering or leaving the site, per hour during weekday morning peak traffic, if the apartment units were constructed in the township.
According to Pehnke’s projections, there would be 427 “trips” per hour during the same time period if the 420,0000-square-foot office complex that occupies the 30.5-acre site were fully occupied.

Pehnke’s data suggests that during weekday afternoon peak traffic, the proposed apartment complex would generate 419 trips and the fully occupied industrial complex would see about 401.

Hartz Mountain Industries’ application to have the area rezoned for residential units is part of a proposal to raze the mostly vacant office buildings and warehouse on the site and construct three, five-story apartment buildings and two, four-story apartment buildings. The plans also include two swimming pools, clubhouses and 1,775 parking spaces.

With regard to the proposed project and the traffic it would generate, Pehnke said one goal of the traffic study was to answer the question: Does it fit? He said it would.
“Overall that broad level of traffic as compared to just what’s on this site today reoccupied with a proposed residential yield of 905 units, it’s basically the same overall level of traffic,” Pehnke said. “And, I think that’s one conclusion from the zoning to understand.

“We’re not asking for a densification. We’re not asking for change in the overall traffic generation capability from the site than what your prior zoning envisioned what could be done on this site if the owner was able find the interest in this site with the uses that are permitted by your ordinance. So, I think that’s important.”

Pehnke said he utilized the Institute of Engineers trip Generation Manual, a nationally maintained traffic database, to help form his projections. He used the ninth edition of the database for the traffic study he submitted in March 2017, and the 10th edition for the study he submitted earlier this month. Pehnke said the 10th edition of the manual projected even fewer trips than the ninth edition. The methods used to create the traffic projections and the accuracy of the database came into question during the meeting.

“How do we know that if, even the national databank, does everyone go back and see how successful they were in making their prediction?” Deputy Mayor Ann Dooley asked Pehnke.

Pehnke said they do, which necessitated the update in editions.
“They are projections, but in the industry this is the way it’s done,” Pehnke said. “You certainly have your own consultant that is extremely talented, that can confirm I used all the standards that he would use, that anybody in the industry would use. Those are reliable standards. The day after this is open, will it generate the exact number that’s in here? No. Will it be in the order of magnitude, that the results that the driveways will operate safely and that the levels of service will be achieved? Yes, it will be in that area.”

Pehnke also addressed the three intersections proposed along Walnut Avenue, which have been the subject of questions from residents during the developer’s application process. Since Hartz Mountain Industries began appearing before the board in May, civic engineer James Martell and architect Bruce Englebaugh were asked about the intersections, but repeatedly deferred to the traffic engineer.

The plan to align the entrances with existing streets on the other side of Walnut Avenue would create intersections at Lexington Avenue, Behnert Place and Mitchell Place. Pehnke said this would make it easier for the owners of the single-family homes on the opposite side of Walnut to exit their driveways. The site’s current configuration has two entrances off Walnut Avenue, between Lexington and Behnert, and between Mitchell and Raritan Road.

“The other reason I did it was … to install a traffic signal,” Pehnke said. “To install a traffic signal mid-street from somebody’s house, limit his parking in front of his house, makes no sense. Installing a signal at a public right away and a public street does two things: One, it places it in a proper location where you can design it and not impact any of the residences and the parking on the northbound side of Walnut Avenue; two is, it provides a public benefit in that it provides an opportunity for the residents of that side of the road to enjoy the protection a signal provides them making a left out of their neighborhood.”

Several residents in the audience laughed at this, then Pehnke added that the intersections would create safe pedestrian crossings across Walnut Avenue.
Earlier in the meeting, Bill Sitar, representing Hartz Mountain as an expert in the Northern New Jersey industrial real estate, said the existing buildings are a “jigsaw” and not attractive for industrial use. He said the 28-foot ceilings are much lower than the 32- and 36-foot ceilings currently being constructed, which allows for storage of more product under one roof.

“These buildings were designed as they originally were for manufacturing,” Sitar said. “The ceilings are low. The depth on some of these buildings is too deep for today’s current industrial users because you’ve got to go so far into the building to get your product and come so far out to the same loading dock.”
Much of Sitar’s testimony echoed that of Matt McDonough, a commercial real estate broker who testified on Hartz Mountain Industries’ behalf at the July 18 board meeting. Sitar, like McDonough, said Cranford’s location is prohibitive in terms of shipping and receiving.

“Look, if this site came down, if somebody said, ‘Can you physically fit A 500,000- or 600,000-square-foot building on this site, I think the answer to that is probably ‘yes, you probably could,’” Sitar said. “Would you … build this building on spec, a 500,000- to 600,000-square-foot industrial building? Probably not, and you wouldn’t because this is not an industrial location for today’s market. Cranford in general, as you all know, sits right in the center of the county. The closest main route you have going through Cranford is the Parkway, of course, a car-only road.”

Sitar said 750 Walnut Ave. would not be ideal for a self-storage complex, saying a developer would look for a location where the self-storage units would be visible from the road, and that the tree-lined buffer prohibits that.

At the May 16 Planning Board meeting, James Rhatican, vice president of land use and development for Hartz Mountain, said that since Bank of America moved out of 750 Walnut Ave., there is a “very substantial vacancy.” He said LabCorp occupies about 80,000 square feet in the rear of one building and PSE&G occupies about 22,000 square feet.

Pehnke is scheduled to continue his testimony at the Cranford Planning Board’s Oct. 17 meeting, when Keenan Hughes, planner for Hartz Mountain Industries, will also return to present a fiscal impact statement.
Martell, the civic engineer, is scheduled to testify before the board Nov. 7.