Cranford development deemed inconsistent

CRANFORD, NJ — A professional planner hired by the local Planning Board testified that a proposed 905-unit apartment complex at 750 Walnut Ave. would be inconsistent with the township’s master plan.

“The proposed zoning is very high density and high intensity which does not fit in with the residential guidelines established in the master plan,” Raymond Liotta, of Maser Consulting, told the board at its April 3 meeting.

Hartz Mountain Industries’ application to rezone the area from office and warehouse to a residential zone is part of a proposal to raze the mostly vacant office buildings and a warehouse at the site to construct three, five-story apartment buildings and two, four-story apartment buildings. The plans also include two swimming pools, clubhouses and some 1,800 parking spaces.

“The plan did not anticipate expanding multifamily areas,” Liotta said, adding that the master plan calls for higher residential density in the downtown area, not near the border with Clark along Raritan Road.

“As you emanate away from the downtown, that density should decrease, according to the master plan,” Liotta said.
Liotta highlighted several sections of the master plan, which was adopted in 2009, that are inconsistent with the proposed development, including the township’s vision for 2020. He read the sections requiring that the township “implement sensible land use development policies so as to avoid adversely impacting Cranford’s high-quality school district” and “work to preserve small town character and historical architecture,” and emphasized that the five-story development does not represent the township’s vision for the future as imagined 10 years ago.

At the meeting, which lasted more than three and a half hours, Robert Carfagno, the Cranford schools business administrator, testified that the 353 students expected to be added with the new housing units would overwhelm the schools, echoing Superintendent Scott Rubin’s comments at the March 20 meeting.

“We cannot handle this from a space and staffing perspective,” Carfagno said. “Not only are our classrooms full right now, but some classrooms are currently split between teachers and multiple use is happening all over the district.”

Carfagno said that since it currently costs about $15,915 to educate one student for a year, the annual fiscal impact to the district would be about $5.6 million per year and, since the township already has submitted the 2019-20 school budget to the county, the district wouldn’t get any additional financial help until the following year.

He said that 94 percent of the district’s $58 million budget recently submitted is “locked up” in salary benefits, out-of-district tuition costs, transportation, energy, special education and liability insurance.

“Any extraordinary items that come up are a problem to fit within the two percent cap,” Carfagno said, referring to the township’s property tax levy, which cannot increase more than 2 percent from the previous year unless approved by voters.
Rubin said at the March 20 meeting that the projected number of students would represent more than the enrollment of Bloomingdale Avenue School’s 250 students, Brookside Place School’s 321, Livingston Avenue School’s 258 or Walnut Avenue School’s 321.

“I truthfully don’t know a way it would be possible for the schools to accommodate the students projected from that proposed development. It creates the type of burden that I don’t know how the district would overcome,” Rubin said March 20.

Liotta will return to testify at a special Cranford Planning Board meeting set for Wednesday, May 8, at 7:30 p.m. to discuss the development’s potential physical impact on the township.