Planner decries ‘negative impact’ of 750 Walnut

CRANFORD, NJ — A proposed 905-unit apartment complex at 750 Walnut Ave. would have a negative fiscal impact on the township and schools, a professional planner hired by the local Planning Board said at the board’s May 8 special meeting.
“In my opinion, the negative impact places a burden on the municipality in respect to fiscal issues,” Raymond Liotta, of Maser Consulting, told the board.

The finding comes after the developer lowered the project’s capitalization rate from 6 percent to 5.5 percent, which reduced the fiscal impact, according to Liotta.
He testified that he had conducted three different analyses — one with Hartz’s project value of $290.9 million; another with Liotta’s project value of $290.6 million and the third with the 6-percent cap rate — and that all produced a negative impact to the township overall.

The net fiscal impact using Liotta’s $290.6 million and the 5.5 percent cap rate resulted in a negative impact of almost $80,000 for the township and $1.9 million for the school district.
Liotta’s projections do not include any future costs, he said, adding that they’re based on the current municipal and school budgets.

In reference to the Hartz Mountain report, he said, “There were some things in the report that were either not provided or not explained so I could not verify or check some of that data,” and explained that was why he had produced some data himself.

Hartz Mountain Industries had two professionals testify at the meeting about the number of children the project would produce and the type of development that could be built at the site. Professional planner Keenan Hughes defended the developer’s projections for the number of public-school district children that the more than 900 units would bring, saying the number would range from 110 to 135. Meanwhile Ross Haber, an East Brunswick-based demographer hired by the school district, testified at the March 20 planning board meeting that the development would result in more than 350 children.

“Assuming the district doesn’t have funding to do what it needs to do, which is renovating buildings, standing buildings, assuming it doesn’t do that, there’s only one way and that’s increase class size,” Haber said at the time, adding that “the district couldn’t accommodate another 100 kids, much less another 353 kids.”

Hughes told the board that when Haber examined neighborhoods comparable to Cranford, he based his estimate on the “entire universe of housing units,” then dividing that number by the number of students enrolled in the district.

“He, in this way, totally disregards what I think is the paramount rule of doing a demographic projection for a new development, which is that the number of people in a housing unit varies by the type of unit and the number of bedrooms,” Hughes said.

“It is a fact that single-family homes and townhomes generate more public-school children than a two-bedroom apartment,” he added.
Hartz is proposing one- and two-bedroom apartments that would produce about 0.13 public-school aged children per unit, according to Hughes.

Hughes also said that, on average, 89 percent of students in a municipality attend public schools.
“In my opinion, it’s a wildly exaggerated projection of the number of public-school children that would result from this development,” he said.

Jeff Martell, of Stonefield Engineering and Design, rebutted a claim made by Jim Brunette, a broker hired by the board, that part of the property could be converted into a warehouse or distribution use.

“In terms of what it would take to convert an office use to a distribution use, there would be a lot of challenges associated with that,” Martell said. “The current building is certainly not ideal from a warehouse perspective because it’s somewhat of an odd shape.”

The meeting lasted more than three hours and didn’t allow time for public comment on the project, so that portion of the meeting was carried over to a special meeting set for Wednesday, May 15.

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