CRANFORD, NJ — Nearly two dozen residents expressed their frustration with a proposed 905-unit apartment complex at 750 Walnut Ave. at the May 15 Planning Board meeting, saying that it will increase traffic and overwhelm the school district.
Hartz Mountain Industries’ application to rezone the 30.5-acre site from office and warehouse to a residential area is part of a proposal to raze the mostly vacant office buildings and a warehouse 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.
Wayne Orshak, a Mohawk Drive resident who has lived in the township for 40 years, told the board that he’s seen many “positive additions and changes” to the community over the years, but that 750 Walnut project would not fall into that category.
“This project, as currently proposed, will forever change the fabric of our beloved community,” he said. “Although I am not an expert on such matters, no one can tell me how the addition of 900 apartment units, with 1,800 parking spaces will not adversely affect the quality of life in Cranford or provide any positive benefits for our residents.”
The township in November submitted a plan to the Superior Court to satisfy its Mount Laurel housing obligations that would allow, but limit, residential construction at the Walnut Avenue site to 10 units per acre overall, or approximately 300 apartments. That would yield about 41 units deemed affordable under the series of New Jersey Supreme Court “Mount Laurel” rulings beginning in 1975 that mandated each municipality in the state zone for its “fair share” of “affordable” housing.
Iroquois Place resident Benjamin Serna, told the board that Walnut Avenue already has heavy traffic as it is and increased traffic from the development will make it more difficult to ride his bike around town.
“The traffic would be significantly increased and that puts me and many others at a greater risk of being hit by a car,” he said. “And in the schools, I believe that they’re already at very high, if not maximum, capacity and significant changes would have to be made to the schools in order to accommodate new children coming to the district.”
The local school district has projected that 353 students will come from the development, while Hartz said that number would be between 110 and 135.
Lydia Allen, who lives directly across the street from the proposed development, also told the board that there is already a lot of traffic on Walnut Avenue and the new development would only “add to the terrible traffic.”
“I don’t think that anybody besides my neighbors down the street realize what it’s like every day to get in and out of the driveway,” she said. “If you allow 1,800 cars to park across the street, we’ll never get out.”
Delia Collins, of Clark, echoed Serna’s sentiments at the meeting, saying increased traffic on Walnut Avenue from the development would be a hazard to children.
“If this is built, I worry about the children that are traveling, either walking or biking, up to Walnut Avenue School, especially when people are in a hurry in the morning or getting home,” she said, adding that the corner of Chester Lang Place and Walnut Avenue may also need a crossing guard.
The Hartz site is adjacent to Raritan Road to the south, which forms the border with Clark.
Christine Pecoraro, who has two school-aged daughters, told the Planning Board that residents are certain that rezoning this property would have “permanent, irreversible, detrimental and catastrophic effects on the suburban town.”
“We as the township should not allow Hartz and its greed for the biggest dollar to compromise the integrity of Cranford in any way,” she said.
Each public comment drew applause from the gallery.
The next Planning Board meeting regarding this project is scheduled for Wednesday, June 5, when the board will deliberate publicly and vote on whether the application will be sent to the Township Committee to review.
“The final decision on whether or not to rezone the property lies with the township committee, we just make a recommendation in that regard,” Planning Board Chairman Kathleen Murray said before the meeting commenced.