Hillside residents bemoan changes at industrial site

Photos Courtesy of George Cook
Industrial cranes from Bay Crane on Chestnut Avenue in Hillside tower over the homes of nearby residents and in some instances compete with trees for the tallest objects in the area. Homeowners are decrying changes approved by the planning board in November that allowed the company to expand its operations at the 17-acre site. Residents complain that beside the unslightly equipment, the noise from the facility has become unbearable and have approached both Mayor Dahlia Vertreese and the Hillside council.

HILLSIDE, NJ — When township resident Justyna Latek had the opportunity to relocate her family from their home on Leslie Street to Pennsylvania a few months ago, she didn’t hesitate. Although she lived in Hillside for more than 13 years, she said the noise produced by the crane company located behind her house made it almost impossible for her to sleep after her overnight shifts as a TSA agent at Newark Liberty International Airport.

Now Latek rents her house on Leslie Street and has no plans to return.
“It’s just very sad because I fell in love with Hillside because it’s very diverse and the homes aren’t too expensive,” she said in a phone interview on May 22.

Bay Crane, located at 1441 Chestnut Ave., has been expanding its existing outdoor storage area, resulting in the removal of many trees. The rear area of the more than 17-acre property borders that of several residents on Leslie Street and is part of the township’s H1, or heavy industrial, district.

Latek said the “consistent noise and beeping” of safety alarms on heavy equipment and large vehicles is disturbing and that there have been some instances in which cranes were placed so close to her backyard that they hung over onto her property.
“They left cranes so close to my fence that part of the crane was hanging into my yard,” she said. “It was a serious hazard for my children and I felt like overnight, they brought the cranes close to our fences.”

She also recalled occasions in which her house “completely shook” due to the movement of the cranes.
Bay Crane, which obtained the property in 2015, is also doing expansion work at the eastern area of the property. The business did not respond to requests for comment from LocalSource on May 24 and 26.

Ralph Humphrey, a Leslie Street resident who lives across from the Bay Crane property, told LocalSource he can hear cranes beeping from inside his house. Humphrey and his family have resided on Leslie Street since the late 1980s and have considered moving away from the area.

“The construction and removal of trees changes the character of who wants to live and be here,” Humphrey said during a May 22 phone interview. “The property is completely different than what it was.”

The crane company is in “desperate need of storage facilities for their equipment,” engineer Michael Textores told the local Planning Board when a final site plan to expand its storage capacity was approved Nov. 28.
He also told the board that Bay Crane would “try to maintain or try to save as many of the larger trees as” possible, according to the meeting minutes.

This has not happened, according to residents like Humphrey.
“The wooded area has been there for over 50 years and has shielded residents from the industrial activity on the property,” he said. “They’ve clear-cut the trees and everything can be seen now.”

The wooded area behind Latek’s property was a reason she purchased her house on Leslie Street but now the scenery has completely changed, she said.

“Nobody is going to want to buy houses on this street,” Latek said
At the Nov. 28 meeting, Jeannette Bloomfield-Kelly, another Leslie Street resident, also testified that she could touch the cranes from her backyard, according to the minutes, calling them an eyesore.

“We don’t want to get up and go outside and have to look at this every day. … It’s embarrassing when people come over,” she said.

The site plan was approved in a 5-1 vote with one abstention at the November meeting. Board members Nikkia Moore and Charles Watts voted against the plans.

Mayor Dahlia Vertreese had no comment on the issue when contacted by LocalSource on May 21, but Humphrey said that Leslie Street residents have discussed the issue with both the mayor and the Hillside municipal council.
Council Vice President George Cook has become an advocate for Leslie Street residents during the past few months, saying they feel “abandoned by the local government.”

Bay Crane, “has cut down trees that at one time was both a sound barrier and obscured the view of the dozens of cranes on their property,” Cook said in a May 16 email.

“After removal of the trees the company has positioned cranes sometimes just a few feet from homeowner’s property lines after promising this wouldn’t happen,” he alleged.