Cranford planning board OKs updated master plan

CRANFORD, N.J. — The local planning board unanimously approved a “re-examination report” at its Sept. 18 meeting, essentially updating the township’s Master Plan, which it hopes will pass scrutiny with the courts, especially with regard to Cranford’s affordable housing requirements.

“This re-examination of the Township of Cranford Master Plan development regulations conforms with the requirements of the New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law,” board Chairwoman Kathleen Murray said at the meeting.

“We’ve spent a great deal of time going over this, we had a subcommittee that was formed to do a deep dive into the Master Plan. We had public hearings. We had a public comments session at the end of May, and there was a survey that was available electronically.”

Master plans are periodic grand visions of municipal land use that tries to accomodate for changing topography, demographics and population, among other factors, while also trying to anticipate future needs of the town in housing, commercial and recreation space.

A major issue in many plans are Mount Laurel housing obligations, court-created mandates that require each municipality in the state to zone for affordable housing.

The Planning Board in December approved a third-round Mount Laurel plan that set 105 affordable units as its target for the decade ahead.

The most recent Master Plan in Cranford was adopted in September 2009. The re-examination of it will be sent to the Union County Planning Board. According to Nicholas Dickerson, a consulting planner for Maser Consulting, the plan needed to be updated to “strike a balance” between what the board has done and the course corrections needed going forward.

He argued at the meeting that there have been technological and demographic changes in Cranford and in the nation, so the master plan has to adapt with the times.

“We see that, since 2000, the population has continued to grow. And actually, it’s projected by 2045 to surpass its peak in 1970,” Dickerson said. “Since 2000, Cranford’s population has been increasingly more diverse. We also note that, in terms of age distribution, the population under 19 has stayed fairly constant and so has the population over 65.”

He noted that more people in Cranford currently use public transportation, fewer people drive to work, and there is an increase in people who work from home. Dickerson added that Cranford is following a largely outdated state redevelopment plan; the 2001 version of the plan is still active, because when the state began to move forward with an update, it was postponed because of Hurricane Sandy.

Cranford is considered a Class 7 community through the Community Rating Program, an incentive program developed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to encourage resilient design. This means that residents living in the floodplain receive a 15-percent discount on their flood insurance premiums.
In an interview, Dickerson said that the FEMA program rewards communities that “go above and beyond to reduce the risks of flooding” will be rewarded with reductions in their flood insurance premiums.

In addition, he encouraged township officials at the meeting to look into reworking traffic patterns to lessen congestion and improve flow without building new roads, and also include ways to improve parking in Cranford.

In other activity at the meeting, the Cranford Planning Board nominated board secretary Donna Pedde to replace board Vice Chairperson Bobbi Anderson, who resigned.