CRANFORD — Yet another builder’s remedy lawsuit, previously settled by Westfield and the developer, brought Cranford’s Nomahegan Court residents to an 11th hour hearing before a Superior Court judge Monday.
However, their efforts were for naught because the hearing had nothing to do with the location or density of the project, which Cranford residents said amounts to “the Great Wall of Westfield.”
The proposed development of townhomes is located at 206 Springfield Avenue next to residential developments on both sides and a senior assisted living facility, which is on six acres of land.
At the hearing residents learned that Superior Court Judge Frederic Kessler had no say over the project itself but only whether ordinances fairly complied with the state affordable housing plan. His decision is not expected before Tuesday.
The development, a 24-unit townhouse project planned by Sunnyside Senior Housing of Westfield, became the subject of controversy three years ago when it became clear their right to build affordable housing was being impeded by the municipality The builders remedy case came about because Westfield did not have an affordable fair housing plan in place under regulations set forth by the state Council On Affordable Housing. These regulations allowed the developer to bring the builders remedy case against the town.
Although Westfield and the developer eventually settled the lawsuit this year by changing ordinances that would allow the development, Cranford residents living on Nomahegan Court, which borders the property to be developed, were not happy with the end result.
At issue was the fact that the 24-units only included four affordable housing units and none involved senior housing.
On May 7, Westfield held a public hearing prior to changing the zoning allowing affordable housing, but residents abutting the parcel of land were not satisfied.
Concerns brought up by the Cranford residents included water run-off, traffic and changing the look of the neighborhood.
At this meeting, Westfield councilman James Foerst tried to assure the concerned residents that the town did have their best interests in mind.
“We wanted to be good neighbors,” he said, pointing out that under the settlement agreement, the developer was limited to 24 units, as opposed to the 60 they originally requested.
Foerst also said at the meeting that the town was requiring the developer to have water drainage on the property and direct the project toward Westfield and not Cranford.
“We were sued. We didn’t want to change the zoning,” another councilman interjected.
Although allowed to express their objections, in the end town attorney Russell Finestein advised those opposing the project to either send their objections in writing to Kessler or voice their concerns at a Superior Court hearing June 10.
The purpose of the Superior Court hearing was to give a final legal stamp of approval on the ordinances passed by the Westfield governing body in May. The ordinances, although approved by the governing body, do not go into effect until approved by the court.
Kessler, a Cranford resident, while agreeing to hear comments by objectors Monday, told the 15 or 20 township residents his job was to rule on the fairness of the plan involving affordable housing, not local zoning or planning issues involving the project itself.
Despite this, Nomahegan Court residents elaborated on the density of the project, including that the 1.5 acre strip of land was only 95 feet wide and 700 feet long. Their objections centered on the fact the proposed project included three-story townhouses and a ground-level garage.
Because the project is to be built on a hill bordering Cranford, objectors living near the site felt the project was more than an obstruction, it was “the Great Wall of Westfield.”
Even if Kessler approves the ordinances required for Westfield’s affordable housing plan, the developer of the project still has to go before the Westfield Planning Board for final approval of the construction plan before ground can be broken.