Cranford PB hears report on areas possibly in need of redevelopment

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CRANFORD, NJ — Cranford is looking toward change as the township discusses certain areas in need of redevelopment. The scope of the Aug. 19 Planning Board hearing was solely to discuss which areas are in need of these changes; members were not making policy. The areas up for discussion are properties that would be designated as condemnation areas in need of redevelopment.

The presentation was made by Cranford Township Special Counsel of Redevelopment Michael Ash, along with the board’s regular planning expert from Maser Consulting, Nick Dickerson, who was appointed to conduct the preliminary study.

With Ash, Dickerson discussed and presented testimony related to the potential designation of certain properties as condemnation redevelopment areas.

“The formal title of the report is ‘Condemnation Area in need of Redevelopment Investigation: Cranford, New Jersey, Union County, Block 193 Lots 6.01, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14 dated July 2020,’” Ash said at the meeting, which was held via Facebook Live. “In addition to the two documents we’ve prepared for the board, the redevelopment law also provides for written comments — written submissions to be available, considered and reviewed by the Planning Board in this type of redevelopment designation hearing.”

Ash said he had received two correspondences from members of the public — one of which came from Cranford residents Barbara and Frank Krause.

At the meeting, Dickerson provided background for the redevelopment process.

“This Planning Board typically hears applications and applies a statute known throughout New Jersey as the Municipal Land-Use Law,” Dickerson said. “Tonight, we’re focused on a completely different law. It’s a different statute, and it’s known as the Local Redevelopment and Housing Law. It’s in partnership with the municipal land-use law, but it’s a separate body of law and there’s a specific process identified in the redevelopment law that allows for municipalities, as they have throughout New Jersey, to unveil themselves as a planning tool. It’s a planning tool that allows for the reconsideration, redevelopment and rehabilitation of properties in very specific and targeted areas in a municipality. Since it is separate from typical zoning processes, the procedure and process flows from the powers in the redevelopment law.”

According to Dickerson, the Redevelopment Process is an eight-step process starting with the governing body of the municipality. This process allows a township committee to authorize a municipal planning board to undertake a study and hire a planner, who prepares a report. The findings of that report are then presented in a public hearing, which is Step 2. The Aug. 19 meeting was that hearing.

According to Dickerson, based on a compilation of documents, reports, testimony, public comments and the written submissions, the Cranford Planning Board will now move to Step 3, which is to make a recommendation to the Township Committee as to whether or not the properties meet the criteria under the redevelopment law. The Planning Board members will consider the entire report and decide whether they agree with the conclusions that all, some or none of the properties meet the criteria under the redevelopment law.

According to Dickerson, Steps 4 through 8 can be implemented or not. Step 4 would be a determination of whether the Township Committee agrees with the Planning Board’s recommendation. In Step 5, if a redevelopment area is established, the township may prepare a Redevelopment Plan. Step 6 describes the Redevelopment Plan, which is planning documents that includes new zoning for the redevelopment area. In Step 7, the Redevelopment Plan is introduced by the Township Committee, reviewed by the Planning Board and then returned to the Township Committee for public hearing and adoption. Finally, at Step 8, following the plan’s adoption, redevelopers may be designated and development plans submitted for review and approval.

During the meeting, Dickerson presented a process timeline to date. On Feb. 11, the Township Committee adopted Resolution No. 2020-131, requesting investigation of Block 193, Lots 6.01, 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14, as a Condemnation Redevelopment Area. Days later, on Feb. 19, the Planning Board authorized Maser Consulting to conduct the investigation. And on Aug. 19, the Planning Board held the public hearing on the investigation report.

According to Dickerson, who reviewed Block 193 in downtown Cranford, the area is a compilation of six properties.

Lot 6.01 is municipally owned. It contains the fire station, public parking lot No. 1 and a municipal fueling station. It measures approximately 1.38 acres and is the largest lot of the study area. According to Dickerson, the lot has clear signs of deterioration.

Lot 10 is a one-way driveway and parking lot. It measures 3.082 square feet and is entirely impervious. Lot 11 is the Cranford Animal Hospital, which is located between Lot 6.01 and Lot 10. It is just over 1,143 square feet, and only minor deterioration was observed.

Lot 12, at the corner of Springfield Avenue and North Avenue East, includes a gas and service station. It is 7,482 square feet. The lot has had a history of contamination and environmental incidents, according to Dickerson.

Lot 13 is a mixed-use retail/services and residential building measuring at 6,607 square feet. Minor signs of deterioration were observed. Lot 14, a vacant building, is township owned and has shown deterioration of the building over time. It measures 7,532 square feet.

According to Dickerson’s findings, Lot 14 meets the requirements for Criterion “a,” which describes buildings as substandard, unsafe, unsanitary, dilapidated or as lacking light, air or space. Lot 14 also meets the requirements for Criterion “b,” which refers to buildings previously used for retail/shopping or other uses that can fall into such a state of disrepair that they are untenantable. Lot 6.01 meets the requirements for Criterion “c,” which describes vacant land that is owned by the municipality, the county, etc., that has remained unimproved for 10 years prior to the adoption of the resolution.

Multiple lots 6.01, 10, 11, 12, 13 and 14 — met the requirements for Criterion “d,” which are areas with buildings or improvements that are detrimental to the safety, health, morals and welfare of the community.

Lots 10, 11, 12 and 13 met the requirements for Criterion “e,” which is described as a growing lack or total lack of proper utilization of areas caused by a number of conditions, resulting in stagnant or not fully productive conditions of the lands potentially serving useful and valuable for contributing to and serving the public health, safety and welfare.

The entire study area of downtown Cranford met the requirements for Criterion “h,” which is described as the designation of the delineated areas, which is consistent with smart growth planning principles adopted pursuant to law or regulation.

Cranford resident Barbara Krause, who spoke during the Aug. 19 virtual meeting, is wondering what will be built on one of the lots. She has concerns.

“They’re not making it public,” Krause said on Aug. 21. “The problem is that they have a Redevelopment Plan and the municipal parking lot is included in that. The municipal parking lot is very important for the community to have a place to park, to shop or to go to the municipal building for meetings. They are not publicizing what their plan is for that lot, but they did put it in a Redevelopment Plan. There was information, although not made very public at the hearing they had Wednesday night.”

Krause is concerned that a large apartment building could be built on that lot.

“There is another area, closer to North Avenue, which is behind the firehouse,” she said. “That is an area they would also include in the redevelopment area. There is a building there that needs to be redeveloped. It’s a vacant, boarded building. They should use that for affordable housing. My husband and I were mostly concerned about the parking lot being taken for a building of any kind, perhaps this four-story apartment building, which hasn’t been made public but there is documentation. This is kind of a case of smoke and mirrors, because I’m seeing one thing but I’m hearing something else.”