Court approves Cranford housing units

CRANFORD, NJ — On April 26, The State Appellate Court affirmed Superior Court Judge Lisa Chrystal’s decision to permit Cranford Development Associates to build 360 affordable housing units on Birchwood Avenue. Citizens have expressed financial and environmental concerns regarding this project.

A resident of Cranford, who wishes to remain anonymous, feels the judge was very disrespectful to Cranford residents by permitting the project to be built on an area that’s been devastated by Hurricane Irene. He feels that too many towns in the area are concerned about those with a low income while neglecting the needs of the middle class. He also states that while the area itself has been restored from the flood damage, the judge failed to pay attention to the surrounding areas.

“I believe that with all the new developments in town, Cranford has officially met its obligation for low-income housing,” stated the resident. “It’s been more than friendly to these people. The town could answer that. At this point, it’s just over the top exploitation. Although this may not have been the case six years ago.”

The project has been negotiated for the past six years to determine if it was environmentally suitable. In order to avoid repetitive litigation, a decision as to whether to permit the affordable housing units had to be made. The judge stated that building the units would actually improve the flooding issues.

“A strong argument has been advanced that this plan actually improves flood control in Cranford. It removes the 215 Birchwood Ave. from the floodway, thus keeping flood waters closer to the channel of the stream,” the judge wrote. “It increases the flood storage capacity of the site, thus lowering the peak flood levels in the homes downstream.”

“The developer has to elevate Birchwood Avenue by one foot in order to bring the road above flood elevation levels,” said Liz Sweeney, of Cranford. “People are concerned about the flooding coming from Birchwood Avenue, not the affordable housing component of the proposed development.”

There was a perceived need to set the apartment buildings further back from the street, lowering the height of one of the buildings and ensuring adequate parking, which would result in the construction of fewer units. However, none of these proposed changes were based on the finding that the site was environmentally inappropriate for the proposed development.

The project would involve raising a large building that was sitting directly in the floodway, thus improving drainage. It would also increase the extent to which the property could safely retain some flood water. These measures could protect the rest of the town from flooding.

Plaintiffs Cranford Development Associates and its members Samuel Hekemian, Peter Hekemian, Jeffrey Hekemian, and Ann Krikorian as trustee for Richard Hekemian and Mark Hekemian filed suit against the township, alleging that Cranford had failed to provide its fair share of low to moderate income housing, and that its current zoning prohibited construction of affordable housing.

Chrystal found that Cranford had an unmet housing obligation of 410 units. She also concluded the plaintiff would likely be able to satisfy any requirements regarding flood hazard areas and stormwater management.