CRANFORD, NJ — In a survey asking residents for their opinions, most of Cranford’s population told the town’s planning firm that they do not want the Mayor’s Park with the gazebo, Cranford Fire Department and the North Union Avenue parking lot to be part of the North Avenue Gateway redevelopment project. Annie Hindenlang, Cranford’s township planner from the firm Topology, compiled a memo with the results of the survey, which ran from Sept. 27 to Dec. 6, 2021. Six public meetings were also held to discuss the topic. The Township Committee was presented with the findings at a workshop meeting on Monday, March 7.
“From the feedback received, we do not believe it would be in the township’s best interest to lose the public parking/open space at the corner of Springfield Avenue and North Union Avenue or fire station with redevelopment,” the report, which is available to view on the township website, said. “Efforts should be made to improve this area consistent with public feedback.”
Rather than losing the existing parking lot, Topology recommended that the developer provide parking for the development at their own cost. Several locations were suggested as possibilities.
“This should include consideration of locations for an off-site parking deck within walking distance (i.e. 400 feet), of the redevelopment area that provides parking for mass-transit commuters, municipal services, and new uses generated within the redevelopment area,” the report said. “There are multiple nearby parking lots, including Lot 3 at the train/bus station and the municipal building that could expand current parking capacity, would not be directly visible from the street and would resolve many of the concerns related to the redevelopment area raised by the public.”
There is no developer for the site yet; the survey was done to begin the process of creating a development plan. The first recommendation from Topology was to focus redevelopment along North Avenue, with a strong architectural feature at the corner of North and Springfield avenues. The structure built should not be more than four stories and should have neighborhood and business owner input on the facade. It would most likely be two separate buildings.
“This project should consist of the 40 residential units contemplated by the township’s Housing Element & Fair Share Plan,” the report said. “Topology could provide some layout options that would fit along this frontage and allow for the adequate provision of affordable units required if desired.”
Concerns about exacerbating traffic, flooding, and pedestrian and cyclist safety were some of the main takeaways that residents who responded to the survey expressed about the redevelopment project.
“People moved to and stayed in Cranford because of its walkability, schools, attractive/active downtown, average property taxes for New Jersey, access to a commuter rail station,” topology wrote. “They would like to see more connections to the township’s natural assets, particularly the Rahway River, and find a connection to the East Coast Greenway.”
Of the 149 survey respondents, more than 100 said they were likely to patronize an art, music or bookstore, when asked what kinds of businesses they would prefer to be in the potential retail space of the project. A gift store and a grocery store had the second and third greatest number of responses, respectively. Most residents said they would most likely visit those businesses on the weekends.
Other questions on the survey asked what type of restaurants residents frequent, how often they visit downtown Cranford, how much they would spend on a home in town and what types of features would be the most important when deciding to buy a home in Cranford.
“Among survey respondents, open green spaces emerged as the most popular response,” the report said about site elements residents would prefer to have included in the project. “Outdoor markets also proved to be a popular choice among survey respondents, as well as an outdoor beer garden, suggesting the popularity of flexible outdoor spaces for socializing and hosting community events in the downtown.”
With the number of residents who expressed concern about traffic on North Avenue, the report said pedestrian safety should be a high priority for the site’s development.
“Participants selected shared-use trails and improved crosswalks as their most preferred option for mobility enhancements,” Topology wrote. “Taken into consideration with the number of outreach participants expressing concern over nearby crossings, particularly the intersection of Centennial Avenue and North Avenue East, pedestrian safety is a high priority for site development. The nearby Rahway River was often highlighted as an ideal opportunity for a new trail.”
The full report can be read on the township website at www.cranfordnj.org/redevelopment.