The Birchwood Battle is just beginning

The Aug. 23, LocalSource editorial compared Cranford’s efforts opposing the Hekemian Group’s development of Birchwood Avenue to the futility of resisting the assault on the Alamo. Resistance may be as futile in August 2012 as it seemed in March 1836, but we hope not.

Cranfordmay take hope from another battle that took place inTexassix weeks later, the Battle of San Jacinto. Texans again outnumbered, this time prevailed under the leadership of Sam Houston, and the victory led directly toTexasindependence.

Cranford’s most critical battle will come at the Department of Environmental Protection. This builder’s remedy pits the environment against affordable housing.  Hekemian’s application requires multiple DEP permits for the following: flood hazard area; road elevation of one to two feet; wetlands delineation and disturbance; stream encroachment; protected species  — great blue heron has made his home on the property; and brownfield remediation. Does this site sound suitable for the proposed development?

Because winning the battle at the Department of Environmental Protection is critical to stopping this overdevelopment, a group of residents, Concerned Citizens of Cranford LLC, have retained Bob Podvey, an environmental attorney with 47 years of experience. Bob Podvey is a trial attorney who is certified by the Supreme Court and is founding partner of the law firm Podvey Meanor located inNewark. IfCranfordis to prevail at the DEP, consistent legal representation is needed.Cranfordhas had four law firms involved in this matter. Please review some of the arguments from the recent hearing at our website, www.cccranford.com.

Is this matter really about affordable housing? It is no secret that politicians from both parties tried to rezone all ofBirchwood Avenue— 55 acres — from commercial to residential in the 2007 timeframe. The effort failed during the process of rewriting the township’s master plan.  The only way around the commercial zoning was a builder’s remedy lawsuit.

Cranfordis the poster child for everything that is wrong with the Council on Affordable Housing. Instead of gutting COAH as Gov. Chris Christie promised, it appears that COAH is gutting the town.  Shortly after Tropical Storm Irene,Cranfordwas flooded with politicians ready for a photo-op; we have heard little from them since regarding the need for reform and the inappropriateness of development in such a sensitive and environmentally challenged area.

Raising a road one to two feet in a flood hazard area has potentially serious implications, and efforts to forceCranfordto approve such a change are outrageous. We hope that the DEP will use some plain old fashioned common sense and deny the applications.

Fair minded individuals must wonder at Elizabeth McKenzie’s — court appointed special master — impartiality regarding affordable housing calculations. At the time of Judge Chrystal’s decisionCranfordhad a surplus of 108 affordable housing units. That sum excluded a 99-unit vacant land adjustment derived from supposedly vacant land in Cranford, which included GSP median, lawn area at the municipal building, and parcels in nearby Roselle Park. Though McKenzie stated thatCranfordis entitled to a reduction based on vacant land adjustment, she directed that it be taken after this development is built.  BecauseCranfordhad fulfilled rounds one and two of its COAH obligation, McKenzie then decided to move the goal post requiringCranfordto meet an unknown round three obligation. In her home town ofPrincetonshe called round three requirements “a result of some bad data, some old data and a not very well designed methodology,” but in her mind COAH’s bad data and methodology work just fine forCranford.

The LocalSource asked if the legal bills are worth it. Consider the township’s costs associated with building the 360 apartments. The Board of Education study states that a new school will be required. There will be costs associated with sewer infrastructure, approximately another $1 million in road improvements and a traffic light. Conservatively speaking, this totals about a $45 million price tag to taxpayers for 54 affordable housing units. The math is frightening, and the cost is punitive.

When asked where the water from the development would go, Mr. Dipple, the engineer for the developer, responded “in Casino Brook to theRahwayRiver.”  When asked where the water from the road would go Dipple again responded the same way.Cranfordcannot afford to put any more water in the river without further jeopardizing current residents’ safety.

Cranfordresidents cannot put their fate in the hands of either political party. We need separate representation. If you would like to contribute to our legal fund, send a donation to: Concerned Citizens of Cranford, LLC 16 South Ave. W-PMB 173 Cranford, NJ 07016. Our website is:  www.cccranford.com and you can contact us at SaveBirchwood@gmail.com.

Rita LaBrutto is a member of Concerned Citizens of Cranford and has been a resident of Cranfordfor 25 years.

 

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