Government

Council Approves Waiver for Previously Required Traffic Light at Entrance to Weyerhauser Tract Development

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BRIDGEWATER, NJ - A waiver was granted on a preliminary basis to the developer for redevelopment of the Weyerhauser tract off East Main Street regarding a requirement for a new traffic light at East Main Street and Ramsey Street after it was denied by the county.

Somerset County has jurisdiction over East Main Street and must make the final decision on any new traffic lights.

As part of the redevelopment ordinance for the Weyerhauser property, the council was requiring the developer to work hard for a traffic signal on East Main Street as the primary entrance into the project.

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But the county denied the request.

Frank Linnus, attorney for the redeveloper, said the developer presented multiple traffic studies and feasibility studies as proof of the need for the traffic light, but the county said there is not enough traffic to warrant an additional light on the road.

Because of the denial, the developer was requesting a waiver from the township to allow the redevelopment to continue without the traffic light, as required in the redevelopment ordinance.

Instead, Linnus said, the developer has an alternate plan that closes off any vehicular access to the neighborhood off Ramsey Street, except for emergency vehicles. The plan is to keep any outside traffic from cutting through the development to get out to East Main Street.

For most of the council members, this was an acceptable alternative.

“I was on the record of stating the need for the traffic light, and the focus was to keep the traffic off Ramsey Street and address the concerns of residents for those areas,” Council Vice-President Allen Kurdyla said. “One thing that has become obvious, but I think is favorable, is that the integrity of the neighborhood stays the same. There will be no traffic on any existing streets, everything is isolated on its own road structure.”

“This solution is way better than with the traffic light on Ramsey Street,” he added.

Councilwoman Christine Henderson Rose, who had initially said she would withdraw her support for the project without the traffic light, said she also favors this new solution.

“I think this is a much better solution,” she said. “I am sorry the county does not feel we need the traffic light, but it was very important to me that traffic not be on the local streets.”

With one abstention from councilman Matthew Moench, the council approved a waiver of the traffic light requirement and authorized township attorney William Savo to prepare a resolution to reflect the waiver. The resolution is expected to be before the council July 7.

Township planner Scarlett Doyle recommended that the council consider requiring the developer to do another traffic study once the development is built to see if it would warrant going back before the county again for another consideration of a traffic light.

The plan for the redevelopment of the former Weyerhauser property is for a 220-unit complex with 44 affordable units and 176 market units. A minimum of 88 of those market units will have one bedroom, and the remaining will have no more than two bedrooms.

Also in the redevelopment plan is a schedule for demolition of the existing structures on the property, as well as a plan for garages for about 50 percent of the market-based units.

But residents at Monday’s council meeting continued to express their opposition to the application as a whole.

“You have 220 units being proposed to be developed, and it would seem to me that generates 400 cars, and yet the traffic engineer consistently says there is no impact,” Ramsey Street resident John Kulak said. “It defies logic every time the traffic engineer says that. You are creating more people in a condensed area, it is going to have an impact on traffic.”

Councilman Howard Norgalis said the metrics just could not be met, as far as the county was concerned.

“The volume could not warrant putting the light, so our hands are tied,” he said. “The best we could do is what would have the least impact on your neighborhood, cutting any traffic through your neighborhood.”

But Kulak said it is more than just the traffic that is concerning the residents.

“We have a densely packed population that will impact the schools and a lot of others,” he said. “I am happy traffic is not being allowed to destroy a neighborhood, on the other hand, I have objections to the project itself.”

Kulak said they are also concerned that there are so many other projects in a 100-mile radius with units that haven’t been sold because of the current economics.

“These are issues raised consistently because they seem to be the logical ones, and ones you can see just by driving around the county,” he said.

Kurdyla said that that is not necessarily something the council can consider in making a decision.

“We as a governing body don’t have the right to challenge their opinions of whether it’s going to be feasible or not,” he said. “We can’t say no based on those reasons.”

Yvonne Craven, of Field Street, said she is concerned that people driving to properties off Radell Avenue will actually park on the street to avoid having to get in and out of an area with several condensed units.

Councilman Matthew Moench said that if that becomes a problem, the township can address it with a no parking ordinance or other similar restrictions.

But for most, the complaint is about the overall size of the project as a whole.

“We are not happy with the amount of people being jammed into Finderne,” Manville Boulevard resident Samantha Ally said. “We would like it if you would listen to us.”

Council members urged Ally and other residents to speak about these sorts of concerns before the planning board, which is expected to begin hearing the application for the actual development June 27.

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