BRIDGEWATER, NJ - With testimony heard Oct. 28, and a planned special meeting to continue Oct. 29 canceled, the Center of Excellence application will return to the planning board again Nov. 12, with a possible final vote.

The application was continued with testimony and comments from residents Oct. 28, but because of insufficient notice, the next evening’s special meeting was canceled. The application has been continued to the next regularly scheduled planning board meeting Nov. 12 at 7 p.m.

Attorney Erik Frins, of Simon Law Group, addressed the board Oct. 28, saying that he was hired to represent resident Crystal Fresco and a group of concerned citizens who oppose the development project. Frins said his services had been retained earlier that day, and he requested a postponement of any decision on the application to allow time to thoroughly review all the information, which was met with an objection from the developer’s attorney, Kevin Coakley.

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The board opted to proceed with the scheduled witnesses and then determined testimony would have to continue at the later date.  Councilman Howard Norgalis said the Nov. 12 meeting will also include testimony from an environmental consultant hired by the township who has expertise in benzene, a concern that has been raised by residents recently.

Residents have said they are concerned there is benzene contamination on the redevelopment property, and have requested more information on the chemical, as well as remediation plans for the site to keep people safe both there and in neighboring properties.

Coakley objected to the expected testimony.

“That’s an issue utterly outside the jurisdiction of this board,” he said. “Benzene is a DEP issue, it is not an issue for the Township of Bridgewater.”

Norgalis disagreed.

“The township hired an environmental consultant and part of the issue is the issue of benzene remediation,” he said. “The issue of benzene has been raised at this meeting and from a practical standpoint, I think the residents deserve an answer as to what has happened."

Representatives from Advance Realty, which owns the Center of Excellence, has said the benzene is not located on the redevelopment site, but in the research and development area, and has already been taken care of.

The applicant is currently requesting a parking variance for the zone that is designated for research companies on the site. Traffic engineer Gary Dean said at the meeting that the reason for the parking variance is the loss of 22 parking spaces that would result from the creation of a new entrance way between the two zones.

There are currently 1,190 parking spaces, which would be reduced to 1,168, if approved.

Dean testified on recent parking studies from Oct. 3 and Oct. 15, done around peak times of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and said these additional parking studies were conducted in response to concerns from the board and the public that previous parking studies during the summer may have had a seasonal impact.

Dean said the results of the October studies align with the results of the studies conducted over the summer. He said the maximum number of parking spaces filled was 529 in the July study, 548 in the Oct. 3 study and 527 in the Oct. 15 study.

Based on the data, Dean said, the parking use is “not dependent or subject to change due to the time of year.”  He said that in all studies, regardless of month, parking use at its maximum filled no more than half of the available parking spaces.

Dean later added that he is “supremely confident” in the data and conclusions.

Dean answered several questions from the public about the manner in which the studies were conducted. He explained that the cars were manually counted by members of his staff under his supervision.

The times of 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., Dean said, were intentionally selected because they are peak times when most employees have arrived at work and the times that business meetings are most likely to be scheduled.

Architect Brandon Diamond spoke about the building materials selected for the commercial properties proposed for the site, including for the ShopRite supermarket. In response to a previous request from the board, Diamond provided physical representations of building materials that had previously been provided as digital material boards.

Diamond said the architecture and materials are designed to create an “authentic Main Street character,” with a series of mixed use retail buildings that will create a town center. Diamond said this means the materials should not look too new or too manufactured, and should have some variation in the material, color and design of the different buildings.

But residents were not convinced about the need for such a town center.

“Does it make sense to you to have a town center for Bridgewater at the northern end of Bridgewater, just next to Bedminster?” resident Ross Standard asked. 

Diamond said town centers can vary in size, but did not directly address the centrality of location.

Bridgewater Township Council President Matthew Moench asked, as a member of the audience, if Diamond could provide more detail about the materials.

Attorney Nicole Dorey objected to the question, stating that Diamond had provided extensive testimony as to the materials and selection process at a prior meeting in 2018.  She said the purpose of the new testimony was simply to present material representations of the materials and confirm that they are consistent with the samples that were previously provided electronically.

“So we’re talking a year ago that the public and the board is supposed to remember the compelling testimony regarding the type of materials used in the buildings, and you’re objecting to asking questions about how it got selected?” Moench asked. “I’m not quite sure what the objection would be about given the length of time that’s taken place.”

Over the next one hour and 45 minutes, Diamond continued to answer similar public questions and Dorey voiced several more objections, stating that the questions were repetitive and had been thoroughly covered in prior testimony from the witness. 

Audience questions addressed issues such as light reflectivity and sound absorption of the building materials, with concerns about the potential impact of glare and noise on nearby residences.

Diamond said roof materials are traditionally black, which would have low reflectivity. The most reflective materials would be glass on commercial storefronts.  

Diamond also said that sound absorption is a consideration generally given to interior construction materials, especially in buildings where sound is a key factor of concern. Sound absorption is not generally a consideration in the selection of exterior building materials, he said.

Township planner Scarlett Doyle said the developer is committed to working with the neighbors on specific landscape options that will provide the best screening, a process that has been followed in other developments.

A member of the public asked Diamond if he was involved in creating a video that appeared as a sponsored advertisement on her social media feed within the past week. The video features a simulated walk through of the proposed development site, and is linked to preservingbridgewater.com, which is a website of Advance Realty.

She showed Diamond the specific video on her cell phone, and he confirmed that it is a marketing video his firm developed for the applicant, and that the buildings depicted are an accurate representation of the materials that will be used.

“Don’t you feel that the website that your video is posted on, preservingbridgewater.com, is trying to mislead the public, because the opposing group, preservebridgewater.com, has a very similar url?” asked Standard, who is also the chairman of the CRISIS community environmental group.

A question was raised about whether site plans can be shared electronically so members of the public could have a better opportunity to review them. Currently, any member of the public can view these public documents by visiting the township office.

Township planner Scarlett Doyle said this was a good suggestion and that the township would investigate whether the technological capacity exists to get this done.

The application will continue to be discussed at the planning board meeting scheduled for Nov. 12 at 7 p.m. in the municipal courtroom.