CRANFORD, NJ – Two overflowing rooms in the Cranford Community Center simmered with rage, disbelief and disappointment on Tuesday evening as residents grouped together to form a plan of action against the proposed rezoning and development of 750 Walnut Avenue.
Hartz Mountain Industries has applied to build 905 apartment units on that property, which is currently a commercial zone.
Approximately 600 Cranford residents attended the meeting, where organizers from Keep Cranford Quaint asked for experts in law, real estate and traffic within the community to volunteer their services.
“This is too big for one person or even six people to handle,” event organizer Tim Wall said. “We need to be factual, direct and read through all the available documents.”
Residents voiced numerous reasons for opposing the development that include contamination, traffic changes, overcrowding in schools and anger over the development on Birchwood Avenue, which Cranford residents vehemently opposed as well.
“Our schools are at max capacity,” Wall said. “We can’t support this. If anyone’s from the Board of Education, please talk to us.”
Other residents argued about Cranford’s requirements for affordable housing. Some claimed that the township is meeting the requirements set by the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) and others claimed that the township is not, and that Hartz Mountain Industries will use that reasoning to push for the development of 905 apartment units, with 15 percent of those units designated low or moderate income housing.
“We all know that if this goes through, Cranford is done,” one audience member said. “This is about talking to your elected officials.”
Citizens at the meeting discussed fundraising to hire a town planner or an expert that could help them fight the application.
After a resident mentioned that representatives from Hartz Mountain Industries were at the Cranford Township Committee meeting, which was held at the same time in the Municipal Building, a small band of participants went there to speak to the committee in person.
At the meeting, multiple residents spoke to the committee with defeat and irritation.
Cranford resident Lydia Allen said she’s emailed every member of the township committee regarding this issue and has only received answers from Commissioner Andis Kalnins and Deputy Mayor Patrick Giblin, who said they couldn’t comment.
“When this happens, and it will, I’m putting my house right on the market,” Allen said.
Resident David Bongiovanni agreed that many residents are fighting this plan but still feel that the rezoning and development will be approved.
“My neighbor is not the only one who’s said they’ll move if the plan gets approved,” Bongiovanni said. “I think you can imagine the domino effect of what this might do to our township. I don’t think you’ll find one person in town who will support the plan that’s now put forth. Yet, why is there this sense that it’s going to happen anyway?”
Resident William Kugelman asked the committee why the residents are trying to fundraise when the committee is meant to represent the residents.
“We should not be the ones bearing the burden of how you can contribute to funds to hire more experienced counsel than I am,” Kugelman said. “We look to you. You garnished our votes at one point in time. We look to you for your direction and resolve to put an end to this.”
Township Attorney Ryan J. Cooper said that the Hartz Mountain Industries representatives intended to present their plan to the committee that night, but have postponed it to the July 18 meeting due to an “intense amount of interest.”
“Given the intense amount of interest in the application, the presentation is scheduled for July 18 at the township committee meeting,” Cooper said. “In addition, we discussed [with Hartz] scheduling a community meeting, at a location to be determined, in which the community can be there and ask questions and learn a lot more about the application. More information is forthcoming.”
Committee members did not comment on the application, but Mayor Thomas Hannen Jr. said after the meeting that Cranford is currently meeting its COAH requirements.
Hartz Mountain Industries is set to appear before the planning board on July 19 at 8 p.m.