CRANFORD, NJ — On Wednesday, James Rhatican, Vice President of Land Use and Development at Hartz Mountain, along with professional planner Keenan Hughes, presented to the Planning Board on behalf of Hartz Mountain's application for 750 Walnut. 

750 Walnut Avenue is classified as a C3 zone, and citing the 2009 master plan, Hughes said he recognizes that the C3 zone does not allow for residential and that the proposed rezoning of the property is not consistent with the land use element. However, the rezoning would advance a number of goals and objectives of the master plan including:

  • Providing a wide-range of housing to meet the needs of residents in diverse income groups. 
  • It satisfies the goal of requiring the development to be compatible to the surrounding neighborhood. 
  • It generates employment growth and increases property value.
  • Promotes the improvement of underutilized properties. 

It was later noted that though the master plan was proposed in 2009, it wasn't adopted by the Township Committee until years later. 

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As mentioned at previous meetings, the density being proposed is 30 units per acre. Mr. Hughes mentioned that though 30 units per acre is being described as high density, other developments in town are higher. He used Woodmont Station, Riverfront at Cranford Station, and Cranford Crossing as examples, and said that those three projects average out to 39 units per acre. Members of the board pointed out that those three developments are downtown and have different characteristics to them such as being above retail. Planning Board member Peter Taylor used the proposed Birchwood Project as a development to compare to since it is not in the downtown area and mentioned that it is roughly 14 units per acre.

With the first day of school being the next day, a hard stop at 11 p.m. was set, which did not leave time for public questioning and also the fiscal impact analysis. Though details in the fiscal impact analysis such as the number of students this project could add to the district were not touched upon, Mr. Hughes said these units will be marketed to empty-nesters and millennials, a statement mentioned by previous witnesses. Multiple concerns with being able to attract that population were addressed by the board.

Some concerns included the location of 750 Walnut not being within walking distance to the train station, the development not being in the downtown area near bars and other leisure activities, and the competition of upcoming developments in Garwood that are more closer to the downtown area and on the rail line. In response, Mr. Hughes said there are plans for free shuttles to the train station.

When looking at previous renderings, it's apparent that there isn't much open space. Mayor Hannen asked Mr. Hughes, "Other than the pool and small club house are, where do the kids go on the swing set? Play ball? Where are the areas for the people in the units to, for lack of a better term, have recreation." Mr. Hughes said the architect can better answer that question, but to his understanding, there are roof deck amenity spaces, which he described as "pretty substantial," the two swimming pools and clubhouses, but also said in regards to playgrounds, there was an intent to not include those types of amenities due to the groups they are targeting. 

The next Hartz Mountain meeting with the Planning Board is set for Wednesday, Sept. 12, which will see testimony from the traffic engineer. If time allows, an industrial expert will also give testimony. Mr. Hughes is expected to testify again on October 3.