SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ – Developers of the proposed Parker Gardens development presented their site plan to the Scotch Plains Planning Board during a 2 ½ hour meeting on Monday, Sept. 23. It seems likely that the Board will vote to approve the plan at its next meeting because the 228-unit development will include 34 affordable units that will help satisfy the court-mandated figure of affordable housing that the Township is required to build.
The Parker Gardens site will be a townhome and apartment development that is expected to be marketed to empty nesters and retirees. It will sit on a 13.5-acre property on Terrill Road, just south of Terrill Middle School. The project will consist of five apartment buildings (181 units) and seven townhomes (47 units), of which 34 will be set aside as affordable units.
Among the witnesses who testified was Art Bernard, who served on the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) as its Deputy Director and Executive Director from 1986-94. A licensed professional planner, Bernard now earns his living as a consultant to developers and municipalities on affordable housing.
The Planning Board also heard from architect Laurance Appel, who displayed renderings of the three-stories high townhouses that will be located at the front of the current Parker Gardens property. Four townhome units will face Terrill Road, with two driveway entrances. There will also be another row of townhomes, and five apartment buildings near the back of the property that will collectively yield 228 units. Buildings toward the rear will be four stories high. The development will feature a clubhouse, swimming pool, 30,000 sq. ft. of green space, and 475 parking spaces. As a give-back, the developer would build a 2.5-acre ball field with 40 parking spots and an entrance on the north side of the property closer to Terrill Middle School.
Much of the evening’s discussion focused on a traffic study conducted in February by professional traffic engineer Elizabeth Dolan, who said she anticipates 140 more cars to go in and out of the development each morning. Dolan acknowledged that morning traffic on Terrill Road backs up especially during the drop-off and pick-up times at Terrill Middle School. However, she also said she believes that the development would not significantly impact traffic overall. Her statement drew derision from the audience, resulting in Chairman Joseph Doyle’s tapping his mallet to restore order and asserting that Dolan is a recognized expert in traffic planning.
The Board also heard that a letter from Union County that its traffic officials came to a similar conclusion. Scotch Plains Mayor Al Smith, in a phone interview with TAPintoSPF after the meeting, expressed disappointment that local experts, namely the Scotch Plains police, were not contacted for their input about how the development would impact traffic on Terrill Road.
“There is going to be a lot more traffic. There’s no doubt that it is going to be more crowded on Terrill Road,” Mayor Smith said. “The County has approved the traffic study’s conclusions without getting the opinion of the local experts: the Scotch Plains police.”
Other Planning Board members expressed concerns about the traffic impact that the Parker Gardens development will have on Terrill Road, one of only two arteries that run from Route 22 to Raritan Road in Scotch Plans. Vice Chair Jeffrey Strauss focused on safety issues since children walking to school would have to navigate cars exiting the development.
After a break in the proceedings, Dolan told the Board that the developers would be agreeable to making efforts to improve the flow of traffic, including putting a crossing guard at the site to assist children walking to Terrill Middle School and installing crosswalks with flashing lights.
Later in the meeting, Robert Mctamaney, a resident of Terrill Road, asked the Planning Board why it isn’t filing lawsuits to continue to oppose the number of housing units that Scotch Plains is required to build. Mayor Smith disagreed with Mctamaney and said the Township got the best deal that it could and that an ongoing legal fight would be costly and could even result in having a higher number imposed.
The Board also heard from developer Anatol Hillel, who said that in addition to the 34 affordable units that will be included in the development, there majority of the units will be “high end” and that the target market is empty-nesters and retirees who might be entering and exiting during the busy traffic periods on Terrill Road. During the public comments section of the meeting, residents described the proposed development as “a monstrosity” and “unsafe” for school children. Board Chairman Joseph Doyle sympathized with their thoughts but said that the Board could reject the application based on traffic issues.
Mayor Smith said that the courts don’t care about the impact of mandated housing developments on traffic, the local school system and the Township’s infrastructure. He added that if the Board were to reject the Parker application, a judge could order an even greater number of housing units.
At the end of the meeting, longtime Planning Board member Paulette Coronato expressed her opposition to the number of housing requirements that Scotch Plains is being required to build.
“It is the inaction of our state legislators that has brought us to this point,” said Coronato, who first got involved with the Planning Board because of her opposition to a development being built by her home years ago. “Trenton has… failed to handle the affordable-housing issue in a responsible way.”