Essex County News

Springfield Planning Board Approves Church Mall Project In Controversial Vote

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Church Mall Project Credits: Ellen Dickson
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Church Mall map Credits: Ellen Dickson
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Planning Board meeting crowd Credits: Ellen Dickson
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Board members conferring Credits: Ellen Dickson
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Thomas Quinn, Project Engineer Credits: Ellen Dickson
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Springfield resident expressing concerns Credits: Ellen Dickson
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Springfield resident expressing safety concerns Credits: Ellen Dickson
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SPRINGFIELD, NJ - Veale Holdings LLC returned to the Planning Board on Monday night to continue their application from July for 36 residential condominiums at the site that includes 24 Church Mall, 18 Academy Drive and 20 Blacks Lane; for a total of 1.08 acres. The applicant filed a site plan that was in conformance with the Redevelopment plan approved by the Township Committee in 2014. Many questions arose about the traffic in the area and particularly those cars cutting through parking lots from CVS and going the wrong way down Blacks Lane. Chair Jerry Fernandez questioned whether the applicant had looked at making Blacks Lane a two way street to relieve pressure. The traffic engineer testified that while it would relieve pressure and on the surface it looked like a good idea it would invite those exiting CVS to use it as a cut through so he did not recommend it.

The attorney Allen Hantman and engineer Thomas Quinn flatly stated that issues outside of complying with the redevelopment plan were not their responsibility. The remaining issue from the July meeting was the number of COAH units the applicant was required to supply. Originally it had been set at five but the number was raised to six. The applicant complied with this request.

Board members Jeffrey Tiger and Dr. Kristen Labazzo questioned if the traffic problems created by this project and another project in the general area would create unsafe conditions. Specifically traffic coming out on Blacks Lane. A traffic expert hired by the applicant stated it is a confined space possibly reconfiguring the driveway would discourage people going the wrong was down Blacks Lane.

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After a recess Board member Jeffrey Tiger requested an extension until February so that the city's engineer could confer with the applicant's engineer to get an informed decision based on the facts. Attorney Hantman replied, “ We are compliant.  Our project is a minor impact on traffic. The answer in no and I am sorry.” He continued that the municipality could seize land by eminent domain to make the driveway safer. Their engineers could also work with Springfield on the driveway design.

Deputy Mayor Mayor Vassallo disagreed with Mr. Tiger and stated that the information requested from the July meeting was provided and testified to, and thanked those that testified. She said she was ready to move on the redevelopment plan and said, “I cannot see, based on the information provided, why we do not move forward.”  The plan was moved by Deputy Mayor Vassallo and seconded by Board member Victoria Sarracino.  Dr. Kristen Labazzo stated at the time of the vote based on legal advice from the board attorney she must vote in the affirmative.  Labazzo said, "I can’t vote on emotion. I vote yes.”

Jeffrey Tiger and Silviene Grzybowski voted no. With six members in attendance the vote at that point was three to two in favor. Board Chair Jerry Fernandez was last to vote. He stated that he never liked this project and felt from his experience as Mayor and six years on the Planning Board, "...that residents did not want more apartment in this neighborhood.  However, I have to vote yes though on the record I opposed the project.” The application was approved four to two.

The next Planning Board meeting will be re-organization only on January 3, 2018.

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