WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Zoning Board of Adjustment held a special meeting on Thursday night in order to hear the revised site-plan for the redevelopment of Essex Green Shopping Center.

The special meeting saw testimony from engineer Michael Fowler and landscape architect Michael Szura of Lagan Engineering, the firm hired by shopping center owner Clarion Partners.

Fowler outlined an updated site plan based on responses from the zoning board and members of the public during the last hearing.

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“The plan probably looks pretty similar, however some of the changes are important and significant,” said Fowler, who offered his testimony under oath and was guided by a rendering of the scaled site-plan of a future Essex Green.

He further explained that the new plan addresses areas where a traffic pattern called “stacking” occurs. This happens when cars queue up in long lines and cause congestion as drivers attempt to pull into an intersection. According to Fowler, the plan addresses this issue by eliminating 14 parking spaces and creating a friendlier design for drivers.

The plan also features improvements made to help driver sight distance and the addition of two retaining walls. One wall would stand at nine-and-a-half feet, while the other 13-foot wall would be put in place to accommodate a connecting ramp.

According to Fowler, these walls would require a variance, as the height for a retaining wall according to current standards is six feet.

Green space was another major topic of Fowler’s time during the Special Meeting. Green space can be described as an area where trees, plants and shrubbery are set apart from non-natural parts of the site.

Unlike the previously proposed site plan, which saw a decrease of .08 percent in green space at the shopping center, Fowler announced that the revised plan would increase total green space by .04 percent. This means the overall amount of green space in the revised plan amounts to 12 percent, he said.

In addition, although law requires the shopping center to designate 2 percent of its lot for disabled parking, the 44 disabled parking spots included in this revised plan exceeds the requirement by six spots.

However, when asked about the use of renewable energy by a member of the public, Fowler had nothing in the plans to refer. Several members of the public cited solar-power water heaters as a trend toward renewable energy.

In Szura’s summary of the design decisions, he stated that the “landscape has been designed as an enhancement to the site.”

“We have also, per your ordinance, low water-need plants,” said Szura, who also covered arboreal matters, including the fate of many trees living on the current site.

According to Szura, 148 trees would be removed as part of the revised plan, but the net total of trees would increase from 465 in the previous plan to 504 in the revised plan. He also said the company intends to replace a section of approximately 35 dead trees near the ShopRite.

Fowler and Szura fielded questions from West Orange residents during a public comment portion of the meeting, where environmental and safety concerns were the main source of discussion. This included questions regarding the process of transplanting trees and the appropriate placement of sidewalks.

They concluded by stating that the site plan is far from finalized, and that it will be up for further public examination by the public at the Dec. 20 zoning board meeting. During this meeting, Szura will continue his testimony and answer additional questions from those who were not able to speak on Thursday.

Specifically, four members of the public still awaited their turn to question Szura as the special meeting on Thursday, which adjourned near 11 p.m. Members of the public who intend on speaking during the next meeting are encouraged to consult the updated site plan, which can be viewed at the Department of Planning and Development by appointment.

The department is located at the West Orange Municipal Building, 66 Main Street in West Orange.

The redevelopment of the shopping center was also a topic of discussion at the Dec. 11 township council meeting. Click HERE to read more.