CRANFORD, NJ – After months of waiting, Hartz Mountain continued its application for 750 Walnut at Wednesday’s Planning Board meeting.

James Rhatican, vice president of land use and development at Hartz Mountain, along two witnesses – real estate broker Matt McDonough and architect Bruce Englebaugh – spoke on Hartz Mountain’s behalf.

Rhatican referred to McDonough as an expert of office development who has served as a commercial real estate broker in New Jersey since 1983. McDonough used his time to explain the market for office real estate and why the 750 Walnut location can no longer serve as such.

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750 Walnut now lays mostly dormant since Bank of America left the property. It was mentioned that currently there is a truck company that uses part of the property.

McDonough mentioned that the property has remained empty since 2012 and there has been little to no interest in companies wanting to rent the space for offices. On the idea of knocking down the current structure and constructing a new and modern building for offices, McDonough said the demand for office buildings in suburban areas is low and that companies want offices in urban areas such as Newark, Hoboken and Jersey City.

McDonough said that in order for a newly constructed office building to succeed, it would need to charge $50 per square foot in rent. He said those numbers are achievable in the urban areas, but suburban areas average between 23 and 30 dollars per squar foot.

Cranford Deputy Mayor Ann Dooley said that a fair comparison of a town to Cranford is Summit, and the market for office space there fetches $50 dollars per square foot. McDonough responded that there are maybe two or three locations in North Jersey that fetch $50 per square foot, but it is mostly an anomaly. When pushed to answer why Summit gets the rate and why Cranford can’t, McDonough said the offices in Summit are within walking distance of a train station and 750 Walnut is not and cannot be marketed as so.

Following a short break, Englebaugh presented his renderings of the proposed 750 Walnut layout. The project calls for five apartment complexes totaling 905 units, 1,775 parking spaces, and two clubhouses, broken down into two phases.

Phase one would feature the demolition of the empty office building and the construction of Building A, Building B, and one clubhouse, while leaving the building currently used by the truck company. Building A would stand four stories tall and feature 247 units, 34 of which would be low-income housing. Building B would stand four stories over parking, equating to five stories in total, featuring 186 units, again with 34 being low-income. This phase would feature the larger of the two clubhouses being built, projected to be 8,200 square feet.

Phase two would see the last remains of the old property demolished to make way for Buildings C, D, & E, along with the second clubhouse. Buildings C & D would resemble Building B standing four stories tall over parking, while Building E would be four stories like Building A. The second clubhouse would be 5,500 sq. ft. Both phases are projected to be done within a seven-year period, and when questioned, Englebaugh mentioned that doing a project in two phases is more financially beneficial.

The five buildings would consist of one-, two- and three-bedroom units, but all three-bedroom units woud be low-income housing. Englebaugh expressed that Hartz Mountain is trying to appeal to millennials and empty-nesters, therefore a larger emphasis on one and two-bedroom units. Englaugh also used that reasoning to answer a concerned resident’s comment on lack of parking. The resident expressed that his family owns multiple cars, but the project averages fewer than two cars per unit. 

Residents voiced their concerns on multiple issues such as parking, the look of the buildings, traffic and density among others. Hartz Mountain will meet with the Planning Board again on Aug. 1 with presentations by civil and traffic engineers.