Union County News

Residents Clash with Developer Who Wants 905-Unit Apartment Building in Cranford

Cranford and Clark residents went back and forth with representatives of Hartz Mountain over schools, traffic and more. Credits: Leah Scalzadonna
Cranford and Clark residents went back and forth with representatives of Hartz Mountain over schools, traffic and more. Credits: Leah Scalzadonna
A mockup of Hartz Mountain Industries proposed apartments at 750 Walnut Avenue in Cranford. Credits: Leah Scalzadonna

CRANFORD, NJ – Hartz Mountain Industries had a panel of experts in traffic, finance and architecture available to address a roomful of angry Cranford residents on Thursday night.

According to the experts on behalf of Hartz Mountain Industries, the 905 apartment units are intended to draw in a mix of young professionals without children and empty nesters who work in New York City or want to enjoy the area without the commitment of a single-family home. The project would be built in two phases, with the first phase consisting of 433 units and the second phase consisting of 472 units.

“Our goal is not to convert anyone or change minds,” Jay Rhatican, director of land use and development for Hartz Mountain Industries, said.

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To start, Rhatican introduced Keenan Hughes, a professional planner, to discuss the fiscal impact on the town and its school system. Hughes based his reports on statistics given from the township, which were met with scoffs, laughs and disbelief from much of the audience.

He claimed that 59 children will be introduced into the school system at the end of the project’s first phase, and 122 children by the end of phase two. His findings were based on the number of students from the existing apartment complexes in Cranford: one student from Cranford Crossing, one from Riverfront and 10 from Woodmont. Many audience members said those numbers are false.

“They’re the numbers we have, but there’s a lot of factors you have to consider,” Cranford Board of Education President Kurt Petschow said. “We have divorced families, so it’s where the primary residence is. So we’re going to check our own numbers too, because we have a demographer that does that for us. They’re accurate to the point we know now, and they [Hartz] were given the numbers from us.”

The affordable housing component of the proposed project was a hot topic for the audience as well. Approximately 15 percent of the 905 apartments are designated as moderate and low-income housing, which includes 29 of the property’s three-bedroom units.

“If your request is not approved, do you have the ability to file a builder’s remedy lawsuit with COAH [the Council on Affordable Housing]?” Cranford resident Gabriel Bailer asked. “Is it your intent to do that?”

“Anyone has the ability to do that,” Rhatican answered.

To address traffic, Alan Lothian of Langan Engineering & Environmental Services said that Hartz Mountain industries will have a shuttle bus to bring residents to the train station, install traffic lights and signal modifications and relocate and realign the driveways of the property.

“A key component of Cranford is that they’re looking to promote more mass transit, and the residential component really lends itself to the shuttle bus, promoting direct access to the train station and giving the feeling of comfort from going right from your door to the train station with minimal impact, which reduces the traffic,” Lothian said.

“Ride the train straight to hell!” a member of the audience called out.

Lothian said the traffic impact will be minimal, based on analysis of the following intersections: Raritan Road and Walnut Avenue, North Driveway and Walnut Avenue, South Driveway and Walnut Avenue, Driveway 1 of Lexington Avenue and Walnut Avenue, Driveway 2 of Behnert Place and Walnut Avenue and Driveway 3 of Mitchell Place and Walnut Avenue.

Residents argued that many other intersections were ignored and that the traffic analysis did not include the traffic near Walnut Avenue School.

“What about all our kids that have to cross there?” Brarbara Hudack of Cranford asked. “We don’t care about them?”

Hartz Mountain Industries representatives also cited national statistics to back up their findings as residents repeatedly questioned the numbers given regarding the number of children going into Cranford public schools.

“No college graduate in Cranford is going to pay $2,000 a month to live in an apartment here,” Cranford resident Nicole Quinn said. “They’ll move to Hoboken or Secaucus. You have young couples who are going to come, have babies and clog the school systems more.”

“What we’re seeing across the state is a declining birth rate,” Hughes said to Quinn. “What we’re seeing tonight is comparatives in the community. As we move forward, there will be dialogue with the school district.”

Hughes also discussed the financial impact on the school system, stating that the schools will receive a $1.09 million net annual fiscal benefit at the end of phase one and a $1.91 million net annual fiscal benefit by the end of phase two.

Additionally, the audience questioned the amount of street traffic that would be caused by visitors and guests when the complex only permits one to two parking spaces per unit.

Lothian said that parking spaces will not be as much of an issue because fewer millennials are driving cars.

“In general, we’re finding that the number of cars are diminishing below state standards,” Lothian said. “Many millennials don’t even own a car.”

Overall, most answers from the representatives were met with eye rolls, arguments and laughs.

“Do you guys lie as much to your wives, girlfriends and partners as you’re lying to us?” Lauren L. of Cranford asked before the meeting ended after more than two hours. “Your studies of how many cars there are is total crap. Your studies are full of fudged numbers.”

Hartz Mountain Industries will hold a similar presentation before the Cranford Township Committee at the meeting on Tuesday, July 18 at 8 p.m. Hartz Mountain Industries will ask the committee to redirect the project to the planning board. The application will go back and forth between the planning board and the Cranford Township Committee if it receives further approval, Rhatican said.

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