REZONING OF BIRCHWOOD AVENUE CRANFORD, NJ
APPLICATION #PO4-07
Woodmont Properties, Applicant

215-235 Birchwood Avenue, Blocks 291 and 292, Lots 2 and 15.01, Zone O-1. To permit rezoning for the addition of an overlay zone to permit the construction of an active adult multi-family residential community subject to future site plan approval (136-59).

Very important information, the controversy surrounding this project and the delay on the vote can be read about in the Cranford Eagle and the Cranford Chronicle articles below.

DELAY IN HOUSING PLAN IS ALL POLITICS?

Cranford Eagle
September 19, 2007
By Paul Greulich, Staff Writer

CRANFORD, NJ - Township officials have requested a more timely date for the long-awaited Planning Board meeting that will decide the fate of a proposed housing complex on Birchwood Avenue.

This comes after the board announced that the applicant, Woodmont Properties, and the attorney representing them, County Republican Chair Philip Morin, would be unable to reconvene for the final meeting until December 5.

The proposal calls for 124 units of age-restricted housing, a club house, health club and swimming pool to be developed largely over the footprint of the existing office buildings at 215 and 235 Birchwood Avenue.

The announcement was met by much concern from both citizens and commissioners who felt that the delay of this controversial application until after the November election is suspicious and possibly politically motivated.

Democrat Commissioners in particular agreed. Public Safety Commissioner George McDonough repeatedly pointed out Morin’s role as chairman of the county’s Republican party.

“Why would you postpone a $50 million project for three months unless you had a political reason to do it?” McDonough questioned. “That’s exactly what they’re doing.”

McDonough said many voters have pledged to vote against anyone who supports the Woodmont project, which endangers Republican candidate Mark Smith, who also sits on the planning board.

McDonough only hinted at his own stance toward the application.

“I support majority public opinion becoming public policy,” McDonough said.

“It certainly raises some suspicion,” Public Affairs Commissioner George Jorn said of the re-scheduling.

Smith, as well as the members of the Township Committee, are not permitted to comment on any pending application, but Smith’s running mate, Martha Garcia, has since announced her opposition to the project.

Garcia pointed out that the township’s master plan calls for higher density zoning to be located at the center of town rather than its outskirts where the Birchwood project is proposed.

“This project goes totally against the towns’ master plan,” Garcia said.

Garcia said she opposed the rescheduling because it was unfair to residents who had already waited months to see the issue resolved.

“I don’t think that’s a fair thing to do to the residents,” Garcia said.

Garcia said that during the course of her campaign, she has met many residents who are concerned about the project.

“I haven’t talked to one resident who is for it,” she said.

Potential increases in sewerage use, flooding risks and traffic on this residential street have been among those concerns brought forth by many residents.

Mayor Michael Plick said he desired a sooner date for the final meeting because of the potential for further scheduling conflicts in December.

Plick said he did not want to risk the possibility of being unable to redress the issue until January, at which point the board will consist of new members that are not familiar with the issue.

No new date has since been announced, but Planning Board Chair Bob Hoeffler said an additional conflict with the Dec. 5 date is that it is the first day of Hanukkah.

Resident and dedicated meeting attendee Leo McMahon said the issue of the Woodmont proposal was beyond the control of the residents.

“They’re gonna do what they’re gonna do,” McMahon said. “The Planning Board is not answerable to anyone once they’re appointed.”

The final hearing and closing statements were originally moved to September 19 after being delayed throughout August by board members’ scheduling conflicts.

Paul Greulich can be reached at 908-686-7700 ext. 121.

WOODMONT HEARING DELAYED UNTIL DECEMBER

Cranford Chronicle
Friday, September 14, 2007
By LESLIE MURRAY

CRANFORD -- Local residents waiting for word on the proposed construction of an age-restricted community on Birchwood Avenue will have to wait a few months longer.

The Planning Board has been hearing the application from Woodmont Properties since March, and a public comment period had been scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 19. But on Monday, board Vice Chairman Robert Hoeffler announced that the meeting had been postponed to Dec. 5.

Once the hearing is concluded, the board will make a recommendation about whether to establish an overlay zone that would allow for construction of the residential complex in an area currently zoned for office use. The final decision about whether to establish that overlay zone will be made by the Township Committee.

The applicant's attorney, Phil Morin, requested the postponement in a Sept. 7 letter in which he said that he and Stephan Santola, executive vice president and general counsel for Woodmont, would be unavailable for the hearing next week. Due to other scheduling conflicts with the board's meeting dates in October and early November, Morin requested that the hearing be adjourned until Nov. 28 or Dec. 5. The board opted for the December date.

The application, which calls for construction of about 120 residential units, has angered some local residents, and news of the postponement drew a similar reaction. At Tuesday's Township Committee meeting, resident Rita LaBrutto urged the committee to find a way to speed up the time frame so that a decision can be made prior to the Nov. 6 general election, in which two seats on the committee are at stake.

LaBrutto argued that it is important for residents going to the polls to know where the candidates stand on the issue. An outspoken opponent of the project, she is also a key supporter of local Republican candidates Martha Garcia and Mark Smith.

Incumbents George McDonough and George Jorn, both Democrats, are barred from commenting publicly on the project until the Planning Board's recommendation is presented to the Township Committee. Smith is also unable to comment because he serves as the Environmental Commission's representative on the Planning Board.

The other candidate in the race, Garcia, announced her opposition to the project this week. She said the development could put a strain on local infrastructure, adversely affect nearby wetlands and "is not the project for us."

This week, while the committee members were guarded when discussing their opinions of the application, they made clear their frustration with the delay. Commissioner Bob Puhak said he was "shocked and disappointed" to hear of the postponement, and McDonough spoke in similar terms.

Mayor Michael Plick, who along with Commissioner David Robinson also sits on the Planning Board, said he asked the board chairman and attorney to look into scheduling a special meeting before the December date.

"I felt Dec. 5 came dangerously close to other schedule conflicts," Plick said. Still, he added that even if a special meeting were held for the Planning Board, there was still "no guarantee this will come to the Township Committee before the election."

Leslie Murray is a staff writer for the Chronicle. She can be reached at (732) 396-4205 or lmurray@njnpublishing.com.