BY LESLIE MURRAY
In the final meeting of the Township Committee of 2008, a redevelopment agreement for the Riverfront Redevelopment Area with Garden Homes was approved by a split vote.
At the Dec. 22 meeting, after passing a resolution to officially change the name of the developer in the redeveloper designation documents from Garden Homes to Riverfront Developers LLC, the commissioners considered the 70 page agreement.
Commissioner Michael Plick and Deputy Mayor David Robinson voted against signing the Redevelopment Agreement, saying that a request by Commissioners-elect Mark Dugan and Daniel Aschenbach for more time to consider the document would not cause a major delay.
However, Mayor Bob Puhak and Commissioners Martha Garcia and Mark Smith approved the agreement.
The signing of the Redevelopment Agreement, the contract that outlines the specifications of the project, is historic progress for the Riverfront Redevelopment Project.
At the end of June, after hearing four presentations from Tony DiGiovanni, a Cranford resident and the director of development for Garden Commercial Properties (a branch of Garden Homes) the Township Committee agreed to enter an interim cost agreement with the company, later appointing them as the developer for the redevelopment of the site at South Avenue and High and Chestnut streets.
The interim cost agreement, which is the initial step toward a Redevelopment Agreement, guaranteed that the township would negotiate exclusively with Garden Homes and that the developer will cover the costs of all research and testing related to the site until a full redevelopment agreement was reached or talks are broken off.
The signing of the interim cost agreement marked the fourth time a developer has progressed that far in the redevelopment process, though a redevelopment plan for the site has never been signed.
The 3.5-acre section of the downtown was initially designated as an area in need of redevelopment in December of 1998.
Through a series of meetings with the Township Committee as well as a public presentation, Garden Homes has offered a plan with two mixed-use buildings fronting on South Avenue and two entirely residential buildings on High and Chestnut streets. The proposal calls for 106 residential units, including 16 affordable units, along with 17,575 net square feet of retail and 14,250 net square feet of office space.
Last week, Plick and Robinson said they felt that waiting to vote would not be a significant delay for the project.
Explaining his vote, Plick said it was "not because I don't believe in the Riverfront project as a whole."
"The reason for my no vote was because our commissioners-elect asked for more time to review it and I did not see the harm in waiting," Plick explained.
Agreeing, Robinson said it was "a great plan we have in place" for Riverfront, however he would have liked to have afforded the commissioners-elect time for review.
"A Christmas-week vote to the first vote in January, it didn't make much difference to me when it's been 10 years in the making," Robinson said.
However, Puhak said that waiting to pass the agreement would not have served the interests of township.
"This is a $40 million investment by a private entity in our downtown," he said, lauding the proposal for the project.
"I believe this is the best thing we can get for Cranford," Puhak said. "I believe it is in the best interest of this community to move forward at this time."
Leslie Murray is a staff writer for The Chronicle. She can be reached at (908)464-5214 or firstname.lastname@example.org.