Cranford Patch
Robert Evans
May 19, 2011

Planning Board holds discussion on Riverfront Redevelopment changes.

A nearly four-hour debate raged at last night's Planning Board of Adjustment meeting, as officials discussed the proposed addition of an entirely new fourth floor on a development that will be contructed on 3.5 acres of South Avenue by Chestnut Street across from the train station.

In turn Cranford Township will receive about $700,000 in sewer and parking "impact fees" that officials say will be used to offset township costs.

Introduced by Garden Homes Development’s, Director of Development, Tony DiGiovanni, the additions to the development, known as the Riverfront Redevelopment area, includes increasing the number of apartment units to 127, from 108, and provisions to provide parking accommodations for the proposed units.

In his presentation DiGiovanni, a Cranford resident, announced that three extra units would sit above the development’s mandated restaurant – a move not previously discussed or agreed upon by the Township Committee.

These new units have drawn large amounts of criticism from members of the Cranford Planning Board and residents alike. Many said they were deeply concerned about how this might exacerbate downtown’s already problematic parking situation.

“My concern is that adding all of these extra people will make parking, an absolute nightmare. The town would not welcome a massive, ugly, parking garage and the water table prevents an underground one," Garry Patti, said a Cranford resident who lives on High Street accross from the Riverfront Redevelopment Area. "But building more apartments and not creating a single new parking space can only lead to more problems.”

By far the most vocal of the committee members was Rita LaBrutto. Concerned, not only about parking, but also what she sees as “balancing the budget by allowing for density.

"The Township Committee never discussed this 4th floor in public, and it is getting this huge increase in cash from the new impact fees, which will go right to the town’s bottom line. I am not willing to set a precedent for sacrificing Cranford’s small-town feel simply to balance out budget. I am simply not willing to make that trade.”

As the night progressed DiGiovanni laid out his parking plan and explained that adding a 4th floor to the buildings would not make either building anywhere close to the tallest building in downtown.

“I am happy to build the 3-story version if that is all that the board will approve,” said DiGiovanni, “however I think it is clear that the partial 4th floor addition would be beneficial to all parties.”

After the meeting was adjourned DiGiovanni stated, “The motives behind shooting this down are purely political. It is not my job, nor this board’s job to balance the budget. Impact fees are an industry standard, not some desperate creation of the Township Committee in an attempt to balance the budget.” He also added, “This creates no new precedent, it only works off of existing laws, and mandates.”

This discussion will conclude at the next Planning Board of Adjustment meeting on June 1, and the official vote of the Township Committee will be taken at its meeting on June 14.