Maryrose Mullen
June 3, 2011

A heated Planning Board discussion culminated in a 5-4 decision to recommend the 4th amendment to the Riverfront Redevelopment Plan to the Town Committee for approval.

Ordinance 2011-18, which would allow the Garden Homes Development to add 19 more apartment units to the development area on South Avenue, has created a lot of buzz within the community. Many residents are worried that the building construction will have a negative impact on both the downtown integrity and the taxpayer's wallets. Wednesday's meeting had a sizable turnout, with nearly twenty citizens in attendance. Planner Victor Furmanec laid out the specifications of the amendment, fielding questions from both the board and members of the public.

The Riverfront Redevelopment Plan envisions the construction of three buildings on the 3.5 acre lot on South Avenue. Each building would house both retail and residential units. Essentially, the amendment recommends adding an additional floor to the proposed building at the intersection of Chestnut Street and High Street. The 19 apartment units on the extra floor would be used for residential purposes, and the building would also include a potential restaurant and banquet hall.
Board members questioned whether the added height of the building would enhance the initial Master Plan set forth by the Committee. Furmanec argued that the fourth floor was consistent with the Master Plan, and would serve the community at large.
Board member Rita LaBrutto was one of the most vocal opponents, raising concerns that the proposals would compromise Cranford’s small-town character—a characteristic the Master Plan aimed to maintain.

"I'm a little bit stunned by some of the comments," she said. "I'm a little bit concerned to what it does to the neighborhood there. We want to be friendly to the neighborhood."

Board member Mary O'Connor agreed with LaBrutto, and was not convinced of the fourth floor's necessity.

"I don't understand how the additional density enhances the Master Plan any better than the original project," she said. "It was stated last week that the plan would move forward either in its form today or with the additional ordinance. I'm just not clear then why this fourth floor is so necessary."

Furmanec defended the proposal, saying that while he could not speak to the necessity of the fourth floor, he had plenty to say about what it could accomplish.
"The Master Plan seeks increased vitality and development in the downtown," he said. It also seeks to encourage development both residential and commercial downtown. The state is looking to encourage development in and around train stations, in order to encourage the use of mass transportation. This additional floor enhances those goals of increasing immediate size of the market area, customer base, and usage."

Vice-Chairperson Kevin Illing supported Furmanec's assessment, saying that the development could lead to a flourishing downtown while still maintaining its spirit.
"We are citizens that are driven to serve this community, but we're not experts when it comes to planning," he said. "The expert adamantly said that he doesn't see any substantial negative impact and could list positive aspects, positive impact."
Illing also addressed Cranford Crossing and the impact its construction has had on the taxpayers. He believed that the town learned from its mistakes, and would be able to utilize those lessons as they move forward.

The Ordinance will be presented to the Township Committee at their next meeting on June 14th, where the Committee will vote whether or not they wish to mover forward with the Riverfront Redevelopment Project.