Published: Monday, July 23, 2012, 8:40 PM Updated: Tuesday, July 24, 2012, 11:59 AM
ZONING/PLANNING BOARD HEARINGS
750 WALNUT AVENUE/HARTZ MOUNTAIN
Birchwood Site Plan Hearing to be Held in Elizabeth, Potentially Limiting Community Attendance
Glenn Eisenberg / The Cranford Chronicle
Cranford ChronicleCRANFORD – The public hearing for the site plan of the proposed residential development on Birchwood Avenue is scheduled to be held at the Union County Courthouse in Elizabeth at 10 a.m. on Aug. 8 and 9, angering many residents and local officials.
The special hearing officer for the case, Douglas Wolfson, determined that the public hearing should be held at the county courthouse despite calls from commissioners and residents to hold it in Cranford to allow for greater accessibility for members of the community.
“This special hearing officer cannot be inconvenienced to come to our town and hold the hearing where he can actually hear the residents of our town,” Mayor Dave Robinson told residents at the Township Committee’s meeting last week.
The proposed 360-unit development by Cranford Development Associates LLC of S. Hekemian Group has been tied up in litigation and controversy since its conception and has received harsh criticism from residents and local officials, who fear the effect it could have on the school system, traffic and local flooding.
The Cranford Environmental Commission also recently took a strong stance against the development and the site plan in question, citing the planned removal of nearly 300 trees to make way for the development and accompanying parking garage. In addition to the effect the removal would have on the aesthetic value of the neighborhood, members worry that it could also worsen flooding in the region.
“The Cranford Environmental Commission is extremely concerned about the course of the proposed development at Birchwood Avenue, including the recent disclosure that hundreds of mature trees are to be removed from the property to accommodate the incredibly dense over-development of the site,” Commission Chair Nelson Dittmar said in a letter to the Township Committee.
While the development has seen fierce opposition from residents, committee members worry that the hearing’s location and timing on a weekday morning in early August could limit the number of residents who can attend.
Additionally, Robinson questioned the decision to hold the hearing before permits by the state Department of Environmental Protection go through, noting that the site plan could end up changing after the hearing takes place.
“So in the dog days of summer, we have a special hearing officer that is forcing a hearing on plans that do seem to be premature," Robinson said. "We’ve pointed out that it doesn’t seem to make sense. It’s not in the correct order of things.”
The Township Committee has indicated that the body is making attempts to get the dates and location of the hearing changed. Residents are also petitioning the Wolfson to make the switch. However, Robinson told residents to plan on the hearing being held on Aug. 8 and 9, and said that they would be made aware of any changes.
A public hearing will also be held at the Union County Courthouse in Elizabeth on Aug. 15 and 16 at 10 a.m. for the proposed development by Lehigh Acquisitions at 555 South Ave.