Birchwood Developer Files Challenge to DEP Requirement

By DELL SIMEONE Specially Written for The Westfield Leader and The Times

Thursday, July 26, 2012 

 CRANFORD — The Cranford Township Committee held a special meeting on Monday night, at which it was supposed to award a contract for restoration of the lower level of the municipal building on Springfield Avenue, which was damaged by excessive flooding last year during Hurricane Irene. 

 The committee was also supposed to award a contract for clerk of the works for the reconstruction. However, that did not happen. The committee went into executive session immediately after the meeting convened. The session lasted two hours and 15 minutes.

 When the meeting opened up again, Mayor David Robinson announced that matters pertaining to the repair of the lower portion of the municipal building would be addressed at a another special meeting to be held Monday, August 1, at 7:30 p.m., at the municipal building. 

Township Attorney Philip Morin announced that at 5 p.m. on Monday, the township was notified of a motion before the court by the Cranford Development Associates, (CDA) of the S. Hekemian Group of Paramus, the company that wishes to develop the Birchwood project, a 360-apartment unit complex with 60 affordable to be built at 215 Birchwood Avenue along with a five-story parking garage, challenging a requirement by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that they are deficient in not having a second road with access to the Birchwood property. The DEP also requires that CDA elevate the road a foot above the flood plain. 

CDA has filed a motion with state Superior Judge Lisa F. Crystal to be heard on Friday, August 3, before the site plan review, which is to take place on Wednesday and Thursday, August 8 and 9, at 10 a.m., before retired Superior Court Judge Douglas Wolfson at the Union County Courthouse, 2 Broad Street, Elizabeth. Both the CDA and the Cranford Township Committee have requested the hearing to be held in Cranford. “

They’re looking for a motion on short notice in advance of when the court would hear a motion,” Mr. Morin said. “A motion should not be heard prior to the next hearing date. We believe this a DEP matter and should not be before the court.” 

The CDA is trying to make an end run around the DEP authority. We’re going to object, and ask that this motion be rescheduled to allow us time to respond,” Mr. Morin said. 

The CDA sued the township using a builder’s remedy lawsuit, by which it claims that Cranford has not met it’s quota for affordable housing units, and is trying to prevent the CDA from building apartments which would include affordable units. Judge Crystal ruled in favor of the developer. 

The township, on the other hand, is objecting to the development because of the fear of more flooding caused by more people and inadequate infrastructure to accommodate a 360-unit apartment building on environmentally sensitive land. The township is appealing Judge Chrystal’s decision.