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battle over Birchwood took another step forward Tuesday as Judge Lisa Chrystal
adopted the recommendations of the hearing officer and set a date for the final
hearing on compliance.
accepted Special Hearing Officer Douglas Wolfson’s recommendations to approve
the site plan and elevation of Birchwood Avenue.
judge also set April 22 as the date for the final hearing to determine whether
Cranford is now in compliance with its affordable housing obligations and has
taken all the procedural steps to insure future compliance, according to Philip
Morin, who was the township’s attorney until the end of 2012 and is still
acting as council on the issue. Morin said the final hearing will also provide
a time frame for which the town will be protected from future Mt.
Laurel/builder’s remedy litigation.
site plans, which residents and officials have been fighting for more than a
year, call for construction of 360 apartments on the property, including 60
affordable housing units. The plan also calls for a five-story parking garage.
property is located on a 16-acre tract of land at 215-235 Birchwood Avenue, an
area prone to flooding. After Hurricane Irene, the area was submerged in
several feet of water, and township committee members have pointed out the
safety issues in the area after other bouts of bad weather.
township has been trying to appeal the judge’s July 2011 decision in a
builder’s remedy lawsuit to allow the developer, Cranford Development
Associates, to build on the site.
have been a number of twists and turns along the way, including a township
complaint, filed in November 2012, that court-appointed special master
Elizabeth McKenzie had shown herself to be biased by declaring herself an
“affordable housing advocate.” The judge threw
out Cranford’s complaint.
special master wrote two opinions for the court, first finding that the
builder’s remedy was appropriate and then, in December 2010, she issued another
report saying although there are some environmental issues at the site, she
didn’t find them to be unmanageable.