Site Plan Hearings End on Birchwood Development

 By DELL SIMEONE Specially Written for The Westfield Leader

Thursday, August 30, 2012

CRANFORD – Five days of site plan hearings for the proposed 360- unit housing development at 215/ 235 Birchwood Avenue ended last Thursday at the Union County Courthouse in Elizabeth. Lawyer summations and the findings of Judge Douglas K. Wolfson and Special Master Elizabeth McKenzie will be forwarded to Superior Court Judge Lisa F. Chrystal, who has the power to approve or disapprove the site plan, only with complete compliance on the part of Cranford Development Associates (CDA), the developer, with the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). 

The NJDEP still has to see that CDA is in compliance with DEP regulations regarding development within a designated Flood Hazardous Area. 

CDA’s civil engineer, Michael Dipple, of L2A Land Design of Englewood, working for CDA, identified and outlined the flow of rain and storm water to the complex during his testimony last week. The CDA is seeking a permit from the NJDEP to raise a 300-foot portion of Birchwood Avenue a foot above the flood plain. Mr. Dipple said he has planned to accommodate an increase in velocity of water from upstream to downstream in the flood plain by installing an underground detention basin at the site to contain water and release it at intervals. 

Mr. Dipple said the detention basin would be 32 by 460 feet, and that pipes and drains on the site would directly flow to the basin. He was questioned extensively about ground water by Maria Anderson, an attorney and Kenilworth resident, who lives close to the site. She said she was concerned about the amount of storm water, which would go out to the road, and the amount that would go to the stream at the border of the property. 

Mr. Dipple said that the flow would be directed from the other side of Birchwood Avenue. “It would slope from Orange Avenue toward the buildings,” he said. 

Township Attorney Philip Morin questioned Mr. Dipple on his trial testimony during the builder’s remedy lawsuit brought against Cranford by CDA. Judge Wolfson curtailed that line of questioning and also any questioning about permits needed from the NJDEP. 

Cranford Township Fire Chief Leonard Dolan testified that a study done by the Cranford Police Department shows peak traffic hours are 7:45 to 8:45 a.m. and 5 to 6 p.m. in the evening, based on a study of Orange and Birchwood Avenues. Joseph Staigar, Cranford’s traffic expert, testified that a higher trip generation still did not call for a traffic signal at Orange and Birchwood Avenues. He did question the width of the driveway on a portion of the site and whether a fire truck could turn around in case of an emergency. 

Cranford Engineer Richard Marsden identified 40 problems he had with Mr. Dipple’s testimony, including drainage in the parking lot, gate valves on site to regulate the flow of water, the size of pipes, the flood way line, and split flow analysis. He was questioned by Judge Wolfson about pipe enlargement or repair, and how to calculate the cost, which would be divided between the CDA and Cranford Township. “The cost of pipe replacement would be $100 per linear foot,” Mr. Marsden said. 

Judge Wolfson said Cranford would have to adopt an ordinance for “off-track” repairs or improvements needed for development. The judge told Mr. Marsden he would ask him to determine to what degree CDA would be responsible to repair or replace pipes. Other topics that Mr. Marsden questioned are pickup, and dropoff at the site, lighting, wetlands and the flow from upstream. 

CDA’s attorney, Stephen Eisendorfer, questioned Mr. Marsden on his formula for calculations. He then called on Clay Emerson, of Princeton Hydro, who strongly disagreed with Mr. Marsden and called his calculations antiquated. 

Members of Concerned Citizens of Cranford, Liz Sweeney and Rita La Brutto, showed Judge Wolfson and Ms. McKenzie pictures of the Birchwood site flooding during past storms. Ms. La Brutto told the judge she objected to the hearings being held in Elizabeth and not in Cranford. Judge Wolfson replied, “You were here every day.” Ms. La Brutto replied that it was difficult to do so. Ms. Anderson told Judge Wolfson that she did not feel confident that the development would not affect upstream. Cranford residents Ann Steinbach and Laura Tarullo also attended the hearings. Members of the Cranford Township Committee attended the hearings intermittently, including Mayor David Robinson, who had been on vacation during the first week of the proceedings. The hearings, held in Elizabeth, usurped the authority of the Cranford Planning Board, which was not permitted to be involved in the proceedings. They now await the findings of Judge Chrystal, along with sanctions or approvals by the NJDEP.