CRANFORD RESIDENTS OBJECT TO WF'S SUNNYSIDE DEVELOPMENT

By LAUREN S. BARR 

Specially Written for The Westfield Leader 

May 9, 2013

WESTFIELD – Approximately three dozen residents came out to Tuesday night’s Westfield Town Council meeting to object to the rezoning of 206 Springfield Avenue, and several other parcels of land to allow for future development of affordable housing.

Public hearing was held before final approval on ordinances effecting Springfield Avenue, along with Central Avenue, New Street, South Elmer Street, and North Avenue. A final vote on an ordinance that would affect zoning on South Avenue was tabled due to possible pending development and environmental issues. 

Sunnyside Senior Housing, LLC, owned by Ray Rodgers, will construct 24 units, four of which will be set aside as affordable housing. According to Councilman Jim Foerst, despite the name of the company, the new units will not be limited to senior citizens. 

In January 2009, Sunnyside filed a lawsuit against the Town of Westfield and the planning board alleging that Sunnyside’s attempts to develop the property was “rebuffed” by the defendants. The suit was considered a “builder’s remedy” lawsuit, as the town did not have an approved fairhousing plan under regulations set forth by the Council On Affordable Housing (COAH). 

The majority of the residents who spoke out against the rezoning and pending development on Springfield Avenue were residents of Cranford, whose homes border the property. Many of the residents cited concerns about water run-off, traffic implications and changing the look of their neighborhood. Several of the residents also said the previous owners, who sold the property in 2004, would not have sold the property to Mr. Rodgers if they had known his intent.

Councilman Foerst said, “We wanted to be good neighbors” stating that under the settlement agreement, the developer was limited to 24 units, as opposed to the 60 they had asked for. He also said they are requiring the developer to have all water drainage on the property and to orient the development toward Westfield and away from Cranford. Councilman Foerst told the residents that the developer “used COAH as a sword to get the town to allow greater density than what would have ordinarily been allowed.” 

“We were sued, we didn’t want to change the zoning,” Councilman Sam Della Fera told the residents. 

Cranford resident Gary Miller, whose home backs up to the property, said that the new development would cause “sunset to be an hour earlier.” He said that due to the property being situated on a hill, with his home at the bottom, the buildings will “look like six-story buildings to me.” 

Cranford resident Steven Conti, who bought his house two months ago, said his back yard would be destroyed by this development. 

Roxanne Rand, also of Cranford, said that the ratables in the Nomahegan Court neighborhood are going to go down and “this developer just gets to walk.” 

Westfield residents Ben and Laura Gomez, who live across the street from the property, said they feel the property should remain a single-family home, and that they heard the condos that will be built will be sold for between $700,000 and $800,000. 

Residents of South Elmer Street and a property owner on Central Avenue also inquired about the zoning changes, and potential development. According to Mr. Foerst, development would be limited to residential only. 

While the ordinances were approved by the council, they will not go into effect until the town has approval from the court. Following court approval, the developer will have to appear before the Westfield Planning Board for final approval of the construction plan before anything can be built. 

Property owners who are affected by these new ordinances need to file a written objection, a form which they can obtain from the town, and will have the chance to be heard before state Superior Court Judge Frederic Kessler on Monday, June 10, at 9 a.m. at the Union County courthouse.

In other business . .   (continued at goleader.com, May 9, pages 1 & 12)