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Centennial Apartments Approved By Zoning Board

By NICOLAS FERNANDES
Specially Written for The Westfield Leader
May 12, 2016

CRANFORD — The site plan proposal for a controversial mixed use building that would replace the abandoned Lehigh’s Auto Repair on Centennial Avenue was approved by the Cranford Board of Adjustment Monday night.

The site plan, by applicant 310 Centennial Avenue, LLC, showed a 1,952 square foot building with one or two retail spaces on the first level and 20 residential units occupying the second and third floors.

After a night of complaints from owners of single-family homes surrounding the site, the board came to the conclusion that the mixed-use building is better than the other likely options—a Dunkin Donuts, a convenience store, or a vacant site.

“If we denied this, it might sit like this for another 10 years,” Board of Adjustment Chairman Ronald Marotta said at the public meeting.

Variances sought included density, height, exceeding the stories permitted, parking, and setbacks, amongst others.

Although the residents were against the regulation, Mr. Triarsi explained that more density in a downtown area is good because the new residents will utilize the town’s businesses.

 “More density in a downtown neighborhood is better than less density,” Mr. Triarsi said.

 Marie Mayer, the owner of the neighboring 304-306 Centennial Avenue, brought up that part of the development would use up land that she owns.

Mr. Triarsi denied this claim, but said he would speak to her about it if he sees a document stating that the land belongs to Ms. Mayer.

The Centennial Village Group asked if a crosswalk accompanied by a flashing pedestrian signal could be placed between North Lehigh Avenue and Winans Avenue similar to the one between Elm Street and Severin Court, one block away, ensuring the safety of children crossing the street while walking to and from Hillside Avenue School. The board will recommend that idea to the county, Mr. Marotta said, because Centennial Avenue is a county road.

All of the residents opposed to the plan were concerned that it would turn the area into the exact opposite of what it was that made them want to move to town, a quiet place to raise a family and send their children to a safe school.

Brandon De Oliveira, who moved to Cranford with his family as a child from Hillside, explained that Cranford is supposed to be a safe town for families with children, not a place filled with development of rental space.

“Please remember why you or your family decided to move to Cranford,” Mr. De Oliveira told the board.

Mr. Triarsi’s argument was that nothing can be worse than what has been in that spot since the 1980s.

“There cannot be a less efficient use of land than what’s existed on this site for the past few decades,” Mr. Triarsi said.

Board Secretary Jeffrey Pistol said there should be less residential space and more retail space. “It’s a very nice building, but it needs to be smaller,” Mr. Pistol said.

According to Mr. Triarsi, it is not economically possible to reduce the number of units in the development.

John Quick, who lives on North Lehigh Avenue, said that he and all of his neighbors have families with children, and that the traffic caused from the mixed-use building will affect their safety. “It’s a beautiful building, but it doesn’t belong in our neighborhood,” Mr. Quick said. “It belongs on South Avenue or North Avenue.”

Mr. Triarsi said Centennial Avenue needs a shopping district similar to South Avenue and North Avenue, comparing the development to Cranford Crossing, a residential and retail building that replaced a vacant lot near the train station.

“That was an area that was underused and now that area is the shinning star in this community,” Mr. Triarsi said. The applicant will next seek approval from the Union County Planning Board.