Birchwood Developer Denied Expedited Hearing
A public hearing on the property is set for Aug 8 and 9 at 10 a.m. at the Union County Courthouse in Elizabeth.
Superior Court Judge Lisa Chrystal has denied a motion by Cranford Development Associates - the developer of flood-prone property on Birchwood Avenue - to expedite a hearing on site plans for the proposed project.
"The judge denied CDA's request to have the motion be held on short notice which means it would be expedited," Township Attorney Phil Morin said.
The basis for the motion is that the developer needed Judge Chrystal to order Birchwood Avenue’s road elevation to be raised by one foot, as required by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.
Judge Chrystal denied the request, and referred the matter to Douglas Wolson, a special hearing officer for the case who is responsible for handling site plan approval. Morin said that Wolson "will presumably make recommendations as to whether or not the township should be ordered to consent to raising the elevation (of the property of Birchwood Avenue).
For more than a year, residents and officials have been voicing strong opposition to plans for residential development on Birchwood Avenue. The township has been fighting to appeal Judge Chrystal's July, 2011 decision to allow CDA, an LLC of the S. Hekemian Group, to build 360 housing units on Birchwood Avenue.
A public hearing for the site plan, Morin said, is now scheduled for Aug 8 and 9 at 10 a.m. at the Union County Courthouse in Elizabeth. Cranford residents and officials who oppose the development expressed concern regarding the time and date of the hearing.
"The timing of the hearing, on a weekday morning in early August, could limit the number of residents who can attend," Morin said.
Normally, site plan hearings take place during municipal Planning Board meetings in the evenings, which allow residents and officials to attend and voice their opinions. Despite calls from residents and members of the Township Committee, Wolson rejected the idea of holding the hearing in Cranford. The CDA has also requested that the hearing be conducted at town hall instead of the county courthouse.
Despite the judge's decision to permit the construction on Birchwood, residents and officials continue to protest the development. A local group, the Concerned Citizens of Cranford, maintains a website keeping community members informed about the latest developments in the case. During the past year, community members have also written letters to legislators, voiced their opposition at meetings, spoken directly to Gov. Christie Christie during town hall meetings an on radio programs, visited state officials in Trenton and signed petitions opposing the proposed development.
Back in May, following a public hearing that lasted nearly two hours, the Township Committee approved an ordinance "under protest" to alter the town's master plan to allow an apartment complex to be built in a flood-prone area on Birchwood Avenue. The court-ordered ordinance will also allow the township to move forward with the process of appealing Chrystal's decision to allow the developer to construct housing on Birchwood.
In addition to the site plan hearing for the Birchwood Avenue development, a public hearing will also be held at the Union County Courthouse on Aug. 15 and 16 at 10 a.m. for the proposed development by Lehigh Acquisitions at 555 South Ave.