Three months after a site plan hearing for the proposed Birchwood development plan, a special officer assigned to the case has made his recommendations to the judge presiding over the matter.
Special Hearing Officer Douglas Wolfson has recommended that a stretch of Birchwood Avenue be elevated one foot above the designated flood hazard area. The recommendation must still be accepted by Judge Lisa F. Chrystal, who will then officially order Cranford Development Associates — an LLC for the S. Hekemian group which owns the property — to move forward with the elevation of the Birchwood Avenue property.
“The Hearing Officer therefore unreservedly recommends to the Court that it authorize the elevation of Birchwood Avenue to be performed by CDA, at its sole cost and expense, as an integral component of the Builder’s Remedy,” the recommendation states.
However, even if the judge accepts Wolfson's recommendation to regrade the property, Cranford Development Associates will still need to obtain permits from the Department of Environmental Protection.
In early August, Wolfson presided over two days of hearings involving the construction of 360 apartment units at 215-235 Birchwood Ave. — a section of town prone to significant flooding. The entire area was submerged in several feet of water following Hurricane Irene last year. The proposal, which also calls for a five-story parking garage, will include 60 affordable housing units.
Despite protests from Township Attorney Phil Morin and several letters from residents, the hearings were held at the Union County Courthouse, instead of at the Cranford Municipal Building, as is customary for hearings involving site plans.
For more than a year, residents and officials have been voicing strong opposition to the Birchwood Avenue housing plan. The township has been fighting to appeal Judge Chrystal's July, 2011 decision in a builder's remedy lawsuit to allow CDA to build on the 16-acre tract of land.
During the August hearing, the architect who designed the building testified, giving specific information about the proposed project. The plans call for two building that will be 55-feet tall and have a combined total of 668 available parking spaces. The first building, Building A, will house 300 apartment units while Building B will consist of 60 units. The developer has yet to determine which of the apartments will be designated for affordable housing.