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Court Approves Construction of 360 Residential Units on Birchwood Avenue

Mayor Daniel Aschenbach plans to appeal the decision.

Cranford officials plan to appeal a decision made Friday by a Superior Court judge that will allow a developer to construct 360 residential units at the quiet corner of 215 Birchwood Ave., a street that's prone to flooding.

"Cranford has been subject of a builder remedy lawsuit," Mayor Daniel Aschenbach said after the court's decision was handed down.

The mayor has, for months, insisted that he would file an appeal if the development project was approved. "We believe the site specific conditions are such that any development will create more flooding and problems for a larger area of the community," Aschenbach said.

The proposed development called for the construction of 419 residential units on a 15.8-acre lot in Cranford’s 0-1 Low Density Office Building Zone. The property is surrounded by single-family residential zones.

"One of New Jersey’s highest rated schools is located two blocks away and is already at capacity. The judge now has given its ruling that 360 units can be built," Aschenbach said.

The S. Hekemian Group of Paramus bought the property in October 2008 and proposed 356 market rate units and 63 units of low- and moderate-income housing. It then filed a suit in New Jersey Superior Court claiming that Cranford is in violation of its constitutional duty to create sufficient opportunity for the construction of low- and moderate-income housing. Peter Hekemian, the developer, could not be reached for comment immediately following the decision.

More than a year ago, a special master was appointed to study the case and present findings to the judge. The special master, Elizabeth McKenzie, , indicating that she did not give much weight to residents' concerns about traffic and density, given the township's constitutional obligation to provide affordable housing to its residents.

early last month that allowed residents to voice their concerns on the "overdevelopment" of the property, Township Attorney Dan McCarthy recounted the Mount Laurel decisions, which state that every community in New Jersey has a constitutional obligation to allow for the building of affordable housing. The Council on Affordable Housing, or COAH, was created to prevent developers from building market-rate housing with only a handful of units used for affordable housing. Under COAH, projects that served people with disabilities and low-income seniors did not count as affordable housing.

In addition to the actual appeal of the decision, Aschenbach said the township will be asking Gov. Chris Christie to "incorporate in state legislation that communities be given an opportunity to put forward a plan to meet affordable housing that meets each community’s residential housing needs and not an arbitrary COAH number."
Further, Aschenbach said Cranford will request that a grant of $8 million be provided to the township to purchase the Birchwood tract for the development of a retention basin to protect residents from flooding.

The town will also ask that Cranford "be given an opportunity to implement its Housing Element through its local Affordable Housing Task Force before having to consider such enormous overdevelopment." It will also ask The State of New Jersey Mortgage Finance Agency consider Cranford for tax credit allocation.

"Cranford has a unique senior complex that benefits local and moderate income residents and a new development at the 555 South Ave. site would be a great benefit to the region," Aschenbach said. "Our point is Cranford has done many affordable housing projects. This one is over the top in a flood prone area."

In order to appeal the decision, the Township Committee must first pass an ordinance, the introduction of which will be on the agenda for Tuesday's meeting, Aschenbach said, adding that the governing body also plans to send a letter to the governor regarding the matter.

Carol Vellucci July 30, 2011 at 02:39 AM
The development of any housing on Birchwood Avenue would be a disaster. Why is it that when everything is good someone or something has to make a change. My question is "What is the hidden agenda?"
Rosanne July 30, 2011 at 12:14 PM
It is disheartening and disturbing that a judge should rule in this manner, further ignoring the will and discernment process of the municipal governing body and the citizens. There is little wonder why citizens need to speak out and stand up for their rights of domain.
PCIsMe July 30, 2011 at 01:22 PM
What's your "hidden agenda"? The world is not that sinister. The agenda is greed. Peter the developer sees a weakness and wants to exploit it to make money. The problem is that Peter the developer picked the wrong property. He should have picked the open office building property next door that used to be Schering Plough - now that's an eyesore. More power to you on this one Mayor Aschenbach. All of the suggested remedies are on-target. What can we do to support?
Chris OBrien July 30, 2011 at 02:57 PM
This is unreal, they need to get rid of the MT Laurel case once and for all. If you cant afford Chatham, move to Westfield, cant afford WF, move to Cranford, cant afford CF move to Linden.... What is the upside to all these units??
Jose Rodriguez July 31, 2011 at 02:33 AM
I live in Kenilworth and worked very hard to get here. I would like to help the residence of Cranford in this very unfair court decision. I will contact my local leaders to voice my displeasure with this planed development. The great socialist state of N.J. strikes again!!!!
S Murphy July 31, 2011 at 05:27 PM
Sounds like a nightmare for Cranford and boon for the developer who will be long gone before the area residential homes start flooding. Are we trying to become Wayne? I think COAH housing is a fair percentage; however, I think 360 units is totally absurd for Cranford!!! Would the developer settle for something along the lines of 75 overall units? Probably not, because they are greedy, greedy, greedy and will never have to live with the results! And while we're at it, I agree with PCIsME that the preferable property to use would be the old Scherring Plough property. After all is said and done, the small town feeling of Cranford would be ruined!!! with a huge 360 unit development. And I agree with Jose Rodriguez of Kenilworth who will contact local leaders to voice displeasure with this planned development.
Monk August 01, 2011 at 12:21 AM
Per Wikipedia: As of the United States 2010 Census, the township population was 22,625. In one fell swoop, the population could increase 5%. This is wrong.
PCIsMe August 01, 2011 at 01:15 AM
Please note that the picture provided with the story is wrong and it does make a difference. Sadly, this is another example of shoddy journalism brought to you by a reporter who did not even bother matching the address (215 Birchwood Avenue) to his pictures of 235 Birchwood Avenue. 235 Birchwood is a well kept building nestled behind 250 feet of mature trees. 215 Birchwood Avenue is the dumpy "vacant lot" building, formerly owned by Schering Plough. That building has been a vacant commercial office building for more than 10 years. Behind 215 Birchwood Avenue is a huge parking lot. The pictures credited to the Mayor are flooding in front of 235 Birchwood Avenue, not 215 Birchwood Avenue. And by the way, neither building is on any kind of corner....bad journalism. Why does this matter? In this era of declining newspaper staffs, budgets, and real reporters, the rules have changed and now so-called citizen reporters, bloggers and others, not trained to be journalists, are leading to the dropping of standards....fast. Second, if we are talking about 215 Birchwood Avenue...well good riddance! The building is a dump and parking lot is monstrously big. Hopefully, the Mayor can get the developer to make a deal and put more money in the Cranford surplus so that the Republican-mandated Sewer Tax can disappear? Before writing stories, perhaps 215 Birchwood Avenue could have been visited?
PCIsMe August 01, 2011 at 01:21 AM
Facts matter. As my former boss Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, "Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts."
Chris OBrien August 01, 2011 at 02:57 PM
I don't think the Coah law is even remotely fair, look at Mt Laurel before and after it, its a totally different town . If you cant afford to live in a particular town, get another job, or a better job , save your pennies THEN move. I lived and saved in Brooklyn for years before I moved to Cranford. I love the rustic small town feel of this town( which is slowly disappearing. Very sad imo Also, Thanks to Mr. Rodriguez, we can use all the help we can get
Jose Rodriguez August 21, 2011 at 02:56 AM
I have e-mailed Governor Chirstie and lent my voice to the proposed Birchwood development plan. This is pure socialism where the individual i.e. (towns) is ignored for what the government sees as the best coarse for society as a whole. I have witnessed first hand the devastation caused by a housing project. Has any one out there heard of the Oakwood Housing complex in Elizabeth? This low and moderate income housing project has been the scene of almost half of all homicides in Elizabeth, and to date (August 20)the city has had 14 murders. I wish to make this clear I don"care what race a person is. If a person or people can't afford to live in the same neighborhood as I do, then don't force me to build your house and pay you for the privilege.

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