Summary and Status Updates (oldest to newest):
Hartz Mountain Industries originally proposed 905 mostly luxury rental apartments at 750 Walnut Avenue This would have increased Cranford’s population up to 8 – 10%, severely straining our school system, emergency services, infrastructure, and traffic patterns in and around Cranford.
In March 2017 Hartz sent an application to the Cranford Planning Board requesting a zoning change from “commercial” to “residential” so they can build these 905 apartments. After Hartz postponed several times, their application began to be heard at the last Planning Board meeting on May 16, 2018.
In January – April 2020, the Planning Board heard testimony from Hartz Mountain, Cranford’s experts, the Cranford School Board, and the Planning Board’s Planner.
The Planning Board votes unanimously to recommend to the Township Committee that they reject Hartz Mountain’s application to rezone 750 Walnut Ave for residential development.
On September 10, 2019 the Township Committee voted to accept the Planning Board’s recommendation to not rezone 750 Walnut Ave from commercial to residential.
In October 2019, Hartz Mountain filed a lawsuit against the Township challenging the Planning Board’s Resolution to deny rezoning of 750 Walnut Ave. to residential for multi-family development. Note this is NOT a builder’s remedy lawsuit.
While negotiations with FSHC were ongoing, Cranford Township was granted several extensions of immunity from builders remedy lawsuits in the second half of 2019.
The Court instructed the Township and FSHC to negotiate a draft Settlement Agreement and consider a formal Resolution for the execution of a final Settlement Agreement by mid-November 2019.
The Cranford Township Committee voted to approve the Cranford-FSHC Settlement Agreement on November 12, 2019. There will be a presentation by the Township’s affordable housing attorney with an opportunity to ask questions. There will also be an informal session on Monday, November 11 from 6:00 – 7:30 pm in Town Hall Room 108.
A Fairness Hearing on the Cranford-FSHC Settlement Agreement is scheduled for February 19, 2020 at 10:00 am in the Union County Courthouse. The public is allowed to attend.
The Fairness Hearing purpose is for the Court will evaluate whether the proposed Settlement Agreement is fair and reasonable to the region’s low and moderate income households. Third parties are allowed to object to the Settlement Agreement in writing. If the court approves the Settlement Agreement, there will be a Compliance Hearing in several months to determine if the township’s full Fair Share Plan provides the means by which it will satisfy the obligations established in the Settlement Agreement.
If the plan is approved, the court will issue a judgement granting immunity from builder’s remedy lawsuits through the period of the agreement, which is 2025.
In January 2020, Hartz Mountain sent documents to the Court opposing the Cranford – FSHC Settlement Agreement and requested that the Fairness Hearing, scheduled for February 19, 2020 be postponed:
Hartz Mountain Brief Opposing the Settlement Agreement
Cover Letter to Hartz Expert Report
Cranford sent a Brief and Planner’s Report opposing Hartz Mountain’s objections to the Settlement Agreement:
Cranford Brief Responding to Hartz Objections
Cranford Planners Report in Response to Hartz Objections
FSHC filed a brief supporting Cranford’s Fair Share Plan and opposing Hartz Mountain’s objections.
The Court appointed Special Master also submitted a report supporting Cranford’s Settlement Agreement and opposing Hartz Mountain’s objections: Special Masters Report
Due to Hartz Mountain’s objection to the Township’s Settlement Agreement with Fair Share Housing Center (FSHC), the Judge ordered Cranford and Hartz to mediation and postponed the Fairness Hearing.
Hartz was ordered to submit a ‘concept plan’ (new settlement proposal) to the Township by March 3, 2020. Cranford and Hartz must then submit a Joint Status Report to the court by March 13. The Cranford-FSHC Settlement Agreement Fairness Hearing is postponed until May 19, 2020 at 10:00 am in the Union County Courthouse, Elizabeth.
Due to COVID, there is discussion on having the Fairness Hearing on May 19 via telephone or video conference. Hartz objected and agreed to have the combined Fairness and Compliance hearings together in October 2020. The Compliance Hearing is the final hearing in the process to approved (or not) the Township’s Affordable Housing Fair Share Plan.
In August 2020, Hartz presented an alternate plan to the Planning Board keeping the 750 Walnut Ave property zoned commercial. However, the Township already included a housing development on the property in its Fair Share Plan and expects to see that happen.
On August 17, 2020 the Township sent a Revised Fair Share Plan daft to the Court. The Plan continues to include a housing development at 750 Walnut Ave. The Exhibits for the Revised Fair Share Plan are here.
Also in August 2020, the Township hosted a Virtual Town Hall on Affordable Housing and the August 2020 Revised Fair Share Plan. The recording of that meeting is here. There is also a Powerpoint from the meeting here.
In September 2020, the Cranford Planning Board heard a presentation on the investigation of 750 Walnut to determine if the property qualifies as a “Condemnation Area in need of redevelopment”. The evaluation and report concluded the property does qualify for that designation.
The Cranford Planning Board voted to recommend the Township Committee designate the Hartz Mountain property at 750 Walnut Ave. as a “Condemnation Area in Need of Redevelopment”. This would theoretically allow the Township to take the property by Eminent Domain.
In October 2020, Cranford Township and Hartz Mountain jointly requested the Fairness and Compliance hearing be postponed until at least mid-January 2021. The parties are currently in negotiations to resolve their differences in the Fair Share Plan. The Court granted the request.
In November 2020, Cranford Mayor Giblin, Deputy Mayor Prunty, and Township Attorney Ryan Cooper held a Virtual Town Hall meeting to update residents on negotiations with Hartz and 750 Walnut Ave. in the Township’s Fair Share Affordable Housing Plan.
The possible settlement agreement with Hartz would split the property in two with a flex warehouse on one side and a 250 unit apartment complex on the other with 38 affordable units. In return, Hartz requests, and the Township is open to, a PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes), although they have not discussed or agreed on a specific plan. Negotiations continue.
In December 2020, the Township of Cranford and Hartz Mountain have agreed to a “Memorandum of Understanding” for 750 Walnut Ave. It follows the negotiations referenced at the Cranford Township Town Hall on November 17th. It includes two buildings of flex warehouse space on 15 acres and 250 apartments on the other 15 acres. There will be 38 affordable housing units.
The Fairness and Compliance hearing is rescheduled for April 12, 2021.