750 Walnut Ave Older Status Updates

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.

Hartz experts completed their initial testimony on January 30, 2019. Cranford Township’s experts begin their presentations on February 20, 2019 and continued on March 6 and March 20, 2019. On March 20 School Superintendent, Scott Rubin, and consultant Dr. Ross Haber testified.
Here is the full Haber Demographic & Facility Study from December 2018 referenced during the March 20 Planning Board meeting.

The Cranford Public School District Business Administrator testified on April 3, 2019.
Cranford BOE Resolution on Proposed 750 Walnut Concerns July 2017
Cranford BOE 750 Walnut Development Impact on Cranford Schools by Ross Haber Assoc. May 2018

The Planning Board’s Planner testified at the May 1 & May 8 meetings.
Public comment on the application is on May 15, 2019.

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.

The Review Standards used by the Planning Board to evaluate the application are in the Township Code: § 255-64 Review standards.

Also Posted on CranfordNJ.org August 1, 2019:
Workshop and Closed Session on Monday, August 12, 2019
“In addition to its previously scheduled Tuesday, August 13th Workshop and Official Meetings, the Township Committee of Cranford will hold additional Workshop and Closed Session meetings on Monday, August 12, 2019 at 6:00 p.m. The meetings will include Agenda topics of “Affordable Housing Litigation.” Formal action may be taken at these meetings.”

Cranford Planning Board Workshop Meeting Wednesday, September 4, 2019 at 7:30 pm
There will be “Resolutions of Memorialization” for the 750 Walnut Avenue – Hartz Mountain Industries Rezoning Application denial. The Board is expected to finalize their Report to the Township Committee on it’s vote recommending the rezoning application be denied.

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.

While negotiations with FSHC were ongoing, Cranford Township was granted several extensions of immunity from builders remedy lawsuits in the second half of 2019.

As a result of an October 2nd Case Management Conference, the township was granted another extension of immunity through Dec 2nd with the following provisions:
1) The Township and FSHC will negotiate a draft Settlement Agreement on or before October 29, 2019
2) The Township shall consider a resolution for the execution of a final  Settlement Agreement on or before the November 12, 2019 Township Committee meeting.
3) A follow-up Case Management Conference will be scheduled for November 15,  2019

On or about October 25, 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.

Cranford Township Committee meeting Tuesday, November 12th
Agenda Update:In addition to voting on the Affordable Housing settlement agreement, 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.

The Settlement Agreement is here:
https://www.cranfordnj.org/sites/cranfordnj/files/uploads/fully_executed_affordable_housing_settlement.pdf

The Cranford Township Committee voted to approve the Settlement Agreement negotiated between the township and FSHC on November 12, 2019.

A Fairness Hearing is scheduled for February 19, 2020 at 10:00 am in the Union County Courthouse. The public is allowed to attend this hearing.

The Fairness Hearing is where 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 no later than January 13, 2020. Hartz Mountain is expected to object.

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.

January 13, 2020 – Hartz Mountain sent documents 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
Expert Report
Expert Report Exhibits 1 – 5
Expert Report Exhibits 6 – 8
Expert Report Exhibits 9 – 11

On January 27-28 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

On January 27 FSHC filed a brief supporting Cranford’s Fair Share Plan and opposing Hartz Mountain’s objections:
Fair Share Housing Center Response to Hartz Objections

On February 5 the Court appointed Special Master submitted her report supporting Cranford’s Settlement Agreement and opposing Hartz Mountain’s objections: Special Masters Report

On February 13, 2020, 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. Pending the results, the Settlement Agreement Fairness Hearing is tentatively rescheduled for March 18.

Also Hartz Mountain brought in 2 more legal firms.

Update: March 14, 2020
The Cranford-FSHC Settlement Agreement Fairness Hearing is postponed until May 19, 2020 at 10:00am in the Union County Courthouse, Elizabeth.

Update: April 15, 2020
The (new) judge on our Affordable Housing Settlement case wants to have the Fairness Hearing on May 19 via telephone conference .

Cranford’s lawyer suggested having the hearing via video conference.  His other suggestion is to combine the Fairness and Compliance Hearings to be held in court in October.

Hart Mountain objects to having the hearing outside of court. They may agree to the combined hearings in October. Here are the PDF’s:

Clerk Notices regarding a new judge and the Fairness Hearing

2020-04-13_Cranford’s-Letter-About-Fairness-Hearing

2020-04-14_Hartz-Mountain’s-objection-to-remote-hearing

Update:  April 27, 2020
There will be some kind of telephone hearing between the court and at least one of Hartz Mountain’s law firms on April 28, 2020 at 10:00 am. It is not clear what the hearing is about, but may be to hear arguments against the electronic Fairness Hearing scheduled for May 19, 2020.

Update: May 20, 2020
Cranford’s Fairness Hearing on the Affordable Housing Settlement is postponed until October 5, 2020 at 9:00 am. It will be held at the same time as the Township’s Compliance Hearing. The Compliance Hearing is the final hearing in the process to approved (or not) the Township’s Affordable Housing Fair Share Plan. The hearings will continue on October 6 and 7 if necessary.

Update: August 13, 2020
At the August 5 Cranford Planning Board Meeting, Hartz presented an alternate plan for 750 Walnut keeping the property zoned commercial.  Here are the files for the new Site Plan Application.  However, the Township already included  a housing development on the property in its Fair Share Plan and expects to see that happen.

The Cranford Planning Board had a closed Executive Session on Wednesday, August 12 to review the Fair Share Plan and 750 Walnut Report as to whether or not this property can be declared an “area in need of redevelopment”. Here is the agenda for that meeting. 

Update: August 16, 2020
The Cranford Planning Board is expected to discuss 750 Walnut issues at it’s next meeting on Wednesday, September 2, 2020.

UPDATE:  August 21, 2020
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.

UPDATE: September 2, 2020
Cranford Planning Board Meeting Wednesday, September 2 @ 8:00 pm – Vote to accept conclusion of a report on 750 Walnut Ave that property qualifies for designation as a “Condemnation Area in need of redevelopment” and make that recommendation to the Township Committee. Here is the Agenda. The meeting will be held “virtually”.

The 750 Walnut Ave Report (418 pages) is here.

UPDATE:  September 3, 2020
On Monday August 31 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.

On September 2 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 were prepared by a consulting firm hired by the Board and concludes the property does qualify for that designation. The consultant was also questioned by an attorney representing Hartz Mountain.

At the Planning Board meeting on September 16 @ 8:00 pm the consultant will be cross-examined by Hartz representatives.

The report (418 pages) is here.

UPDATE:  September 19, 2020
On September 16 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.

UPDATE:  September 25, 2020
The Joint Fairness & Compliance Hearing on the Township’s Fair Share Plan is rescheduled for November 16, 2020 at 10 am. The Township’s immunity from exclusionary zoning actions is extended for 30 days after the hearing.

UPDATE: October 20, 2020
On October 7, 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.

UPDATE: November 14, 2020
On Tuesday, November 17 Mayor Giblin, Deputy Mayor Prunty, and Township  Attorney Ryan Cooper will host a Virtual Town Hall meeting from 7 – 8 pm to update residents about negotiations with Hartz on 750 Walnut Ave. The event will be livestreamed on the TV35 Facebook  page and rebroadcast on TV 35. Residents can submit questions ahead of the Town Hall to Mayor Giblin at p-giblin@cranfordnj.org. This is posted in the November 13th Township Newsletter.

As previously posted in the October 29th Township Newsletter, “Cranford and Hartz have been engaged in productive settlement negotiations”. The Township has “made meaningful progress towards a compromise for the future development of 750 Walnut Avenue…”

UPDATE:  November 23, 2020
On Tuesday, November 17, 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 Township, Fair Share Housing Center (FSHC) and court-appointed Special Master support an Affordable Housing Settlement based on the Township’s draft Fair Share Plan of November 2019 and revised in August 2020.  Hartz objects to the Settlement Agreement limits on the amount of housing on the 750 Walnut Avenue site.

Due to the negotiations, the court approved  postponing the joint Fairness and Compliance hearings until January 19, 2021.

UPDATE:  November 28, 2020
At a Virtual Town Hall on November 17th, residents were updated on negotiations with Hartz Mountain on a possible settlement concerning 750 Walnut Avenue. This settlement 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.

Here is a TAPinCranford article about this.

Due to the negotiations, the court approved  postponing the joint Fairness and Compliance hearings until January 19, 2021.