Details of Hartz Mountain project unveiled

Developer proposes mixed-use town center with emphasis on high-end retail


About nine months after receiving approval from the Edison Township Council, the owners of the Hartz Mountain redevelopment project, dubbed Edison Towne Square by the builders, unveiled some of the finer details of the development to the public during a Planning Board meeting July 21.

The presentation, lasting more than three hours, showed residents a glimpse of what the developer, Edison Land Investments (a subsidiary of firm Hartz Mountain) hopes will be a successful mixed-use property with emphasis on food, shopping and recreation. Members of the public took advantage of several opportunities to comment, with most of the concerns centering on buffering and landscape issues, especially from residents living near where the proposed development would be built.

The development would be located on a 97.8-acre plot near Route 1 and Vineyard Road that, until about four years ago, was host to a Ford Motor Co. plant. When the company shut the place down, the future of the site was uncertain until the firm Hartz Mountain bought the land in 2005, intending to develop the parcel. After numerous feedback sessions with members of the public, during which residents voiced loud opposition to any sort of residential development, the project’s identity as a pedestrian-friendly town center began to take shape.

The council at the time, working with the company, drew up a redevelopment plan for the area that formalized what Hartz Mountain could and could not do with the property, and after a marathon council session in October, gave the company the go-ahead by approving it. The township managed to gain 7.5 acres of open space land in the north of the site, adjacent to Paterniti Park.

During the July 21 meeting, representatives from Hartz Mountain, seeking site plan approval, explained that the project would offer about 1.2 million square feet worth of total building space, within about 20 buildings, on the plot of land, which the firm’s engineer and planner, Perry Frenzel, said represents a decrease in impervious coverage, noting that the old Ford plant covered far more space. This, he said, would allow the site to actually absorb more storm water than before.

The site would have entrances along Route 1, which would be accessible to both cars and trucks, and Vineyard Road, which would be for cars only. Parking would be provided by a pair of parking decks, providing 2,399 spaces, and smaller parking lots and parallel parking spaces, which equal 2,018.

The attorney for the company, Allen Magrini, said that among the 20 buildings would be a pair of “large retail format buildings” or, in more casual language, big-box stores. The attorney explained that, as per the suggestion of residents during the last public hearing in October, the company will be pursuing sustainable building practices in the development, which includes adopting Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, a nonprofit trade organization that encourages environmentally friendly construction practices. The development’s emphasis on walk ability and its compact design will also contribute to this, according to Magrini.

“We’re committed to using and employing sustainable principles not only in design of the complex, but also in construction of the complex and the ongoing operations of the complex,” said Magrini.

When asked whether the building’s tenants would be required to follow environmentally sound principles, it was revealed that, technically, no, they would not, but that Hartz Mountain would work closely with them in order to encourage their adoption.

Frenzel, the engineer, meanwhile, noted that remediation of soil contamination found on the site, left behind by Ford, was all but finished, with Hartz Mountain only waiting for a final letter of approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection certifying the job as done. After this, ground-water remediation can begin, but Frenzel noted that this particular process wouldn’t have the delaying effect on construction that soil treatment would.

Michael Alston, the firm’s architect, explained to the residents the proposed layout for the project, which he said would provide a “traditional Main Street feel.” The project will center around a large plaza district, which will, itself, be split into three main components. The first, most southerly, part will be a “labyrinth garden,” or, more simply, a hedge maze, which Alston described as “whimsical” and was designed specifically to create “memorable moments in a refreshing outdoor environment.” Further north would be a connector plaza that will link various pedestrian walkways throughout the site. Finally, at the northern most portion of the central plaza, there will be the town square, which Alston said will be “designed to be the civic gathering space for Edison residents and patrons.”

“This outdoor space is designed to epitomize the traditional town square that often forms the keystone of towns and villages around the world,” continued Alston.

Also included in the plans are a movie theater, a gas station, which was a point of contention during the October hearings, causing Councilman Robert Diehl to vote against the redevelopment plan, and a drive-up bank with capacity for up to six cars.M

any residents, especially those who would be living near the proposed development, expressed concerns over buffering issues, with many saying that they did not wish to have to see and hear the place day in and day out.

Ken Grisewood, the firm’s landscape architect, said that there would be a thick layer of trees, double rows of evergreens and shade trees, that would shield nearby residents from the light and noise from the project, about 8 to 12 feet high, along a buffer of about 50 feet from the nearest residence. Some at the meeting, though, felt that this space was not sufficient.

“I feel strongly that the 50-foot buffer zone [is inadequate]. One hundred feet is just from this window to that,” said Edison resident Steve Shuey, motioning from one end of the council chamber to the other.

Board Chairman Dennis Pipala, however, noted that the council had already approved the buffer length and so not much could be done. Shuey, as well as others, maintained, though, that the proposed development was just too close and that the buffering was inadequate to shield the nearby residents.

There was also concern over the impacts the project could have on Vineyard Road, which currently only had two lanes. Shuey, among others, expressed his concern that people coming into the Edison Towne Square will greatly contribute to traffic problems in the area.

“It’s going to be a nightmare,” said Shuey. “I don’t think it would be too much to ask to ixnay on the exist and entrance on Vineyard Road and expand the buffer zone.”

As the night wore on, the meeting ran into the 10:30 p.m. time limit that the Planning Board had, at the beginning of the meeting, agreed to. According to board Chairman Dennis Pipala, hearings on the project are expected to continue on Aug. 25.