CRANBURY: Tract renamed ‘High Point Redevelopment Area’

By Amy Batista, Special Writer
CRANBURY – The Township Committee unanimously decided to move forward Monday with naming the redevelopment area comprising of the Cheney/Kushner/Hagerty tract as the “High Point Redevelopment Area” and amending the zoning map of the township.
The meeting was moved from its usual location in at 23-A North Main Street to the Cranbury School cafeteria to accommodate the anticipated large crowd of residents that were expected to attend.
The Redevelopment Plan has been prepared for a Redevelopment Area designated pursuant to known as the “Cheney/Hagerty/Kushner Tract” and located west of South Main Street and south of Old Trenton Road within the Township of Cranbury, according to the proposed redevelopment plan.
It encompasses eight parcels that are designated on the Township’s tax maps as follows: Block 19, Lots 2, 3 and 4, and Block 20.16, Lots 7, 8, 9, 10, and 20 and encompasses ±11.576 acres, according to the proposed redevelopment plan.
The “Cheney property,” which fronts on Old Trenton Road and Old Hightstown Road, contains an industrial/agricultural building that is in a state of disrepair and is both functionally and physically obsolescent. It also contains a vacant single-family home located in the northeast corner of the property that appears to be in fair to poor condition, according to the proposed redevelopment plan.
The “Hagerty property,” which consists of five separate parcels, was formerly used as farmland and as a greenhouse/floral business. It has a number of structures on it, including three single-family homes (one occupied, two vacant) that appear to be in a state of disrepair, according to the proposed redevelopment plan.
The “Kushner property” is 4.8 acres in area and is predominantly vacant; the remnants of a single family home that is hidden by vegetation is located at its southeastern end. Essentially, the parcel has remained vacant for more than 10 years. Vegetation on the parcel is comprised of scrub brush and grasses, with second-stage growth forest at the northern end of the property, according to the proposed redevelopment plan.
The redevelopment envisions the following: 12,250 square feet of retail space; a 5,000 square foot bank; a 12,000 square foot pharmacy; 12 apartment residential units; 126 surface parking spaces; 54 town- house residential units; 189 garage/drive spaces; 37 visitor spaces; 34,500 square feet of park area; and a 19,500 square foot stormwater management basin, according to a fiscal report from Phillips Preiss Grygiel LLC.
Residents, Planning Board members, the chief of police, the developer, their Affordable Housing representative, and other interested groups attended the meeting.
Mayor James Taylor took a few minutes to address the public before opening the public hearing on the ordinance.
“Before I open the hearing, I want to offer a brief overview of the process to date, a quick comment on what legally under the Township Committee purview as opposed to what must go before the Planning Board, and lastly the agenda on how we are going to conduct tonight’s hearing,” he said.
Mayor Taylor said he would like everyone to understand that they cannot legally comment on nor dictate site plan items such as driveways, roads, lights, or other items related to the site plan.
“Tonight we can only address the redevelopment ordinance itself,” he said.
He said that they can also not entertain revisions to the plan itself.
“We are sensitive to these issues that impact residents and if people want to comment on them, then we would be glad to listen to those concerns and they will be part of the meeting minutes,” he said.
He said legally they are prohibited from offering a view on reviewing commenting or other site specific elements such as road construction or drive the ingress or egress.
“Most of us attended the planning board meeting and are sensitive these issues,” he said.
He said that he “highly encourages” residents with those concerns to attend the site plan hearing when it comes before the Planning Board.
Mayor Taylor then proceeded to update the public on the process to date. In the context of that redevelopment it is important to highlight a few facts, he added.
“The development process is a process lead by the planning board and supported by the Township committee,” he said. “The redevelopment plan is a non-condemnation plan. We are not owning the property or having a financial interest in the property in any manner. Any liabilities of the property are those to be met by the current and future owners.”
He said they have negotiated with the developer and reduce the density from a proposed 61 townhomes to 54 townhomes.
“The 2010 master plan called for 42 townhomes so while it is higher than a master plan density, it is a lower density than would have been the case under a normal review process,” he said, adding that it is a lower than that proposed by any other developers who had raised initial interest in the properties.
Mayor Taylor said that developers want only a part of the property, so a plan inclusive of all three developed by the same company will provide a continuous architectural feel, which is to their advantage.
“The price point of $650K prior to add-ons lots of premiums and other factors is higher than town homes in comparable towns such as West Windsor and Montgomery, etc.” he said. “Further, these homes offer different features in marketing that make them attractive to schoolchildren.”
With the ordinance before us today we will be greatly restricting the town home development to minimize the potential impact from children, he added.
“There will be three bedrooms, with the master downstairs, no developable attic space nor basement,” he said. “There’ll be no fenced yards nor any real yard to speak of.”
Chairman Allan Kehrt, who has been on the planning board for 23 years, said he wanted to go back to 2010 to the Master Plan when the Planning Board re-evaluated it and looked at the Hagerty, Cheney, Kushner properties to change the zoning on that property and encourage development on that property.
“We actually put an incentive into the new zoning that would encourage and developer who came in to try and put all of those properties together and then we waited around quite a number of years,” he said, adding that nothing really happened.
He said that a number of developers came in the area of one property or two properties but they were never able to put everything together like they wanted it.
“It wasn’t until really High Point Development showed up we thought we might have something we thought we might have something good to work with,” he said.
He said they formed a sub-committee of the Planning Board, which consists of Township Committee members Susan Goetz and Glenn Johnson, Planning Board consultant Richard Preiss and Mr. Kehrt.
“It worked very, very hard with the developer to go through I don’t know how many versions of that site plan to see if they couldn’t come up with something that would be acceptable for Cranbury,” he said.
Mr. Kehrt took a few minutes to discuss the renderings that we available for the public to see.
“This is the main entrance to the development,” he said. “It has kind of moved around over the last six months and we’re not sure where it’s going to end up.”
He noted that residents from the Four Seasons had some site plan ideas and suggestions to where the main entrance could go that where submitted.
Many residents in the audience were from the Four Seasons at Cranbury, which lies adjacent to the property to redevelopment area. It is an age-restricted single-family residential community.
“This is a conceptual plan,” he said, adding it’s a very good start. “We really do want people’s input,” he added.
“Our feeling right now is we want very much to go ahead with this as long as we go through the approval process at the Planning Board level,” he said.
He said he wants everyone to understand that the Planning Board’s main responsibility is to look out for Cranbury as whole and not for any one group of people or development or part of town.
Deputy Mayor Dan Mulligan is directly affected by the redevelopment.
“I’m the one member of the Township Committee that lives on Old Cranbury Road so, like most of the people here from Four Seasons, I am directly impacted by this project,” he said. “I’ve heard some of your concerns at the meetings and I excited to hear more about them tonight.”
He said that to date he has been pleasantly surprised with what the builder (High Point Development) wants to do and how they want to incorporate it into the town.
“It seems like they really want to work with us,” he said. “We have to realize that the fate of this property was set back in 2010 when the Planning Board gave it that right to have homes built on it.”
At that moment it triggered that something would be built on it, he added.
“Something legally can be built there,” he said. “The property owners have the right to make money, the developers have the right to make money. What we have to do is control it for the greater good of Cranbury.”
Committeewoman Goetz said that from the very beginning the developer was willing to work with the subcommittee.
“They hired an architect who spent a considerable amount doing research and books and came up with drawings that we fill capture the Main Street look,” she said. “We knew from the very beginning that we didn’t want the backs of houses on Main Street so they designed it so that backs look like fronts.”
Committeeman Johnson said if they get three blight properties cleaned up, it will bring up the neighborhoods adjacent to these properties.
“I hope that everybody feels that the trade-offs for this property are worth,” he said, adding that there are always trade-offs.
Mayor Taylor opened the floor to public comment during which the residents spent about half hour asking questions and getting responses from the Township Committee and other professionals in the room. Questions ranged from the site plan, location of the main entrance and accesses to the development, to traffic studies, traffic impact, and more.
Mayor Taylor said nothing is simple or easy.
“We are trying to put together a bunch of stuff,” he said. “There are a lot of different people who have opinions and thoughts.”
He said that he really feels strongly that they found the right developer.
“Overall, I’m pretty please,” he said.
A copy of the plan can be viewed online at http://www.cranburytownship.org/Redevelopment-Plans/Fiscal-Impact-Analysis-2015-Cranbury_9-29.pdf