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Court Denies Township's Motion for Reconsideration on Birchwood; Cranford Will Appeal

Published: Friday, January 27, 2012, 4:39 PM Updated: Friday, January 27, 2012, 4:46 PM

By Barbara Rybolt / Independent Press

Superior Court Judge Lisa F. Chrystal issued her ruling late Thursday afternoon as to the Township of Cranford ‘s Motion for Reconsideration or Rehearing and Cranford Development Associates LLC’s Motion in Aid of Litigant’s Rights regarding the issuance of Township’s Soil Conservation Permit. After a lengthy recitation of the facts and legal arguments advanced by both parties, Judge Chrystal denied the Township’s Motion for Reconsideration or Rehearing finding, among other things, that the additional information did not rise to the level to meet the standard for requiring reconsideration or rehearing and that the environmental issues were more appropriately addressed as part of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection’s permitting process. Judge Chrystal also ordered that to the extent any future permits that the township must issue are delayed beyond any statutory or local ordinance deadline for review and issuance of permits, that the parties may apply to the Special Hearing Master, Douglas Wolfson, for his consideration as to the reason for the delay. The Special Hearing Master’s determinations are subject to appeal to the trial court. “We are disappointed by the Judge’s ruling,” Mayor David Robinson said. “One of the reasons for filing the motion for reconsideration was to have the Court consider the devastating results of Hurricane Irene, which occurred after the Judge’ initial decision in this case.” “We are in the process of revising the zoning for the property to conform with the Court’s Dec. 9, 2011 order and will adopt those changes,” Mayor Robinson continued. “Following the Court’s acknowledgement of the zoning changes and the entry of a final order by Judge Chrystal, the township will be able to file its appeal.” A written transcript of the Court’s decision was not immediately made available by the Court. The decision will be posted at the Township’s website once received. The case was argued in front of Chrystal on Friday, Jan. 20.

Cranford Township is being represented in the matter by Carella, Byrne, Cecchi, Olstein, Brody & Agnello, P.C. Chrystal had already granted a motion for the Cranford Development Associates, LLC to obtain a DEP permit to move soil at 315 Birchwood Ave. The Birchwood Avenue development case has been going on since 2008. The township has been fighting developers to stop the construction of a 360 unit residential development, which would include affordable housing. The township claims that the land should not be used for housing because it is in a flood prone area. Even though Chrystal decided in favor of the developer, Cranford Development Associates LLC, a subsidiary of the S. Hekemian Group, there are more permits to be obtained from the NJDEP. The company filed for a flood area hazard permit with the NJDEP late last year, but the application has been stalled by the Township Committee, which has argued that an official public meeting should be held over such a controversial permit application. Former Mayor Dan Aschenbach, who led many of the efforts to reach out to the NJDEP last year, said in a Township Committee meeting in December that he believes that the amount of opposition the permit faces from residents will make it difficult for the NJDEP to not hold a public meeting. The developer would have to obtain several other permits, in addition to the landfill debris removal and flood area hazard permits, before construction could begin.