Board Plans For Its Own Traffic Study Before Crossroads Hearing
Public hearing moved to January
The Crossroads Town Center site application will not be seen before Mahwah’s Planning Board or the public until January 23. In an anticipated move, Crossroads attorney Jim Jaworski requested a continuance to reschedule the application’s public hearing, which was originally slated for Monday night’s planning board meeting.
The first public hearing on the site plan for the 750,000 square-foot shopping center development planned for the intersection of Routes 17 and 287 was supposed to be Monday night, in compliance with the 95-day legal limit from when the developer filed a site plan with the township. Jaworski asked for the extension into the new year for two reasons, he said.
First, he said the board could wait until after the January reorganization meeting, when new planning board members may be appointed by newly elected mayor Bill Laforet, who was in attendance Monday night at his first planning board meeting as mayor.
Second, Jaworski said the extra time would give the developers time to make “minor adjustments” to the site plan and resubmit it to the township engineer and other professionals for review. Jaworski said the amendments to the site plan would be based on the mostly technical comments made by the township engineer Mike Kelly of Boswell Engineering in a “thoughtful 11-page review” he completed of the original Crossroads application.
When prompted by Councilman and Planning Board Liaison Chuck Jandris, Jaworski said the “minor modifications have nothing to do with [the application's] completeness review.” Jaworski said the changes that will be made will be minor, and only in response to commentary made by Kelly in his professional review. He said the changes will not be significant enough to necessitate a new application submission.
The crowd in attendance was not satisfied with Jaworski's explanation of the potential changes to the site plan, which the lawyer said his client would be able to resubmit to township professionals by the end of this week.
Though there was a period for audience members to speak to the board about midway through the meeting, the floor was not reopened to the public after Jaworski's presentation had been made. Committee to Stop Mahwah Mall member Susan Chin got up to address the board after it had adjourned, saying she felt that it was “very rude” of the board to not allow the public to comment or ask questions about what had happened before the close of the meeting.
“Who is to say or to verify that the changes being made to the application are not significant enough to change it into a separate application?” Chin asked as bboard and audience members were leaving their seats. Chairman John Brotherton told Chin that public questions and commentary on the Crossroads application would be best suited for the public hearing beginning January 23.
Kelly is expected to reexamine the adjusted application before the January hearing.
Board member Todd Sherer asked that the board hire its own traffic and economic impact experts to conduct studies about the possible impacts of the development before that time. These studies would be in addition to those supplied by the developer in the site plan. Jandris added a request for an environmental impact study, as well.
“I really think we should have our own [studies],” Sherer said.
According to Jaworski, the developer has filled an escrow account with $128,000 to be spent on professional review services hired by the board. The board requested Kelly return to the December meeting with names of experts outside of those already working for the township who could conduct the additional studies. The board said it would like to start those studies before the scheduled January hearing.
It was estimated that a traffic impact study would take about a month to complete, and an economic impact study about a week.
Once the new hearing begins, the board said it legally has 95 days to reach a decision on the application. Several board members expressed concern about the short deadline, however Planning Board attorney Peter J. Scandariato said it is a common practice, especially with complex applications like Crossroads, for boards to request extensions from developers.
While the developer does have the ability to deny the request, Scandariato said it is usually not in its best interest to do so, because the board can subsequently reject the application if it feels it did not have enough time or enough information to make a decision.