A Ramapo College class’s environmental impact study of the proposed Crossroads Town Center shopping development may have big-time ramifications. The senior Environmental Studies students are in the midst of compiling a report that examines the potential socio-economic, ecological, and physical impacts the 600,000-square-foot development might have on the surrounding area and greater Mahwah community.
After a progress report the students presented to four members of the township’s environmental commission Thursday, committee members say their work could have a real impact on the developer’s application.
“I think the students are definitely bringing up points and areas of concern that we did not previously consider,” Environmental Commission Vice Chair Dan Weixeldorfer, who also serves on the township’s planning board, said. “I absolutely think that this project might probe us to ask for some additional information from the developer.”
The Crossroads developer is in the middle of a public hearing in front of the planning board on the site plans for the development, which include a lifestyle, pedestrian-friendly shopping center, two big box stores, and a movie theater.
The Environmental Assessment class’s professor, Dr. Mike Edelstein, and college President Peter Mercer, worked with the township to have the students conduct the study. They plan to present their final findings and conclusions to the Commission in May. The Commission will then act as an advisory body to the Planning Board.
When the project was initially announced, officials said the eight-credit project was part of an effort to strengthen the relationship between the college and the township. Edelstein said the project is a “win-win,” because students get first-hand experience and the township gets an objective researcher looking at the application.
Edelstein said his senior students always examine a real-world application for their year-end project, but that he was “very happy” to be involved with this project in Mahwah. “We are hoping that by the end of this, both the township and the developer will learn from the students’ work, and it will lead to a better application for both,” he said.
According to Edelstein, students have pointed out several areas of concern that he thinks might cause township officials to question the current site plan:
- The amount of traffic the mall will generate. “The traffic studies we have seen presented to the planning board so far are of an extremely limited scope,” Edelstein said. “The students are examining traffic data that already exists for both the Crossroads area [at the intersection of Routes 17 and 287], and traffic data collected at other area shopping centers.” According to the professor, “a more comprehensive study needs to be done.”
- The remnants of contamination on the site from the Ford Plant. “We have one student looking at what we know about what is still left on the site from the Ford days, and we are finding that it is very ambiguous,” Edelstein said. “Ford left an extremely complicated legacy that needs to be investigated.”
- The potential air pollution caused by the increase in traffic. “Air pollution impacts are not usually studied with an application like this, but we have a student looking into that. Why shouldn’t that be something the board considers?” Edelstein asked.
- The environmental impact on the existing wetlands immediately surrounding development site.
- The design of the complex. “We will not be making suggestions for alternative designs for the shopping center, but we hope that the work we do will get the developer and town thinking in new ways,” Edelstein said. During the preliminary presentation Thursday, students and professor discussed the potential for the layout of the mall to be flipped. “If the back of the mall were the front, the development would be able to actually embrace being on the Ramapo River, and have residents really be able to take part in the community-center aspect of this,” he said.
After Thursday’s presentation, Weixeldorfer said there are a lot of things he is anxious to hear more about at the final presentation. “For example, the students mentioned finding documents that cite open requests from the DEP to Ford to clear up some issues on the site. The DEP asked Ford to do it in 2008 and 2011, and there is still no evidence that the work has been done,” he said. “These are things that I didn’t know, but I think will be very helpful moving forward.”
Edelstein said that although, “this is student work, and can’t be used without verification, I think it will do a good job of suggesting which areas of this plan need some further verifying.”
Weixeldorfer said he hopes the students can make a presentation of their finalized findings in May to the planning board, which is hearing the Crossroads application, in addition to the environmental commission. “I think it’d be a great opportunity for the students to see what going into this field would really be like, and they’ll present information that I think the board would like to know.”
The Crossroads hearing in front of the township planning board continues Monday, April 23.