A 600,000-sq.-ft. shopping development that includes a series of small shops, a movie theater and two box stores is the ‘worst case scenario,’ Crossroads developer Tony DiGiovanni testified Monday night at the continuation of a public hearing on the Crossroads Town Center. DiGiovanni told Mahwah’s planning board and about 60 residents in the crowd Monday night that the layout being presented at the hearing – with a 20-acre parcel of land on one side of Mahwah's Sheraton Crossroads Hotel containing smaller shops and a pedestrian corridor, and a 30-acre parcel on the other side of the hotel with two big box stores and one smaller storefront – might change.
“During this preliminary hearing we are seeking approval for the worst possible scenario, for the biggest stores we would be trying to fill,” DiGiovanni said. “After we start negotiating deals with tenants whose needs may be different than what we have presented here, we will make adjustments accordingly.”
During the current hearing, which began earlier this month, the Crossroads Developer Associates are seeking preliminary approval of the roadmap for the shopping center at the intersection of Route 17 and 287. According to Crossroads attorney Jim Jaworski, once that is granted, the developer will start negotiating agreements with stores that could fill the development, and return to the planning board later for a more-specific final approval. “This is all speculative in regard to tenancy [of the storefronts],” Jaworski said.
According to the board, so long as the final plan for the development maintains the main components of the preliminarily approved site plan, slight changes can be made. DiGiovanni’s comments about the box stores were made in response to board members asking whether or not he would consider changing the inclusion of the larger retail spots. “The public outcry against this seems to be mainly concerned with the two big stores,” board member Ward Donigian said.
According to Jaworski, the plan for the shopping center is in “complete accordance” with zoning ordinance 1684, which was approved by the township council last March to outline guidelines for the development. The ordinance was later repealed by the council, but not before the developer filed a site plan with the township. “The Gospel is [ordinance] 1684,” Jaworski said. Many changes to the plan suggested by board members were “not in line” with what the land use law dictates, Jaworski said.
“The plan for this center always looked like this,” DiGiovanni said. “I think the ordinance makes it clear that the layout anticipated is for two box stores.” He also said that splitting up the square footage of the box stores into smaller shops would not necessarily reduce traffic to the site. Planning board members said the “regional draw” of the bigger box stores is the main concern of many residents.
Monday night concluded the testimony of civil engineer Michael Junghans, who responded to questions about the design elements of complex. Future sessions of the public hearing were slated to include testimonies from an architect, traffic expert and planner. After a request from township engineer Mike Kelly Monday, the hearings will also include testimony on the current environmental status of the site, and the environmental impact of the development.
At a previous portion of the hearing, the developer indicated that if any contamination is found on the site, the Ford Motor Company would be responsible for cleaning it up. Ford operated a manufacturing plant on the site until 1980. “I think we should have testimony on the environmental history of the site, if any contamination was found, how it was cleaned, and what should be done going forward,” Kelly said Monday. “Also, might we get a representative from Ford here to confirm that Ford is the responsible party, and willing to clean up any contamination that has been found?” he asked.
The board decided it would consider public documents outlining the Department of Environmental Protection prescription for any necessary environmental cleanup at the site. The developer agreed to have an environmental expert testify at a later session of the hearing. However, DiGiovanni testified that “the DEP and Ford have completed cleanups of the site, and removed all soil that did not meet the standards for commercial development.”
Planning board members and members of the public expressed concern about the environmental status of the land. “The developer says Ford is responsible for the cleanup,” resident Phyllis Stewart said. “Ford doesn’t have the best track record. We need to check this out.”