About 90 residents gathered Monday night to watch the Crossroads Developer make its initial presentation to the township’s planning board in a public hearing on the proposed development that is expected to last at least several months. The developer is planning to build a 600,000-square-foot retail development surrounding the Sheraton Mahwah Hotel off Route 17.
At the hearing, civil engineer Michael Junghans began a series of testimonies – which will include others from an architect, traffic expert and planer at future meetings - on behalf of the developer. Junghans laid out a more-detailed presentation of what the “Crossroads Town Center” will look like, and answered questions on the development from township engineers and planners, planning board members, and members of the public.
The development, according to Crossroads attorney Jim Jaworski, “is, we believe, completely in accordance with [zoning] ordinance 1684.” That was the land use law in place when the developer submitted the site plan currently under review. The ordinance allowed for retail uses, but with certain specifications that “are reflected in the plan,” Jaworski said.
The development has become complex because five months after Mahwah’s town council passed the ordinance, it passed another one disallowing retail at the site. The Crossroads developer submitted the plans for the new shopping complex the day before the council reversed its zoning decision.
According to Junghans, the development can be divided into two distinct sections, a north side and the south side, which will be built on opposing ends of the traffic circle currently in front of the Sheraton. The north side is what Junghans called “pedestrian-friendly with a village or main street feeling,” that is “very walkable.” It contains a 3,000-seat (10 screen) movie theater, several smaller boutiques, shops and restaurants, and one 50,000-sq.-foot larger store. The area is connected by sidewalks, and walking and sitting areas.
The south side is made up of two “big box” stores, of 136 and 147,000-sq.-feet, and two smaller locations, around 26 and 52,000-sq.-feet.
The rear of the property, which borders the Ramapo River, would be turned into a “passive recreation” nature trail, and an athletic field would also be added toward the rear of the site.
According to Jaworski, the specific tenants who would inhabit all of the stores and restaurants have not yet been determined. Several specific factors of the development, such as delivery procedures, hours of operation, trash and recycling procedures, and others, will not be determined until tenancy is secured, he said.
The plan proposes to eliminate the current access road from Route 17 to the traffic circle in front of the Sheraton, and replace it with two others. The three-lane circle will remain the main roadway in the development, and drivers will access the shops and facilities from streets coming off the circle.
The development also includes several detention basins and other water drainage systems designed to manage stormwater drainage. According to Junghans, flooding conditions “will actually be better than they are now” because the water management system would have less water flowing off of the site than currently does. “Water would be retained and then released at a later time,” he said.
The board brought up several concerns about the layout of the development, including the practicality and functionality of an athletic field behind a retail development. According to Jaworski, the field is a requirement of the land ordinance, so moving it to another part of town isn’t an option, unless a change is made to the law.
Board members also questioned whether or not there would be enough parking for moviegoers. According to Tony DiGiovanni, the site’s developer, it is required by the land ordinance to have one space per every 12 seats in the theater, which he said is a “low standard.” The proposed plan has incorporated one spot per every 7.5 seats.
DiGiovanni also said “an agreement could be arranged” to have overflow parkers from the theater park in the existing three-story garage that serves the hotel. However, board members questioned the viability of that plan.
Councilman and Planning Board member Chuck Jandris cited concerns about the box stores fitting in to the rest of the development’s design. “By the definition of what this is supposed to be in the ordinance, it is supposed to be a place families and individuals can go to have choices of fun, safe things to do,” he said. “The north end [with a movie theater, restaurants and small shops] fits that definition. But, I don’t see how two box stores are family friendly centers of the community.”
When Jandris asked if the developer would consider removing the “big box” component of the plans, Jaworski explained that the box stores are permitted under the zoning ordinance.
Members of the Committee to Stop Mahwah Mall, a citizen group who has been working to stop the development since Ordinance 1684 was approved almost a year ago, asked the board Monday night to refuse to hear the application, which is currently the subject of several pending litigations.
The board explained at previous meetings that it would hear the application outside of any decisions made in superior or state court. If a court decision affects the hearing, “then we react at that point,” board attorney Peter Scandariato said.
After about three hours of testimony and a half hour of public questioning, the first night of the hearing came to a close. It will pick up again at 7 p.m. February 27.