Mahwah’s Environmental Commission and a group of about 30 residents gathered Wednesday night to hear the results of an Environmental Impact Study on the Crossroads site prepared by Capstone Consulting, a faux firm set up by 18 Environmental Studies majors at Ramapo College.
The study, part of their final project before graduation, evaluated the current conditions at the Crossroads land, which surrounds the Sheraton Mahwah Hotel, and determined potential impacts to the area of four development options – the 600,000 square foot shopping center currently proposesd at the site, a regional hospital, a 2,000-home residential unit, and no development.
For about two-and-a-half hours, the students diagnosed potential impacts of the controversial shopping center development, and suggested ways to mitigate those effects.
The students suggested that the vertical impact of the center would not be too severe, since the proposed plans call for buildings only one story high – much shorter than the existing hotel on the lot. However, “in order to reduce the impact of the site to residents, I suggest decreasing the skylight at the Sheraton, adding lights that shine downward, not outward, and installing more, shorter light poles instead of fewer, tall ones,” student Karen Doughtery suggested. “I also feel the rear of the buildings should be given a lot of attention, because they will be what faces the West Mahwah neighborhood.” Dougherty also suggested planting vegetation to replace the 301 trees that will be cut down during the construction process. The trees, she said, should help block the visual impact of the mall to nearby residents.
Student Barbara Bodden presented a comprehensive history of the possible soil and groundwater contamination measured at the site, which is the former home to the largest Ford manufacturing plant in the US. “The site is still listed as a known contaminated site, with active contamination in the groundwater,” Bodden said. “But, as anyone who has looked at this site’s history knows, the documentation in many areas can be vague, and it is difficult to know exactly what is going on.” Bodden suggested performing “another site investigation before any construction is done” to determine whether or not soil contamination exists on the site. She also suggested that paving and depressurization apparatuses could help shield visitors to the site from any contamination that might be in the soil, or may seep into the air or buildings via a process call “vapor intrusion.” However, she said, these methods would be "temporary."
Surface Water Runoff
Because any development of the Crossroads property will increase the number of impervious surfaces on the land, students Chris Brillante and Robert Keller said there is a potential flooding impact, “specifically to homes in the West Mahwah area.” The students suggested using porous asphalt “so that water can flow through things like parking lots,” installing “green roofs,” or gardens on the rooftops of buildings in the complex, “since roofs are impervious surfaces as well,” and installing more detention basins on and off the property, “specifically where the Mahwah and Ramapo Rivers meet.”
Health and Safety
Increased traffic to the site, having only one access point to the site, and the “high volume of trucks” traveling to and past the site, “may impact emergency response times,” student Daniela Hoffner said. Evacuation in case of an emergency may lead to congestion, she said. “Some vehicles were trapped on the property last year when the site flooded [during Hurricane Irene], so the potential for emergency responders to be stuck outside and shoppers to be stuck inside is there,” she said. Hoffner recommended an on-site police or EMS force to ensure effective emergency response.
Though townships officials said the Crossroads Developer is taking on many mitigation efforts, the Environmental Commission said the students’ work will impact their recommendation to the township’s Planning Board, which is currently hearing the Crossroads application. "This presentation definitely brought up concerns to me that I want to investigate further, and will help us craft out recommendation," Environmental Commission Chair Richard Wolf said.
The Commission acts as an advisory board to the Planning Board.
Professor Mike Edelstein said he was "very proud of my students," and hopes that the Commission learned "as much from us as they learned from the opportunity to do this project." Both officials and residents thanked the students for what was widely received as a thorough presentation.