After nearly three hours of public comments about the
Crossroads shopping center development, the Mahwah Planning Board approved the
Crossroads application in a 6-3 vote Monday night.
More than 100 residents attended the meeting, and dozens spoke out against the 600,000 square foot shopping center, citing concerns about traffic, safety, and quality of life issues.
After the public testimony, Planning Board member Ward Donigian moved to reject the application, which was met by applause and cheers from the crowd. Donigian, Chuck Jandris, and Jerry Crean were the only planning board members to vote in favor of the denial. During the subsequent vote to approve the shopping center’s preliminary site plan, those three were the only dissenting votes.
Many board members said they were voting in favor of the application only because they felt they had no legal basis to deny it.
“I do not want to open the town up to potential litigation,” Peter Rudolph said before voting.
“The Planning Board has listened to the concerns of this community on every aspect of this application over two years, and I believe that the original application has changed dramatically for the better,” Mayor Bill Laforet said before casting his vote.
“We have truly had a partnership in doing what we can within the confines of [Ordinance] 1684,” the township ordinance allowing for retail development on the Crossroads property surrounding the Sheraton Hotel.
The vote came after advice from board attorney Peter Scandariato that the Planning Board can only reject the application if it felt it did not comport to Ordinance 1684, which outlines the permitted use of the site, or if it felt that the ingress and egress to the site were unsafe.
Issues like whether or not the board felt this retail use was appropriate, it’s potential impact to the quality of life in Mahwah, and off-site traffic implications could not legally be the basis of a planning board site plan denial, he said.
“That is not within the jurisdiction of this board,” he said, noting that zoning decisions like that can only be made by the township council.
During his closing statement, Crossroads attorney Jim Jaworski cited the municipal land use law saying that planning boards must approve preliminary site plan applications that are in line with the ordinances governing them. He also pointed out that the developer did not request any variances, and “we believe we comport fully with Ordinance 1684, we have said that from the beginning.”
Many residents said they were disappointed in the approval, and that they felt the development will change the character of Mahwah.
“It’s a lovely beautiful mall, but it doesn’t belong here,” one resident said.
“Mahwah is Bergen County’s Parkland. That distinction goes away once you start building shopping malls.”
Resident George Scherer, who said his family has lived in the township for five generations, also asked the board to deny the plan.
“I have deep roots in this town,” he said.
“I am proud to say I am from Mahwah. Now, I’m starting to have my doubts.”
The Ordinance in question was passed by the township council in a 4-2 vote in March of 2011, after a meeting during which hundreds of residents spoke out against the project. The council later rescinded the ordinance one day after the developer submitted its application to the planning board. The back and forth led to several lawsuits that have since reinstated the Ordinance allowing for the shopping center.
Joey Bourgholtzer, who has been one of the leaders of the Stop Mahwah Mall resident group, said Monday, “I really believe that the Planning Board wants to do what’s right for Mahwah, but that you’ve had your hands tied by the council.”
Monday night’s meeting marked the 21st in a two-year long preliminary site plan hearing in front of the planning board that outlined and refined the plan for the development. According to Jaworski, the developer must now seek state approvals from the DOT and DEP before returning to the board for final site plan approval.