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Whole Foods Raises Traffic, Other Concerns, Residents Say

Disputed Waterview Plaza proposal continues to be met with resistance from neighbors.

Testimony on the disputed Waterview Plaza development proposal—which would bring a Whole Foods Market to Parsippany—continued before the Parsippany Township Planning Board at the municipal building Monday night.

Before the board is a plan for a mixed-use 26-acre development for retail stores including the high-end natural-foods market and 72 upscale three-story townhomes to appear in or near 2015 on Route 46 across from the Parsippany Police headquarters. The land in question is the last undeveloped piece of the 132-acre plot that stands between Route 46 and Iintervale Road.

The Nov. 19 Planning Board meeting served as round one in what looks likely to become a long-lasting, acrimonious slugfest between developer RD Realty LLC and Intervale area residents, who turned out en masse to stand against the proposal.

The area, zoned for office development (which will require an approval to become an overlay zone to allow mixed use) has been targeted for development in the past as a combination retail/residential project and as an office complex. Both plans were shot down due to resident backlash.

Another full house of citizens greeted the board Monday night for what turned out to be a brutal round two, with many if not most in the audience hoping to see this plan, like its predecessors, fall to defeat. 

Testimony resumed with traffic engineer John Meyer, who described proposed traffic improvements to the area while answering resident complaints regarding protecting accessibility for those who live in the area.

Among the ideas proposed in what Meyer called merely a "concept plan" at this stage of the process, included blocking Forest Drive to through traffic; widening left-turn lanes; and creating U-turns, cul de sacs and hammerhead turns to control traffic flow. 

Meyer also mentioned the proposed addition of a pedestrian walkway from Waterview Boulevard to Route 46.

Most in the audience reacted harshly to the ideas, with people snorting derisively, laughing or shouting out comments to criticize the engineer's statements.

Meyer maintained throughout that traffic and engineering studies show the project to be a viable one, however, it did not appear that residents found his testimony credible.

One area of contention dealt with the idea of traffic flow.

"We found the peak for retail [traffic] would be in the evenings between 4-6 p.m. and Saturdays between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. That's when the heaviest traffic is," Meyer testified. "In the morning between 7 and 9, there wouldn't be much traffic. On Saturday, traffic is very, very low, in connection with offices on Waterview Boulevard, and that's the heaviest time for retail."

He added that the traffic plans would have to win the approval of the state Department of Transportation.

"Overall we believe this site is ideally situated," Meyer said, describing the project as being upscale and high-end and having "very tastefully done" signage. "It's not very often that you have a shopping center in an area where you would have office space. ... Retail and residential access and traffic would be totally separate."

The engineer added that the developer is working to meet the township's requirements and to "answer the comments of our neighbors." 

The Planning Board had a number of questions for Meyer.

Gordon Meth, the board's traffic engineer criticized the developer's plan to create cul de sacs around the Waterview area to control access.

"There's about 150 homes back there," Meth warned. "I wouldn't recommend closing any egress or access back there."

He noted that a downed power line could create serious difficulty for residents during an emergency situation. He added that a number of the roads involved are in Mountain Lakes, making enforcement of traffic rules troublesome.

When the public was given an opportunity to question the engineer, Board Chair Kaushik "Casey" Parikh delivered a stern warning.

"Questions only are allowed, no comments," he said. "There will be a chance for comments later, but if you comment now, I will have to stop you."

Queries covered traffic particulars and parking, and there were numerous attempts by residents to trip the engineer up on surprise questions or by giving him questions better suited to the developer's architect, who has yet to testify.

In one series of questions, resident Alison Bavas asked the engineer about traffic analysis.

"Did you look at the school times for drop-off and pick-up of buses?" she asked.

"That was included in our counts between 4 and 6 p.m.," Meyer replied.

"School lets out before 4," Bavas said, having landed an apparent "gotcha." "Buses were not included."

Then she switched to the developer's stated plan to have 50 feet of evergreen buffer between existing residences and the development.

"Did you take into account the bears that would be displaced and where they were going to go?"

The engineer conceded he had not.

Some residents applauded Bavas' efforts.

Another resident later asked about deer, foxes, turkeys and other wildlife. Meyer had to admit that he wasn't the expert who could deal with that topic.

Resident Ken Yarama couched a comment within a question. He asked about plans to construct sidewalks leading down Waterview Boulevard and allowing pedestrians to cross Route 46, and then brought up a traffic situation in another part of town.

"We've had problems with accidents at Beverwyck Road and Route 46," he said. "It's a very dangerous game to play where you have pedestrians trying to cross Route 46. Have you studied that aspect of the serious nature of pedestrians trying to cross Route 46 given the volume of traffic?"

"Pedestrian safety has been studied," Meyer countered. "That's all part of our final plan, which would have to be approved."

Resident Eileen White asked Meyer to define "department store."

"It's a store that offers a variety of goods for purchase," the engineer replied.

"What kind are you contemplating?" White demanded, wanting to know the identity of an unnamed store that reportedly has a signed lease to operate as part of the Waterview development. "Is it Target? Is it Macy's?"

"I am not at liberty to indicate that information," he said.  "That will be divulged as soon as it's completed."

Meyer added that he does not know the name of the department store.

Hoots from the audience indicated that many did not believe that statement. Rumors have swirled that Target is the mystery merchant that would serve as an anchor for the retail portion of the development along with high-end Whole Foods Market.

Resident Nancy Choffo asked about the stores' potential impact on Sunday traffic.

"I assume they will meet all requirements of law," said Meyer. "We assume Sunday will be the lightest [in terms of traffic]."

"Right," Choffo noted with a bit of sarcasm. "Because people aren't shopping in a shopping center on Saturday and Sunday."

She continued onward.

"Has anyone contacted the [Environmental Protection Agency] regarding runoff for the brook that runs behind Forest Avenue?"

Meyer said the the brook was not a tributary.

"Runoff will go south toward Route 46," he said, adding that the water would wend its way to stone water detention basins. "Runoff will be no greater than before development."

Choffo didn't buy that answer.

"I looked it up," she said. "Mercury and water runoff from high traffic areas. The brook is already contaminated to some degree. You're guaranteeing no widlife will be impacted?"

"With respect to drainage, ours will be going in the opposite direction," the engineer maintained. "There are no wildlife impacts with the Troy Brook Tributary. We will get clearance on that issue from an investigation by the state Department of Environmental Protection." 

Resident Robert Sudol took issue with the proposed 50-foot buffer.

"Why did that go down from 300 feet when I bought the property 13 years ago, and then it was reduced to 200 when development was tried years ago and now 50," he said. 

Despite being pummeled with questions and gotcha attempts, Meyer stood firm in his defense of the proposal "based on my experience of 50 years."

"Nothing is absolutely guaranteed, but i feel confident," he said.

Then a question sailed from the audience: "So there's no guarantee?" 

Nancy Brighton, representing the Historic Preservation Committee, asked about the potential impact of land disturbance on adjacent historic homes and a tiny historic cemetery in the area.

Attorney Robert Garofalo indicated that the question needed to go to the architect.

The lawyer asked for the testimony to be carried to the Dec. 17 Planning Board meeting to allow the developer's architect to come and deal with appropriate questions that could not be handled by the traffic engineer.

Chairman Parikh agreed and said the matter would begin again on the 17th. The board voted to adjourn.

Nancy Choffo spoke for her fellow residents: "We don't want this." 

"I am sure there is some fact buried in what the traffic expert said," noted resident David Kaplan. "But they are not taking into account that people will ultimately find shortcuts ...when traffic builds and those shortcuts will be through our neighboroods seven days a week.

"We're going to have to find a balance that neighbors can live with. Right now, there is no balance, it's what [the developer wants]."

Resident Phil Kornreich agreed, pointing to resident concerns over buffering, density, noise pollution, light pollution, traffic and a sense that those who live in the Intervale area aren't being taken seriously.

"This clearly would change our quality of life," insisted Kaplan. "Until we can find a balance, an impact that's less egregious, we're going to keep packing the room until they listen to us."

Patch attempted to ask Parsippany Mayor James Barberio, who attended the meeting, his thoughts on what the proposal could mean in terms of economic development for the town. He declined to comment.

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