Zoning Board postpones Essex Green site plan vote

WEST ORANGE, NJ — The West Orange Zoning Board of Adjustment heard testimony about the revised site plan for the redevelopment of the Essex Green Shopping Center at its Dec. 20 meeting, but ultimately did not vote after deciding there would not be enough time to consider the plan at the meeting. Residents questioned the removal and replanting of trees at the site, specifically in the parking area.

Landscape architect Michael Szura of Lagan Engineering, the firm hired by shopping center owner Clarion Partners, said at the meeting the initial plan accounted for 295 trees at Essex Green.

“We were moving trees at that time and we were leaving a number of trees,” Szura said, adding that a survey of the site had been done with aerial drones and by walking the grounds. “We were moving 144, we were leaving 151 and we were transplanting zero. We showed a net additional of 26 trees, bringing the total to 321 trees.”

Following another survey of the site, Szura said the firm found trees that were missing from the initial plan. There are actually 15 more trees on the property than had been accounted for. In the revised plan that was being presented to the board, Szura said that they are planning to remove 148 trees and with the additions and transplants, the total number will be brought to 364.

Some of the trees will be in islands located in the parking lot, and Szura said the firm is only proposing deciduous — rather than evergreen — trees. Evergreen trees will be used around the perimeter of the property.

During public questioning, West Orange resident Linda Stiles asked what species of trees would be planted in the parking lot and in the surrounding areas at Essex Green. Szura said that the different types of trees will include red maple, honey locust, sweetgum, birch, eastern redbud, crabapple and cherry.

West Orange Environmental Commission Chairman Mike Brick also questioned Szura at the meeting, though he clarified that he was not representing the commission. Brick wanted to know if planting trees in the parking lot islands would stunt their growth, and not allow them to reach their full potential.

“If you keep the same size islands, wouldn’t you think you would get the same results and you would have stunted trees as they grow in the Essex Green Parking Lot environment?” Brick asked.

Szura said that he didn’t think he described trees that would be planted in the parking lot islands as “stunted.”

“The typical trees in an island may not grow to the same size as trees in larger areas and things like that, but there are a lot of factors that contribute to that so this is really only a generalization,” Szura said.

Brick then asked if the islands in the parking lot should be made larger to account for bigger trees being planted in them.

“If we wanted new trees to reach their potential growth maximum and be as effective as possible, would you say that the island should be much larger in diameter so we have healthier trees?” he asked.

Szura said it would be difficult to say because there are other variables, including species and soil, that can contribute to how large a tree grows when planted in an island.

Further testimony about the Essex Green site plan, including a traffic study that was conducted, will be heard in the future. The board next meets Jan. 17.