Borough officials said Monday that both Redevelopment Area 5 developers, along with the borough’s traffic consultant, need to work out a comprehensive study before the full impact on local traffic of development at the long-vacant, 16-acre area in the shadows of the George Washington Bridge is known.
Fort Lee Planning Board Chairman Herbert Greenberg repeated that sentiment in various ways Monday at the board’s most recent special meeting at the after a traffic consultant for Fort Lee Redevelopment Associates (FLRA) backed off his initial projections, which he based on national standards, saying they may have been as much as 20 percent “overstated.”
“I think you agree with our expert [Scott Parker of Jacobs Engineering Group], and we’re going to get Tucker [Development] to agree that we’re going to do a total evaluation—combined—to see what the total impact of what this development is,” Greenberg said to FLRA’s attorney, James Demetrakis. “We appreciate your position; we appreciate what you have to get done. But we have to take into consideration for this community the total impact of what’s going to occur.”
Demetrakis said he had traffic consultant Kenneth Mackiewicz conduct a survey at Mediterranean North and South “to provide additional testimony to the board regarding the amount of traffic generated at peak hours of the morning and afternoon.”
Demetrakis’s reasoning was that the two buildings comprise 485 residential units each, a similar number to the total amount of units FLRA is proposing for its two 47-story towers on the East parcel of Redevelopment Area 5.
He said the surveys were conducted last Thursday from 6:30 to 9:30 a.m. and from 4 to 7 p.m., and on Saturday from 12 to 3 p.m.
Mackiewicz said the survey was necessitated because the “accuracy or legitimacy of the [Institute of Traffic Engineers, or ITE] trip generation” numbers he presented at a previous meeting, when he said that the increase in traffic volume, or the number of vehicles on the road, during rush hour would be from two to eight percent at five different intersections in the area, were called into question.
“Based on the actual surveys of what we observed in and out [of the Mediterranean Towers], in looking at the peak hours versus what we have used in our traffic studies, we find that the actual trip generation for those facilities are approximately 20 percent less across the board,” Mackiewicz said. “The point is that the trip generations used in our analysis of the North and South towers [of the proposed Center at Fort Lee] is overstated by approximately 20 percent compared to the Mediterranean Towers.”
Mackiewicz went on to argue that “if anything,” with mostly two- and three-bedroom units at the Mediterranean Towers, “you would think trip generation there would be higher than we would envision in [FLRA’s proposed] studio and one-bedroom complex.”
“We probably have overstated the traffic generation associated with these towers,” Mackiewicz concluded.
Parker concurred that Mackiewicz’s new estimates were most likely accurate, saying “they are standard; they are typical for these types of studies.”
But he also said, “Obviously, you can’t study something you haven’t built yet,” and that additional, more comprehensive studies are needed.
“Trip generation speaks only to the volume of traffic entering and exiting the development,” Parker said. “It says nothing about the impact that it may or may not impart on the surrounding residential area.”
More than one Fort Lee resident questioned whether FLRA had looked at the potential differences in demographics between the Mediterranean Towers and those proposed at Redevelopment 5.
“Most of the people who are in those buildings are seniors,” Fort Lee resident Tom Bennett pointed out. “Have you taken that into consideration? Because the new buildings here, I think they’re going to be new people and young people—not seniors.”
Demetrakis acknowledged that the Mediterranean buildings house a lot of seniors, but he also said that “seniors have been turning over in those buildings,” and that he “would not characterize the entire building” that way.
“We can’t tell you what the demographics are going to be—whether it’s going to be a range of younger people, seniors, people that are selling their homes, people that want to move into the area,” Demetrakis said. “It’s speculation on our part.”
Board member Janet Cooney also pointed out that the ITE, a national standard used to study traffic patterns, “doesn’t take into account having a facility like the George Washington Bridge right there.”
“It is an average throughout the country,” Cooney said.
Greenberg said the board is also “very concerned” about the “additional impact of Tucker,” the developer of the West parcel of Redevelopment Area 5, whose recently submitted plans are still being reviewed by borough officials, but are thought to include about 475 additional residential units, about 175,000 square feet of retail space, a hotel and a movie theater.
“They’re in a different location than [FLRA],” Greenberg said of Tucker’s West parcel. “They’re coming off Lemoine; they’re going into Main Street.”
Greenberg added, “So before we can approve anything we’ve got to come to an agreement [among the two developers and Parker].”
“[We will get] a real survey together—jointly—so we get an overall picture,” he said. “Otherwise this board can’t make an intelligent evaluation. We’ll all sit down together, and we’ll get a total picture.”
The Planning Board will hold at least one more special meeting before voting on whether to approve FLRA’s proposed project. That meeting is scheduled for Monday, March 12, at 7:30 p.m. at the community center.