Transit village eyed for J&J tract

North Brunswick tells the new owner it opposes housing

Friday, February 24, 2006


Star-Ledger Staff

The Johnson & Johnson property on Route 1 is full of empty warehouses and barren parking lots, but what North Brunswick officials see is potential commerical growth.

They want shops, restaurants and offices there and, most of all, a train station for the Northeast Corridor line that runs along it -- in other words, a transit village. But the number-one thing they don't want is housing.

Last night, in the first of many planned public meetings, the property's buyer tried to convince officials and residents that housing should be built on the sprawling 220-acre tract. Municipal officials, however, seemed unreceptive.

North Brunswick TOD Associates said successful transit villages have high-density housing, and the township would get the train station if such housing were included in the plans.

"Dense transit villages mean lower taxes and more open space," TOD-hired architect, Bob Hillier of the Hillier Group in Princeton, said. "This could be a new downtown for North Brunswick."

Citing examples from Piazza San Marco in Venice to downtown South Orange, Hillier and representatives stressed that high-density housing was an important part of making a "great space."

Those who attended last night's meeting at the J&J property seemed wary and voiced concerns about higher property taxes and strained township services if high-density housing were included.

"Quite frankly, I find the housing density terrible," Donald Macpherson, a senior citizen resident, said. "I am very skeptical."

Even a real-estate agent at the meeting seemed against new housing.

"We're all scared to death of housing from that concept," Realtor and township resident Pete Maimone said. "There's absolutely no need for it. We have sufficient housing already."

Maimone added, "Kids will come. People will want to be close to the trains, and they will bring their children."

Township Council President Robert Davis echoed Maimone. "I have a big problem with high-density housing," Davis said. "School taxes will go up."

Councilwoman Catherine Nicola feared the added strain on municipal services. "It's going to be a negative," Nicola said. "We're already bursting at the seams."

She said that if the township needed housing for a transit village, she preferred it be the nearby Renaissance development to meet the requirement.

"We can build an overpass from Renaissance," she said. "The housing density is already there."

Councilman Ralph Andrews agreed with the developers that successful transit villages have housing, but said he would only allow age-restricted apartments.

NJ Transit officials said North Brunswick would need to add housing if the township wants a transit village designation from the state Department of Transportation.

"We're committed to speaking to the town and working together," John Taikina of Garden Commercial Properties, the TOD-hired planner, said. "We want to hear what people will say."

Garden Commercial Properties, based in Short Hills, incorporated to form North Brunswick TOD Associates LLC for the purpose of buying and developing the J&J property. They have not closed on the property yet.

J&J sold the tract last September to Garden Commercial after shutting down the plant in 2003.

The developer, a subsidiary of Garden Homes, is owned by the Wilf family, major contributors to the Middlesex County Democratic Organization.

Sharon Adarlo works in the Middlesex County bureau and may be reached at (732) 404-8081 or at