Professor: Transit village would be a tax boon
Study concludes project would draw relatively few school-age children
January 18, 2007
BY JENNIFER AMATO
NORTH BRUNSWICK - The proposed transit village for the 212-acre former Johnson & Johnson site on Route 1 could produce a net fiscal surplus of $10.4 million per year for the town, according to the co-director of the Center for Urban Policy Research at Rutgers University.
Dr. David Listokin presented a fiscal impact study he compiled over the past four months, part of a two-year study commissioned by the U.S. Department of Community Affairs Office of Smart Growth, during a public workshop meeting held at the J&J site on Jan. 11. He discussed how a small-scale housing complex combined with a train station, restaurants, a hotel, a community center and various other amenities would be beneficial to residents in town.
"Transportation access is important, and more important in an era where gasoline is $3 or $2.50 [per gallon]," Listokin said. "Empirical evidence and common sense tells you that a train station is good in terms of desirability in a community with access to a train station."
The former J&J site, which is currently owned by North Brunswick TOD Associates, has an assessed value of about $42 million. The existing development generates approximately $1.7 million annually in property taxes but is expected to increase the local tax base by between $366 million and $875 million when the transit village is completed, according to the study.
The increased municipal tax base, increased revenue flow and limited impact on municipal services would be, according to Listokin's analysis, most efficient in a small-scale, three- or four-story building complex, yielding 4.5 million square feet of space. He compared the statistics to that of a medium, four- or five-story complex and to a large, six- to nine-story complex; despite the large scale bringing in the most revenue, the housing component does not seem to be suitable to the wishes of North Brunswick residents, who are in favor of little housing with a low school impact.
As per current design, scenario "Small B" will have 580,000 square feet of space for the main street, 610,000 square feet of office space, and 3.3 million square feet of space for housing, which equals about 3,000 units. The duplex lofts, loft flats, senior condos and rental flats are meant to attract young professionals or older empty nesters, thus limiting the impact of school-age children.
He showed in his study that a field investigation of 10 transit-oriented developments (TODs) with 2,200 housing units found they contained about 50 public school-age children, or a multiplier of .02 per housing unit. A residential unit that is not transit-oriented uses a multiplier of .14, equaling about 300 children of the same age.
"The short answer is, there aren't many school-age children in TODs," Listokin said. "When you're building four stories over commercial, you're just not going to generate a lot of schoolchildren."
He also showed that the current school enrollment in town is 5,500 pupils while capacity is for 4,400 students, but that in the 2008-09 school year, using the latest projection by the Board of Education, the school enrollment would be 6,000 students with a capacity for 5,700 once the necessary additions at the schools are completed.
Thus, there would be only 250 students over capacity in two years versus about 1,000 now; however, Listokin said, there is still more enrollment than capacity. Also, it is important to note that the build-out is not expected for another seven to 10 years, at least, and that a new school would most likely be necessary.
According to Listokin, two-thirds of the property tax rate in North Brunswick is designated to the school district. Of the $39 million municipal budget, 55 percent is paid by property taxes, and of the $78 million school budget, 85 percent is funded by property taxes.
However, due to new Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) regulations, for every eight new housing units or 25 new jobs created in a town, one affordable unit must be constructed; therefore, housing cannot be completely avoided. The existing zoning of the site requires 270 additional housing units whereas "Small B" would require about 340 units.
Despite his complete analysis, Listokin stressed that a fiscal impact analysis is one of many impact assessments that include environmental, quality-of-life and traffic studies. He also said his work provides an estimate of effects since there are a lot of uncertainties and the plan is still in its early design phases.
"Tonight is the start of what will be a continued investigation … and there will always be refinements made," he said.
The next public workshop is scheduled tonight from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the Yellowbird Reception Center on the property. The traffic impacts will be discussed by resource team member Daniel DiSario. For more information visit www.ourtowncenter.info.