SENTINEL North Brunswick / South Brunswick
February 4, 2010
JENNIFER AMATO Staff Writer
N.B. Officials: Traffic Improvements First, Then Transit Village
Meeting to be held Feb. 11 to obtain public input
Plans for the proposed transit village and train station in North Brunswick will move forward, as long as the developer agrees to fund improvements to Route 1 and the surrounding roadways.
TOD Associates is in the planning stages to rebuild the former Johnson & Johnson property on Route 1 north by Aaron Road. The Smart Growth-centered site will feature residential, restaurant, retail, hotel and office spaces, combined with greenways, community areas and a main street, along with a train station if approvals are met.
However, the site development is contingent upon TOD Associates complying with a new zoning ordinance that the North Brunswick Township Council could introduce during its public meeting 7 p.m. Feb. 16 at the municipal building at 710 Hermann Road.
Prior to the introduction, however, there will be a special meeting for the public to offer their input and concerns 7 p.m. Feb. 11 at the township high school on Raider Road.
“The zoning would be adopted by the governing body, but the right to build is not triggered until [the developer] complies with all of the traffic and environmental standards in the plan,” North Brunswick Township Planner Thomas Vigna said. “They have to come in with a plan that meets [the zoning specifications] or they don’t have the right to build [a transit village.]”
The 212-acre property has been in discussion for about five years, with local officials hoping that the 14-mile gap between Princeton Junction and Jersey Avenue along the Northeast Corridor Line will be decreased by adding a train stop in North Brunswick.
“We think the time is right for locating a station there … and we have some Smart Growth land use surrounding it,” TOD Associates principal John Taikina said during a status meeting Jan. 29.
New zoning could allow mixed uses
The North Brunswick Township Council will consider a Transit Oriented Mixed Use Development zoning ordinance to allow for 1.2 million square feet of mixeduse zoning on the property, while adding in requirements for sustainability, mixeduse buildings, energy efficiency, pedestrian oriented designs, reserved parking for electric cars and hybrids, shared parking, and mandatory rainwater capturing and reuse.
There would have to be eclectic architecture, loft-style residences for young adults or empty nesters, a sense of community and connectivity, civic areas and green spaces.
One stipulation states there can be a limit of two one-story freestanding large retail establishments, such as a Lowe’s or a Costco. There can also be a limit of two large retail establishments that would have two to four floors of residential spaces above the retail component.
Another stipulation states that affordable housing units must be built on-site as necessary per the state requirements.
With regard to the environment, a minimum of 10 percent of all energy projected to be consumed on the tract — including energy produced by the large retail establishments — would have to be generated from renewable sources, including solar, wind or geothermal power. Potable water would be prohibited for non-potable uses. Energy-efficient lighting would be required.
Bonuses and incentives would be granted if the developer achieves LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification.
“There are forward-thinking, greenoriented standards built into this ordinance,” Vigna said.
Parking and landscaping requirements would break up large parking lot areas into more pedestrian-friendly lots, and there would be shared parking spaces based on the peak times of various uses.
Traffic improvements would be necessary
However, the most critical stipulation included in the ordinance is that the existing traffic situations at various intersections along Routes 1 and 130 would have to be improved, at a complete cost to TOD Associates. According to the zoning ordinance, the right to build would only apply if the improvements are enacted according to a traffic study completed by Maser Consulting.
“Traffic, certainly from the local perspective … is one of the primary elements of this project,” North Brunswick Director of Community Development Michael Hritz said.
“The township was very, very clear that the zoning does not happen unless the traffic works,” Taikina said. “You have the site around the center, but really you have the roadway improvements that take place around the region.”
Currently, a DOT project to widen Route 1 from Forrestal Road to Aaron Road is in the concept development phase. Gary M. Leach, the project engineer for the Central Region Division of Project Development for the New Jersey Department of Transportation (DOT), said the DOT needs to obtain environmental documents for the 8.5-mile, 13-intersection zone along Route 1, and that funding sources are needed.
In reference to Finnegans Lane, George Veverides, the Middlesex County planning director, said that Finnegans presents a bit of a “stumbling block” because of wetlands located there, but that in the future, a grade-separated overpass could be extended into the transit village and then out onto Route 130.
“Whatever improvements we can make, let’s do it now,” he suggested.
At Route 1 and Commerce Boulevard, an urban jughandle is planned. Commerce Boulevard would be widened to accommodate two left-turn lanes and two through lanes.
At Route 1 and Cozzens Lane, there would be a two-lane, two-way Arlington Bypass that would connect Cozzens Lane with the existing jughandle in order to improve queuing.
At Route 1 and Adams Lane, the Adams Lane cross section would be widened from three to six lanes. Adams Lane westbound would be widened between the train bridge and Route 1 to two lanes.
At Route 130 and Adams Lane, both directions of both Route 130 and Adams Lane would be widened. The intersection would be retimed.
Included in the $8 million TOD-funded project package are improvements required by Prestige Cos., which owns the Commerce Center along Route 1 and is seeking to build a big-box retail store, possibly a BJ’s Wholesale warehouse.
At Route 1 and Aaron Road, a reverse jughandle on the northbound side would access BJ’s, and an extended-length jughandle would help out traffic heading south.
“The intersections will work better with development than they work today,” said S. Maurice Rached, the director of transportation services for Maser.
“The key is that the township has the ability to require roadway improvements that DOT could never have required on their own, because the township council controls the zoning,” Vigna said.
The final build phase by TOD would include the construction of the train station and a park-and-ride facility, and would require additional roadwork. Grade separation will be required at Finnegans Lane, Commerce Boulevard and Cozzens Lane along Route 1. The county is currently investigating a grade-separated interchange at Finnegans Lane. Additional improvements will be required at Aaron Road and Route 1 and at Adams Lane and Route 130.
“It’s a great project. It’s evidence of forward thinking by the township. They are doing everything ahead of time,” Rached said.
“This is the answer to our traffic congestion, because without this project, these improvements would never be done,” Vigna said. “These improvements will not worsen traffic; they will improve traffic in ways that would never have been done [without the proposed development].”
However, South Brunswick Councilman John O’Sullivan voiced his concerns about the potential impact from all of the construction, saying, “I do think it’s a good idea for towns to do this, but as a town councilman, I have to look out for my own township. … We’re concerned about traffic … and I hate to rain on their parade, but this will definitely affect South Brunswick. … What about South Brunswick and our roads? … We have to study this because we have traffic problems and we know this will spill onto our side roads in South Brunswick, too.”
Securing a train station
According to Steve Santoro, assistant executive director of Capital, Planning & Programs for New Jersey Transit, “a train station could physically be located here,” but since NJ Transit only has certain rights along the Amtrak-owned Northeast Corridor Line, NJ Transit would have to receive permission first.
He said an estimated 6,000 riders is a positive asset, but that Amtrak may decide it does not want to add in an extra train stop. Also, he said it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to build a train station with a potential flyover so that trains could turn around in North Brunswick.
Yet he did say that the possibility exists of using the Conrail-owned freight track on the west side of the Northeast Corridor, if permission is granted.
“It is a significantly costly project, with benefits added to it, obviously,” Santoro said.
Paul Cohn, from the DOT’s Division of Statewide Planning, asked if a station in North Brunswick would preclude one in South Brunswick, though a definitive answer could not be given.
There was also discussion about creating a bus depot near the train station, and to possibly developing interlocal transportation efforts in the future to bring riders in from surrounding towns.
After the public comment session on Feb. 11, the council will consider introducing the zoning ordinance on Feb. 16, with possible adoption in March.
With Phase I development in mind, the next steps include identifying funding, expediting permitting for Phase I, expediting the Finnegans Lane project through the county, expediting the train station approvals. and looking toward the Route 1 Forrestal Road to Aaron Road project.
Stephen B. Pearlman, of the DeCotiis, Fitzpatrick & Cole law firm, spoke about potential funding through Economic Redevelopment Growth Grants (ERGG), under the New Jersey Economic Stimulus Act of 2009. He said the state would basically agree to take 75 percent of the state sales tax generated from the development and give it to the developer, issuing bonds prior to the project to provide funding.
“We want a transit village. We want to do the right thing. I think, for a lot of reasons, this is the right thing to do and the right place to do it,” North Brunswick Mayor Francis “Mac” Womack said.
Contact Jennifer Amato at firstname.lastname@example.org.