SENTINEL North Brunswick / South Brunswick

Front Page
February 21, 2008


N.B. station viable with or without MOM line
Town still moving toward rail line and transit village on Rt. 1 north

NORTH BRUNSWICK - In the past year since community workshops were held to discuss redeveloping the former Johnson & Johnson property on Route 1, progress has been made in possibly securing a train station and transit village on the site.

The 212-acre former laboratory campus is now owned by North Brunswick TOD Associates, a subsidiary of Garden Commercial Properties. In 2006 and 2007, company representatives held 10 seminars to ask residents what they wanted to see on the property. Components of a transit village included a train station, bus depot, community center, library, teen center, residential units, hotel, restaurants and shops.

Since then, the township has moved a few steps closer to securing a train station on the premises, which is essential to the rest of the proposed development.

On Dec. 17, the council passed a resolution in support of a rail line "as a regional multimodal transportation hub … provided existing roadway infrastructures and traffic bottlenecks are sufficiently expanded and improved." The document states the complex would "encourage compact, mixed-use development with access to mass transit" and supports the ideals of Smart Growth to "promote transit villages as a viable alternative to suburban sprawl that consumes open spaces, increases congestion and contributes to air pollution."

The resolution states that New Jersey Transit has been studying a location in southern Middlesex County for a new rail station, and that only 8 percent of residents currently commute to work by mass transit, although New Jersey transit ridership grew by 6.8 percent to 74 million riders, thus necessitating a growing demand for mass transit.

Jonathan Frieder, the managing partner for TOD Associates, said that 6,000 riders each day would use the new North Brunswick line because of parking constraints, a lack of seating during peak hours, and limited space on the platforms at existing stations. He said commuters could come from South Brunswick, Cranbury, East Brunswick, Franklin, Jamesburg, Monroe and Montgomery, with 2,100 stemming from the transit village and 1,048 coming from North Brunswick.

"There is a lot of latent demand for ridership on the Route 1 New Jersey Transit corridor line," he said.

He said that these numbers were calculated with or without the proposedMonmouth Ocean-Middlesex rail line, which could run through the Monmouth Junction section of South Brunswick.

"If the MOM line leaves Middlesex out of the equation, this becomes even more of an imperative to give New Jersey more of a transit opportunity," Frieder said. "Either way, it is imperative, with or without the MOM line. … The 6,000 riders assumed the MOM line, so without the MOM line [ridership] would be higher."

Garnering support from the state

According to Frieder, the model for the proposed transit village has been viewed by every agency in the state, including the Governor's Office, and has been featured at various presentations and seminars.

TOD also met with the New Jersey Office of Smart Growth's Development Opportunities InterAgency Team in April. Frieder said TOD Associates explained how the site is appealing to NJ Transit and the Office of Smart Growth because of the friendly land use; to the Office of Economic Growth because of its attractiveness to companies; to the Office of Clean Energy because of the underwritten costs of solar panels and other energy-saving measures that could be implemented; and to the Council on Affordable Housing and Workforce Housing because of the residential units.

He said TOD also discussed the structural solutions a transit village would bring, because roadways would have to be improved before the center is developed, and the importance of the project from a statewide point of view, because of the lower costs available for the young workforce who can avoid driving to work and who will have their needed amenities within walking distance.

"By investing in transit, they get all this other stuff the state is interested in," Frieder said. "They all love this idea of marrying land use and transit investment."

The Department of Transportation would have to put money back into infrastructure projects to correct the existing intersections at Route 1 and Finnegans Lane, Route 1 and Cozzens Lane, Route 130 and Adams Lane, Route 130 and Renaissance Boulevard East, Route 130 and Apple OrchardRoad, and possiblyBlackHorse Lane's connection toRoute 130, before pursuing the construction of the village, Frieder said.

"We think that not only does the station in North Brunswick provide a return on investment to North Brunswick and provide ridership, but it also provides a return on the investment to the state of New Jersey," he said.

Environmental concerns

Referring to the environment, Frieder said the project will take great strides in reducing the amount of energy generated. He said the property will have over 100 acres of green space and pedestrian walkways, thus enhancing the focus of making points of interest walkable. He would like the use of solar power and geothermal energy to power facilities.An innovative rainwater collection system will use and recycle water off rooftops in order to reduce potable water by 50 percent and instead use the rain to irrigate plants or flush toilets.

Also in relation to environmental concerns, Johnson & Johnson operated a manufacturing and research facility in North Brunswick for more than 50 years, until it ceased operations in 2004 and was sold in 2006, but "Johnson and Johnson's products were all non-hazardous, so thatmakes for a great opportunity for redevelopment," he said.TODAssociateswill also host the "Growing Cooler: The Evidence on Urban Development and Climate Change" seminar, which will present a study about how to use land properly while considering the effects of global warming. The presentation will focus on comprehensive studies published by the Urban Land Institute.

Moving forward

Despite the difficulties that are being faced, Frieder believes the town of North Brunswick is setting a good course for moving toward a rail station. The challengewe don't have to overcome is anyone thinks this is a bad ideas, as far as we've heard," he said. "The hurdle is that this is a huge investment for the state of New Jersey."

Last April, TOD Associates submitted a packet to the North Brunswick Township Council and Planning Board containing a Draft Zoning Regulations & Design Standards document intended to be used as the potential framework for discussions that would enable a resolution to approve a transit village.

The next step is for the town to hire a consultant to evaluate the various studies, forNJ Transit to produce amore detailed design, and for NJ Transit to engage the Department of Transportation in their analysis of what roadway improvements can be completed, Frieder said.

"Whatwon't be tolerated is to create traffic problems," he said.

There is also a link on the company'sWeb sitewhere residents can be a "five-second advocate," according to Frieder, and add their name to a prewritten statement in support of the project that will be sent to the governor and state agencies. He said 500 messageswere sent out in the firstweek and 100 messages have been sent each month since December.

"At the end of 2007, therewasn't anybody at any level in the state government who knows about this that hasn't focused the spotlight on this opportunity for the state of New Jersey," Frieder said.

There is no set timetable for when any of the necessary steps will be completed.
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