J&J site owners hold first hearing
Say town center could become a new focal point in N.B
March 2, 2006
BY JENNIFER AMATO
The future is now for the Johnson & Johnson property.
North Brunswick TOD Associates, the contract purchasers of the 212-acre site on Route 1, presented their first workshop Feb. 23 to discuss the redevelopment options of the property.
“One of the things we’re committed to is doing this a little differently,” said John Taikina, director of planning and development. “We want to know what North Brunswick wants in its new town center.”
More than 80 residents and township officials attended the discussion on smart growth redevelopment and the possibility of a transit village on the site.
J. Robert Hillier, a principal of Hillier Architecture of Princeton, said that in order to build a design, clients are needed, and that North Brunswick has become his client.
“Just imagine you’ve got a big hump of clay and it’s very soft. That’s where we are today, a big chunk of clay that’s 212 acres. … We’re not going to bake it until you feel you’ve had the right amount of input and feel it is the right thing for you to endorse,” he said.
Based on his own personal experience growing up in Cranbury, Hillier said that a town center is an essential focal point in a town such as North Brunswick. He cited Palmer Square in Princeton, Piazza Navona in Rome, Italy, and Addison, Texas, as appropriate, comparable landmarks.
“At the end of the day it’s about green space, about open space and about saving land,” he said, adding that saving time, money and fuel are essential as well.
Hillier said that although after World War II zoning and planning laws separated towns into residential areas, big box stores, power centers, theme parks, industrial parks and office parks, there is a need now to create a sense of community in town. He also focused on the desirability and financial rewards a transit village could reap.
“Fifty percent of the total tax revenue in Arlington County comes from 7 percent of the county land,” he said, referring to a transit hub in Virginia.
Jack Kanarek, the senior director of project development at NJ Transit, expanded on the idea, saying that the 14-mile gap between Princeton Junction and Jersey Avenue is the longest distance between stations on the Northeast Corridor line.
“It just seems to make sense that this area with a lot of development and a large area should have a station,” he said.
Although there is no guarantee that North Brunswick would receive such a station, Kanarek said the application process would be worthwhile.
“It’s not just about the transportation. It’s about creating a place people are comfortable in.”
Creating a mixed-use environment would allow a commuter facility to be surrounded by an array of residential, retail, office, civic, cultural and recreational areas. He stressed that transportation accessibility improves mobility while convenient transit options increase property values, therefore creating an economically viable and developmentally sustainable environment.
“We think this is a terrific opportunity to start from scratch and provide something the community will be proud of … and that will add to our state and, of course, the community,” he said.
Dianne Brake, the president of the Regional Planning Partnership, gave an outsider’s perspective, exploring the way land development or conservation affects the surrounding residents.
“I think the future is one of the hardest things for people to imagine. It is certainly one of the hardest things for a planner to do. You have to connect the future with the past,” she said.
Brake admitted to overdevelopment and said that “nobody thought about building out happening so soon,” but recognized that this particular parcel of land has great opportunities.
“You have to think about how adding to the landscape will add to the community,” she said, adding that development can greatly enhance quality of life.
However, opinions were varied after the presentations, creating a slew of concerns for the development team.
“I think whatever comes forward from this project has to consider the transit concerns as well as the open space concerns,” North Brunswick resident Louise Mowder said.
“It’s no secret, we’re all scared to death of the housing element of this concept,” North Brunswick resident Pete Maimone said.
Yet the planners insisted that car traffic would decrease because of the site’s proximity to local neighborhoods, and that living there would bring vitality to the property.
“Wake up, people,” said Don Whitcomb, president of one of the homeowners associations at the neighboring Renaissance development. “Your neighbors are going to Jersey Avenue, Hamilton and Princeton Junction to take the train. Route 1 is designed for this. … We have the place; Renaissance is behind it because you need it for density, and it works for the community.”
Despite the concerns of high-density housing, traffic, increased school population and lack of police force as components of the equation, Taikina stressed that the meeting was only the first step in a long-term process of developing a plan that will best suit the needs of the township.
“It is very important to get feedback from people and listen. … I think this is an opportunity to create a great place in North Brunswick, and we would like to work with you to do so,” he said.
As of press time, a public information session was held last night and two subsequent workshops are scheduled for March 23 and March 28. Times and locations are to be determined. Visit www.OurTownCenter.info for more information.