Public offers ideas for town center
Developer hosts second forum on J&J site's future
March 16, 2006
BY JENNIFER AMATO
A library. A community center. A community sports complex. Open space. A railroad station. An overpass to Route 130 and Finnegans Lane. Convenient shops and restaurants. Employment opportunities. Affordable housing. Brownstones. Senior housing. SoHo-style condos. A training camp for the New York Jets. A hospital. A huge shopping mall.
Although J. Robert Hillier, a principal of Hillier Architecture, Princeton, does not believe the last three suggestions are viable options for the 212-acre Johnson & Johnson property on Route 1, residents voiced their ideas for the redevelopment of the site at the public information session held by North Brunswick TOD Associates on March 9.
"All of this is good stuff, and as we're beginning to mix up our batch of clay I told you about last week, we will start to weave into this," he said.
TOD Associates Director of Planning and Development John Taikina handed out index cards to each of the 85 attendants of the second public workshop to discuss the community's wishes for the property, which is still in the process of being sold to contract purchaser Garden Commercial Properties.
However, before the public could comment on their recommendations, Monica Etz, the coordinator for the New Jersey Department of Transportation Transit Village Initiative, discussed the 14 criteria necessary for an application for a town transit village.
New Jersey offers incentives and rewards for towns which have: A transit stop, including a train, bus, Jitney and/or ferry; the opportunity for redevelopment from a quarter-mile to a half-mile from the site; the adoption of zoning or a redevelopment plan to make the area compact, walkable and of mixed uses; an increase in housing within walking distance; the political will to grow; developer interest, with ready-to-go projects in the works; bicycle and pedestrian friendliness; a station plaza to be used as a community focal point; station area management, such as flowering planting, garbage pickup and sidewalk sweeping, by the town, even though NJ Transit would own the station; maximized appeal of the station, as in a concierge for dry cleaning or a post office, so that residents could use their services before or after using the designated transit; appropriate parking for shoppers, residents and commuters; support of local arts and culture; preservation of the town's historical culture; the incorporation of affordable housing.
Etz said that the most powerful tool in creating a successful transit village is municipal zoning, which would also be the township's greatest challenge.
"The success of this transit village is in your hands," she said.
However, residents said their greatest obstacle would be increased housing, especially since the Renaissance, Governor's Pointe and Society Hill developments are close bye.
"A big concern of North Brunswick is the build-out," Councilman Carlo Socio said. "We'd like to compel New Jersey DOT and NJ Transit to consider Renaissance, which is still being built out, and Governor's Pointe ... because we as residents can't handle large amounts of housing here."
Hillier and Etz concurred that transfer of development rights may be applicable, allowing new housing to be built on Route 1 with future development around town being halted.
"If growth is concentrated ... you redirect the source and have more density occur at the transit village and have less density occur in other places ... not just around this site, but around all of North Brunswick," Hillier said. "There is no housing for mom and pop seniors or son and daughter juniors because we're in a big-lot real estate mode. We think a big lot needs a big house, but we can't afford it. Greater density brings down the cost of the land, so it is the same economic restraint with better land planning."
As a result, if an increased amount of children were not brought in to burden the school system, some residents believe the increased housing component would not be an issue.
"Here's our future right here. ... People are scared of density, but what's the alternative? Something's gotta be built here," resident Tom O'Neill said.
George Hawkins, the executive director of New Jersey Future, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group offering perspective, education and support to the township, agreed with the overall design of the transit village concept.
"When does this happen in New Jersey, that is so congested, that you have a site of this size and can start from scratch?" Hawkins rhetorically asked the crowd. "You have a place that you want that is better off than what you started with. ... You can do something you're proud of and like having in town and you can say, 'I was a part of this.' "
The next informational session will be March 23 from 6:30-9 p.m. at the Yellow Bird Reception Center, 2300 Route 1, off Aaron Road. Visit www.OurTownCenter.info for more information.