Developer unveils transit village plan
Property would be used for train station, stores, apts., public buildings, open space
April 6, 2006
BY JENNIFER AMATO
The architects hired by the contract purchasers of the Johnson & Johnson property in North Brunswick have designed a comprehensive transit village plan for the redevelopment of the Route 1 site.
Hillier Architecture presented the schematic at the North Brunswick TOD Associates' public information session March 30, which combined three preliminary plans presented a week earlier, with special consideration given to residents' concerns about the scenarios.
The conceptual layout suggests several adjustments to the first three sketches. A community building would consist of a library, post office, police substation, teen center and meeting rooms. There would be an amphitheater capable of seating up to 4,000 people and a nearby hotel to accommodate commuters. A bell tower would be the landmark of the site, visible from all surrounding areas.
Retail spaces would be spread out to give the appearance of a mall rather than a plaza, and commuters will park in one of two large garages, walk along the plaza and then reach the train station.
"The reason we did it this way is to give retailers energy," principal J. Robert Hillier said.
Three- to six-story apartments would be located behind and on top of retail shops, aided by concealed parking garages. There would be streetscapes with outside, covered dining and trees on the sidewalk. A three- or four-story office building would be enhanced by a front reflection pond.
A bus terminal is planned for the northern side of the property while small jitneys would be located in the plaza near the train station. A kiss-and-ride drop-off would be located inside of a parking garage outside of the town center with elevator access to the train station. Two rotaries on Renaissance Boulevard would serve as traffic dampeners in the area, and roundabouts or "Jersey circles" would increase the pedestrian-friendly atmosphere by diverting traffic away from the center.
"In a way, it makes the town interesting. If you make a grid, it can be monotonous," Hillier said.
In addition, nearly 100 of the property's 212 acres would be preserved as green space, enhanced by landscaping, fountains and pocket parks.
"It shows the kind of special places these can become," the architect said. "We think this will be a great place to live with the concentration and the energy, surrounded by great fields. ... This isn't just a project full of condos ... it's a balance between people who use the station, enough retail to be attractive to have a town center and have enough people walking to it to have enough economics to work there."
Despite all of the revisions, some residents were still unhappy with the inclusions, and items not included, in the design. A major discrepancy has been the attractiveness of the site to families, which would increase the school-age population.
"This is all very nice but our schools are so overcrowded now and our taxpayers are putting so much money into additions and renovations," school board member Claire Padovano said about the necessity of a new school being built in town.
"The intention is that this will be revenue positive for the town. ...We don't see this as a great creator of children for the school system," Hillier replied. "It is a kid-friendly environment, but it is not a kid-encouraging environment just by the demographics of this project."
Resident Andrew Besold disagreed.
"One of the things North Brunswick has got going for it besides other locations is its good, desirable school district, which could potentially drive up the number of school children," he said.
The question of affordable senior housing was also raised, since the 300 proposed townhouses may have up to three bedrooms to accommodate families, rather than empty-nesters.
"Residents have asked for affordable senior housing and they're not getting that now, so will it be affordable for our seniors?" resident and school board President Gail DiPane asked.
"Only people who have money are going to be able to afford living here. Only people with kids or seniors with money who sell their homes and move in," South Brunswick resident Ray Seaman added.
Although Hillier said affordable housing is the focus, he did not have a definite plan for building height, size or unit numbers. He did note that the apartments would be for sale instead of rent, and that the state requires a minimum of 2,500 units within a half-mile radius for a transit village.
Another issue is the fact that the site would not be completed for another seven to 10 years, with work beginning in about three. Residents are worried about the state of the market and how housing prices will be affected in the future.
The issue of traffic is another great concern, considering the current intensity of Route 1 and its tributaries.
"We want to get traffic off the roads, not put it on the roads," Hillier said, mentioning that existing cars are traveling to Jersey City and could instead provide revenue to North Brunswick. "We will prove to you by the end of the day that this will provide less traffic than another use."
There is also a possibility of creating a new Finnegans Lane connection.
Among all of the discussion, the community is adapting to the idea of a transit village and is working to perfect it according to the township's needs.
"This is definitely needed so I'm glad North Brunswick is doing this. Good job," Seaman said.
North Brunswick TOD Associates will continue to update its Web site, www.OurTownCenter.info, and post future workshop dates. In the near future, presentations on traffic control, economics and demographics are expected.