North South Brunswick Sentinel

Zoning overlay ordinance passes in North Brunswick
May 18, 2010

Staff Writer

NORTH BRUNSWICK — The new transit-oriented, mixed-use-development zoning ordinance for the former Johnson & Johnson property on Route 1 was adopted after about four hours of discussion at the Township Council meeting May 17.

Mayor Francis “Mac” Womack cast the tie-breaking vote to approve the ordinance, which now puts into motion the approval process for phase one of a possible transit village. The Planning Board now must review an application for 300 residential units, retail establishments, a main street, and traffic improvements along Route 1 and surrounding roadways.

“At this time North Brunswick has to evaluate truly what kind of township we want to be for the next generation,” Womack said. “I do think the responsible path for the future of our children, for our grandchildren, is to find ways to cut CO2 emissions, to live in an environment where you don’t have to drive if you don’t have to, and a transit village is the way to do this.”

However, the council was split in its opinions about the ordinance because of legislation regarding a transit village that stipulates new housing is needed to attract new riders, and a study by the consultancy firm Urbanomics that stated the initial 300 units would bring about nine children, and only 181 at the time of final build-out of 1,875 units. The additional housing units and retail space are contingent upon the N.J. Department of Transportation approving a train station for the site.

“The approval for this development will result in a massive amount of housing and retail space,” Councilwoman Cathy Nicola said in opposition to the project, especially because, she said, more than 440 residential housing units are either for sale or in a foreclosure state, 22 percent of retail space in town is vacant, and township schools and volunteer services are already taxed. “I cannot base my vote on wishful thinking at the taxpayers’ expense.”

However, Councilwoman Shanti Narra said she believes that the full-scale project could become a reality.

“I think this property is ideally situated to allow us to get a train station,” she said. “I don’t believe we can stop change. Our job is to manage the change so whatever change there is can most benefit the residents.”

She said she learned a lot about the project during her one-year term on the Planning Board, and she said although that does not give her any more of an opinion than anyone else, it “allows me to feel comfortable with where I stand today.”

Councilman Ralph Andrews agreed with Narra, saying that “we don’t think it’s a great idea that we can’t get a commitment of a train station without an ordinance,” but that the town had to go by state protocol.

Yet Councilman Carlo Socio has consistently disagreed with that protocol, saying he believes the Renaissance and Governor’s Pointe developments should be considered as required housing for the site.

“My biggest fear about this ordinance is the sheer number of units, 1,875,” Socio said, noting that another fear is if the train station does not come to fruition, the governing body is going to be left with unwanted ramifications: the developer may want to make changes down the line, leading to more unnecessary development.
On the other hand, Councilman Robert Davis said that during the five-year process it took to get to last week’s vote, town officials “nitpicked on everything” to make sure the project was the best for the town.

“I believe in this. We spent a tremendous amount of time on it … and we’re not thrilled with big-box stores … but it’s going to be a big part of the future of North Brunswick,” he said.

However, Councilman Robert Corbin is still opposed, stating that “the impact that this building, this build-out, could have for the residents of North Brunswick far outweighs the possible benefits.”

The next step is for the Planning Board to review the specifics of the phase one application, and approve the plan if it complies with the ordinance.