Firm: Transit village could be center of town
J&J developer introduces experts working on plan; next workshop tonight
December 7, 2006
BY JENNIFER AMATO
NORTH BRUNSWICK - A resource team assembled to analyze the impacts of a proposed transit village for the Johnson & Johnson property on Route 1 began discussing their purposes and goals at a Nov. 30 community workshop meeting held at the site of the development.
The workshop was hosted by North Brunswick TOD Associates, which took ownership of the 212-acre site over the summer. Now the third-largest taxpayer in the township, the former pharmaceutical warehouse, office and laboratory space is being designed in the hope of constructing a mini-town within the town, complete with a railroad station, mixed housing, retail shops, restaurants and a community center.
"We hope this will help North Brunswick and us make decisions about how to make a great place for North Brunswick," said John Taikina, the director of planning and development for TOD Associates.
"The national trend around the country, we're learning, is that no new enclosed malls have been built in the last six years but over 150 [town centers have]. This is the type of environment retailers and restaurateurs desire."
At the commencement of the meeting, a 13-minute video titled "Arriving at the Future ... Imagine a North Brunswick Transit Village" was presented. Although several residents thought this to be nothing more than a sales pitch, the video showcased the ideas of several experts and officials involved with developing this project. Because of growing transportation problems and the growing loss of green space, an all-inclusive transit village could create a new town center that would decrease feelings of isolation caused by suburban sprawl, according to the developer.
The video highlighted Princeton's Palmer Square as a model. The video featured residents, employees, restaurateurs and business owners of the area speaking about the positive aspects of Princeton's development, and how the North Brunswick project offers a similar opportunity. Architect J. Robert Hillier discussed how urban living mimicking the TV shows "Friends" and "Seinfeld" will attract young couples and older empty nesters, providing long-term sustainability to the area. The growth around the village would protect the environment, creating a more efficient, community-oriented lifestyle.
Meet the team
After the documentary-style video, the members of the resource team were introduced. Sandra Leibowitz-Earley will be responsible for discussing sustainable design and green architecture. She was not present at the meeting.
Robert Melvin, a New Jersey licensed professional planner, and Caroline Armstrong, a manager of various smart growth projects at Melvin's firm, will be responsible for open space planning at the municipal level.
Daniel DiSario, who has over 14 years of management, planning and design experience with land development and transportation projects, will use his knowledge as a South Brunswick resident and transportation engineer to analyze the existing roadways and how to improve and/or extend them.
"This is very unique from a traffic perspective. This project provides an opportunity to live, work and shop all in the same development. I've read about these types of projects and I'm ecstatic to be able to work on it," he said.
Gerard Giosa, a parking consultant with over 25 years of experience, will make sure there is just enough parking while not paving over unnecessary land, all while "keeping the streets pretty." He briefly discussed the concept of shared parking, which creates an ebb and flow of traffic as one vehicle uses a parking space and another vehicle leaves.
David Listokin, a professor and co-director of the Center for Urban Policy Research at Rutgers University, will handle the fiscal impact analysis of the entire project, comparing the public cost versus the public revenues of the development. He said that municipal officials and the Board of Education will be involved in the process, to develop an accurate depiction of the town.
"Fiscal is probably one of the most important components of this project. It is important in New Jersey because we rely so heavily on property taxes ... so essentially you pay for services locally," he said.
Lastly, Hillier described his firm's role as master planner and designer. He said that the project will be driven by green, financial and cultural sustainability.
"Where is the photo-op in North Brunswick? The question is, where is the town? ... Where do we want to go in terms of creating a special place in North Brunswick?" he rhetorically asked the 75-plus residents in attendance.
'A walkable downtown'
Afterward, featured speaker Paul R. Levy discussed a Center City, Philadelphia, project, of which he was the founding executive director and has been involved with since January 1991. He showed the progress from the rural 1950s to the big-box era of the 1980s to the abandonment and deterioration of cities to the current romantic views. He said that walkable urbanity is a key component nowadays and that traffic has become the enemy.
The case study of Center City shows how a rundown area was transformed in the 1990s to an animated and mixed-use area complete with arts and entertainment venues, hotels, a convention center, over 200 restaurants, outdoor cafes, a visitors center and improved historical sites. Old buildings were converted to livable spaces in a residential revival, attracting more young professionals and married couples without children.
"Really, to us, it's about a competitive and walkable location. Creating a walkable downtown and community centers downtown ... but no longer totally depending on a car, I think is the direction cities are going," he said.
A series of workshops began in the spring, designed to solicit comment from residents and gather their opinions of what the J&J site should look like. Since then, Taikina said various town centers across the country were visited to accumulate information as to what drives such locales. The information will be shared with the public during workshops over the next two months.
However, the completion of the project could still take five to 10 more years. Currently, no word has been given from NJ Transit as to whether North Brunswick is accepted as a transit village site. With regard to a resident's comment that perhaps a village could be had without the transit, Taikina said it was the first time he had heard such a proposal but that it could be considered.
In the meantime, Lee & Klatskin Associates will now release the 1.2 million square feet of space at J&J in the short term. The site can be subdivided into distribution, warehouse and light industrial spaces ranging from 30,000 to 900,000 square feet, and the 60,000 square feet of office and laboratory space can be subdivided into parcels as small as 5,000 square feet.
The next workshop will be tonight from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at the Yellowbird Reception Center off Aaron Road. The focus will be to review different conceptual plan models and to analyze the fiscal impact of the proposed development. Hillier and Listokin will make presentations on the topics. Visit www.OurTownCenter.info for more information