Developer expects J&J to draw empty nesters
Experts tout project as a tax boon that will improve life in N.B.
December 14, 2006
BY JENNIFER AMATO
NORTH BRUNSWICK — As the design plans for the redevelopment project at the Johnson & Johnson property on Route 1 continue to take shape, more and more residents are questioning the effects of the proposed transit village on the surrounding areas.
Nearly 80 residents attended a community workshop on Dec. 7 to discuss the traffic, tax and housing impacts of developing the 212-acre site, which is currently owned by North Brunswick TOD Associates.
The Renaissance community on Route 130 has been especially vocal as of late since the transit village would be connected to their complex. Residents argue that the current roadway design is not adequate, with vehicles traveling at 50 mph and 30 to 50 school buses using the roads during the week, so adding more traffic to the area would be dangerous.
In response, traffic engineer Dan DiSario said he spent a day in Renaissance last week and that he is looking into various landscaping and traffic-hindering techniques that would apply to the crossover from the housing complex to the transit village. He said vehicles tend to drive fast when a road is straight, fast and wide, so roundabouts may be the answer.
“We are very, very aware and sensitive to your concerns as they relate to Renaissance Boulevard and your community,” DiSario said.
Also in regard to Renaissance is whether or not the Department of Transportation will consider applying the existing housing units to the transit village requirement; architect J. Robert Hillier said he should have more answers by the January workshop meeting. The concern lies in new housing creating additional schoolchildren, which would increase property taxes. However, Hillier believes the majority of new residents would be young professionals or older empty nesters who would not live in the complex while caring for school-age children.
Furthermore, Hillier said that for every 8,000 square feet of office space or eight new residential units, COAH (Council on Affordable Housing) laws require that one affordable housing unit be built. Yet transfer of development rights could possibly be considered to minimize the impact.
“We can’t get away from the fact that we’re going to have some housing here,” he said.
With regard to traffic, residents believe existing patterns near Finnegans Lane need to be adjusted because of the bottleneck that already exists. John Taikina, the director of planning and development for TOD Associates, said that various connections are being looked into, forming “many capillaries” instead of one large “artery.”
Hillier said that most of the concerns could be abated by incorporating a variety of mixed-use elements into the project. Under the current zoning of the property, the potential build-out could be 11 million to 18 million square feet of office, commercial or industry space with 40 percent lot coverage, bringing forth more vehicles. As a result, office, retail and residential space can be combined to create covered parking garages, flowing buildings and masked residences.
“The beauty of building in a higher density is that you don’t have to take houses … and create sprawl,” he said.
The principal of Hillier Architecture also explained how the transit village will encompass green, financial and cultural sustainability. Energy-saving techniques will be used such as solar panel buildings. Half of the site will be designated as green, open space. Businesses will thrive in their service to the community because the community will rely upon those services. Arts and entertainment will become prominent as a town center connects the community.
“What we have here is an opportunity to create a new ‘there,’ a new place to be,” Hillier said. “Every town should have a memorable place, and a memorable place shouldn’t be a mall, it should be where people meet, get together and communicate.”
Citing Cranbury, Princeton, San Francisco, Venice and Rome as idealized locales the project could be modeled after, Hillier combined the aesthetics of the project with the realization of tax and traffic impacts. He understands that residents want a centralized place to live or visit while not bearing the burden of school taxes and abundant vehicles.
“The intention of the developers here … what we’re committed to in this project is having something fiscally positive — in other words, taxes should go down — and traffic positive,” he said.
Although the crowd had a mixed reaction to a statement Hillier made about North Brunswick being a transient location, he said the purpose of this project is to make the township a prominent and attractive location so that people will not want to leave the area.
“North Brunswick is the kind of place you live in on your way to another place … but we want to get a balance so it becomes a place you don’t want to move on,” he said.
Yet questions also arose as to whether the transit village would isolate its residents from other points of town, if other areas would lose their energy because people would be drawn solely to J&J, if North Brunswick residents could fully utilize their property or would there be an influx of outsiders moving in, and if a light rail service could possibly connect neighboring towns to the new center.
“Designing is like taking a piece of clay, very soft and squishy, working with it until it seems right, getting it better and better with input from you folks, and then you bake it,” Hillier said.
The next series of workshops will begin in January. Fiscal impacts will be discussed on Jan. 11, traffic concerns on Jan. 18, and design issues on Jan. 25. All meetings are held at the Yellowbird Reception Center off Aaron Road from 6:30 to 9 p.m. unless otherwise noted. Visit www.OurTownCenter.info for up-to-date information.