|New Jersey TOD News|
Volume 7, Number 1
Downtown New Jersey is now accepting applications for its annual Excellence Awards; the ceremony is to be held in early December 2011. The deadline for consideration is September 16, 2011. Please click here for the application or see the Downtown New Jersey website.
Lying just west of the Hackensack River, the borough of River Edge in Bergen County is home to two NJ TRANSIT stations. Residents in the northern part of the 1.9 square mile community can board at the River Edge Station while those living in the southern part of the borough can travel by way of the New Bridge Landing Station. Known as the North Hackensack Station until 2009, the New Bridge Landing station is the second busiest on the Pascack Valley Line. Each weekday 435 passengers access 17 inbound and 18 outbound trips to and from Hoboken. By transferring at Secaucus Station, passengers can reach NY Penn Station in only 45 minutes. Weekend and midday services were added in October 2007.
River Edge, together with NJ TRANSIT, believes that the redevelopment of the station area will bring additional revenue to the borough and riders to the transit agency. Former Borough redevelopment attorney, Colin Quinn, estimates that the new development will bring in $1 million in tax revenue each year. The station site encompasses 3.8 acres, a portion of which lies on a flood plain. It is jointly owned by River Edge, which owns about one-third of an acre on the Hackensack border, and NJ TRANSIT, which owns the rest. The site is currently underutilized, occupied only by surface parking for the station and wooded land.
Nearly a decade ago, the largely residential community of River Edge began exploring ways to increase commercial opportunities downtown. In 2003, the Planning Board evaluated properties south of Main Street up to the Hackensack town line to determine if any were “in need of redevelopment” as defined under N.J.S.A. 40A:12A-6. Accordingly, in 2004 the Board adopted a resolution that recommended that a group of lots in the study area near the train station be designated. The Borough’s Mayor and Council then conducted a thorough two-year long analysis of the lots to determine if the designation could be substantiated. After completing a comprehensive study of the downtown area, they concurred with the Board’s conclusions and designated the properties as “in need of redevelopment.”
The New Bridge Landing Station was among these properties and is the first slated to be redeveloped. Following the designation process, the Borough hired the NJ planning firm, A. Nelessen Associates, Inc., to create a redevelopment plan for the station, which was completed in 2007. The plan includes mixed-use buildings containing residential, office and retail, centered on the rebuilt station with improved pedestrian and bicycle access. The firm involved residents in the planning process who participated in a Visual Preference Survey™ to develop their ideas about the future appearance of the station and to better articulate their desires for the location. The final plan called for 130 units of multi-family residential, 35,000 square feet of retail space, 70,000 square feet of office and/or live-work space, and 900 parking spaces to be built. Since much of the area is located on a 100-year floodplain, the buildings would be raised so that the first finished floor is above the flood level.
In June 2010, River Edge and NJ TRANSIT issued a Request for Expression of Interest (REI) for the station redevelopment and received responses from six developers. According to NJ TRANSIT’s Mike Murphy, the vetting process is ongoing, and it is not yet known when developers will be chosen to submit proposals. River Edge’s Mayor Margaret Falahee Watkins confirmed that the Borough has interviewed the six candidates.
The lackluster economy has delayed the development process, as it has limited developers’ financial resources. Five of the six developers expressed interest in a public-private partnership to help finance the project. Additionally, the proposals are less ambitious than the original vision, scaling back the retail space in particular. This is a concern to Mayor Watkins because currently there are not many stores in that area of town. Additionally, concern about overcrowding in schools led to a reduction in the number of two-bedroom apartments and the overall size of residential units. While the Nelessen plan remains the guiding document, it has been adjusted to fit the current needs of the Borough and developers.
While the station is the focus of development, surrounding properties slated for redevelopment are nearing construction. Most are within a five-minute walk of the station. The owners of 55 Kinderkamack Road, a property adjacent to the station, plan to build residential and retail spaces. Let It Grow, a landscaping company on Ackerson Street, plans to construct six floors of condominiums over ground-floor retail. The hope, expressed by property owners and River Edge, is to coordinate development between the station and surrounding properties so that the area provides a balance of residential, office, and retail spaces.
Situated on the Raritan Valley Line between stations in Cranford, (a NJDOT-designated Transit Village), and Westfield, (an upscale residential community with a strong commercial core), Garwood is trying to outgrow its industrial past. The small community occupies only seven-tenths of a square mile and is home to about 4,500 residents. Defunct factory buildings, some dating from the 19th century, line the rail right-of-way, ripe for reuse when conditions are right. The Borough is preparing for that future use and is making plans to reclaim those industrial lands and put them to other uses.
The Borough has significant bus service, with more than forty buses to New York each weekday – which of itself is reason enough to support TOD. In addition, nine trains to Newark and fifteen trains from Newark stop at Garwood on weekdays. The trip takes about 25 minutes. Passengers traveling to New York Penn Station change trains in Newark. Redevelopment and an influx of commuters to the area has brought growth in ridership, prompting an increase in service in October 2009. NJ Transit added an additional train to both the morning and evening peak periods and initiated weekend service with two inbound trains and three outbound trains each day.
Building on its good bus and rail connectivity, the Borough has begun to focus on redeveloping the land surrounding the station. To move forward with this effort, in 2009 the Borough revised and adopted a new Master Plan that calls for TOD zoning near the station – “the new zoning code should include a mixture of residential and commercial uses that would benefit from the proximity to the railroad station.” The Master Plan identified a new of properties near the station suitable for redevelopment, including 5.8 acres of industrial lots located between the railroad right-of-way and South Avenue. The Borough is in the process of updating its zoning so as to implement the Master Plan recommendations.
With its new Master Plan in place, the Borough conducted a two-day community visioning workshop in April 2010. NJ TRANSIT, through its Transit Friendly Development Program, took the lead on this endeavor – in partnership with the Borough, Union County, and the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority. Through a collaborative vision process, community members explored ways to bring TOD to fruition through incremental adaptive reuse and the redevelopment of key properties. Residents and experts discussed access, parking, brownfield reuse, and redevelopment as well as concept plans illustrating potential phased development. Subsequent to this collaborative effort, the Borough recently adopted a TOD ordinance for a brownfield property across from the station – the site of the Casale Industries building.
The first inklings of what a future, transit-supportive Garwood may be, can be seen in a mixed-use development completed in 2010 located about a quarter mile from the station, at the intersection of North Avenue and Chestnut Street, which is now complete. It consists of apartments (The Lofts) on top of retail space (The Mews), and age-restricted townhouses (The Pointe), which have sold out.
Redevelopment of the former site of the Curtiss-Wright plant in Wood-Ridge, NJ as a transit-oriented development is making progress. The development, called Wesmont Station, will mix residential, commercial, and recreational uses, all within walking-distance of a new train station that is only three stops away from Midtown Manhattan. In June 2008, NJ Transit approved the addition of a station between the Rutherford and Garfield stops and close to the new development. Travel between Wesmont Station and New York Penn Station will take about 30 minutes.
However, by 2009 the progress had slowed considerably – the weak economy and poor housing market delaying the construction phase. While unplanned, the delay allowed time needed for a thorough cleanup of the former industrial sites. By 2009, $15 million had been invested for environmental remediation of the World War II airplane engine plant. Another cause of delay resulted from a legal struggle over a privately owned tract of land needed for construction vehicles to access the site.
Progress picked up again in April 2010 when Jacobs Engineering Inc. was awarded the design contract for the Wesmont train station, which will serve as the focus of the new neighborhood. Jacobs Engineering produced a design concentrating on pedestrian access and safety as well as efficiency.
More progress was achieved on March 23, 2011, when Somerset and the housing developer, AvalonBay Communities, broke ground on the project’s first apartment building. AvalonBay has been chosen to build four mixed-use buildings that will provide a total of 406 rental apartments above 27,000 square feet of ground floor retail, restaurants, and parking. Occupancy is scheduled for the second quarter of 2012. Ralph Zucker, President of Somerset Development, said, “This groundbreaking marks a great point of progress in what has been a nine-year redevelopment process thus far. AvalonBay’s luxurious apartments and abundant amenities will help tremendously in realizing our original vision for this vibrant community.” Somerset is also working with Pulte Homes to build 27 single-family homes, 36 townhomes and 11 live/work townhomes in the future.
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