2010-06-10 / Front Page / Breaking News

North Brunswick transit village plan approved

Planning Board unanimously OKs preliminary site plan, general development plan
Jennifer Amato

NORTH BRUNSWICK - The township will see the beginnings of a
transit-oriented development within the next few years.

On June 10, the Planning Board unanimously approved the
preliminary site plan and general development plan to redevelop the 212-acre
former Johnson & Johnson site off Route 1.

 

"We've been working on this for more than five years - the
council, the Planning Board, the engineers, everybody. I think this is going to
be a great, great asset to North Brunswick. I hope I live long enough to take a
ride on the train," said Daniel DiStefano, chairman of the Planning Board.

"It's a great moment for North Brunswick in its history, in its
progress, in its future," said Jonathan Frieder, managing partner for North
Brunswick TOD Associates, which owns the property. "I think the more people
learn about it and understand it, the more they will come to realize what a
monumental opportunity and a great moment this is."

North Brunswick TOD Associates discussed the plans for Main
Street, retail and residential space, a bus depot and a potential train station
- pending N.J. Department of Transportation approval - during two four-hour
meetings June 8 and June 10.

"We don't just meet the requirements of a transit village. ...
North Brunswick is going to have an exemplary transit village that is going to
be a model for the state in terms of smart growth and sustainability," said
John Taikina, director of planning and development for Garden Homes Development.

Main Street and the associated piazza have been designed after
Piazza Navona in Italy, Metuchen, Palmer Square in Princeton, and Crocker Park
in Ohio.

"It's downtown-type single living," Taikina said. "We like to
think we model spaces that are very prevalent in existing places."

There will be one-bedroom and two-bedroom units and duplex lofts either
in residential buildings or on floors above retail and restaurant space.
Taikina said the 300 initial Phase 1 units would most likely be rentals, and
the additional 1,575 units, predicated by the approval of a train station,
could possibly be for sale.

There will be two freestanding retail establishments and one large
multistory retail establishment; only Costco can be discussed publicly at this
time. There will be office space, a hotel and freestanding commercial pads.

"We need to satisfy the demands of large retailers so they are
successful stores," Taikina said of the number of parking spaces needed for the
stores, which he said would be broken up by pavement and outdoor areas. "Having
successful large retailers is critical to having successful small retailers. ...
We're hoping it's an old-time place with all the modern conveniences."

In regard to the architecture of all of the buildings, he said,
"We are not looking for cookie cutter [plans]; we are looking for a more
authentic-type experience."

There will also be about 67 acres of open space on the
property, and spaces that invite community activities such as central areas,
outdoor dining and the open piazza.

"That hustle and bustle, that energy, we think is a critical
part of the open space," Taikina said.

There will be a bus depot at the northern end of the property
that will have a ticket area, a waiting area and possibly a coffee shop. The
bus will make stops at each large retail establishment, two locations on Main
Street and regional areas on its way to New York.

The train station, if approved by NJ Transit and the state
Department of Transportation, would be at the eastern end of Main Street, farthest
from Route 1 north. If and when the train station is approved, and then
operating, the applicant would be allowed to construct 1,575 more residences
and more retail space.

The expected date for the train station is 2017, though the
timeframe is dependent upon funds becoming available for the project, and the
completion of the ARC (Access to the Region's Core): Trans-Hudson Passenger
Rail Tunnel.

Frieder said that since North Brunswick has done its part to
focus on smart growth, place-making and transit-oriented development principles,
"the state must now provide transportation that supports this type of zoning."

If for some reason the train station is not approved, Taikina
said there are no plans yet for the rest of the property. However, Main Street
"would be a viable, functioning place that will be closed and complete ... and
function as a downtown."

Also, any roadway improvements to the surrounding highways,
throughways and neighborhood streets would be completed by the development
prior to any initial construction of the Phase 1/Main Street project, which
traffic engineer Dan Disario said "will provide better traffic operations with
Phase 1 and with traffic improvements" than the existing conditions of the roadways.

NJ Transit would be responsible for any additional roadway
improvements necessitated by the train station development.

Taikina said there has been no discussion yet about a shuttle within the
transit village, but that everything within Main Street is about a
three-minute walk, and the entire transit village area is about a five-minute
walk.

"It's 212 acres, but because we literally put all of the
activities in the middle, you're not going very far to any one thing," Taikina
said.

Since the idea of limiting vehicular traffic and increasing the
smart growth principles of pedestrian and bicycle access, the property will be
laden with wide sidewalks, bike paths and multi-use paths. The existing
Governor's Pointe and Renaissance housing developments will be connected to the
transit village property to accommodate residents there without the use of a
car.

The final site plan application could go before the Planning
Board by the end of the year, Frieder said. Initial construction could begin within the next year or so,
depending on funding and permits. The developer has 10 years plus two one-year
discretionary extensions to begin Phase 1, and 20 years to complete the full
buildout of the project.

"We're really excited about this opportunity. We are going to
work very hard to make sure we fulfill the promises our application expressed,"
Frieder said.


Contact Jennifer Amato at jamato@gmnews.com.

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