May 2005 Volume 1, Number 1

New Jersey Transit-Oriented Development News

Somerset County Plans for TOD
A county-wide strategy for TOD is under development in Somerset County and due for completion in May 2005.

Smart Commute Mortgages Make Housing near Transit a Smart Choice
NJ TRANSIT and Fannie Mae have teamed up to introduce the New Jersey Statewide Smart Commute Initiative, a mortgage program that provides incentives to purchase homes near transit.


Somerset County Plans for TOD

Somerset County will soon complete work on a major transit-oriented development study. The study, which began in 2004 with a grant from the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, has identified sites in the county with TOD potential and provided station-area plans and implementation strategies for three pilot locations. The county is working on the project with the Philadelphia-based planning firm, Wallace Roberts & Todd. Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates in New York and the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University are also members of the study team. The conceptual plans that are being produced are meant to provide a guide for municipalities to effectively implement TOD planning at the local level, focusing on design, regulatory policy, and financial strategies to facilitate implementation on the site.

In 2004, community meetings were held in April and July to both educate the public on the concept of TOD (the ½ mile circle around the transit station) and garner their suggestions and concerns. Three pilot locations were ultimately selected, all on NJ TRANSIT's Raritan Valley Line. They included the Somerville landfill site in Somerville, the area immediately surrounding the train station in Bound Brook and a large light industrial area south of Route 22 in Branchburg. In early December, conceptual visions for the three sites were presented to the municipalities. For Somerville there was a proposal for the development of a mixture of residential and commercial spaces within a grid street pattern conforming to the site's surroundings. In Bound Brook recommendations for the downtown area included the creation of a civic plaza and revitalization of the Brook Cultural Art Center. For Branchburg there was a call to relocate the existing train stop and create around it a compact mixed-use development with recreational amenities. Final public hearings will be held shortly.

In addition to the county's TOD study, many of Somerset's municipalities have been engaged in planning for TOD and smart growth in recent years. In 2004, Somerville received a $50,000 grant for TOD planning from New Jersey's Office of Smart Growth. In 2003, Bound Brook received Transit Village designation from NJDOT's Transit Village Initiative. And in 2002, Montgomery Township became a pilot community for the federal Environmental Protection Agency's Smart Growth Index, a program that models alternatives for future development.


Smart Commute Mortgages Make Housing near Transit a Smart Choice

In late September 2004, NJ TRANSIT joined mortgage-industry powerhouse Fannie Mae in introducing the New Jersey Statewide Smart Commute Initiative. The program, designed to encourage state residents to consider homeownership options near public transportation, is supported by the New Jersey Association of Realtors and a range of local and national lending institutions.

The Smart Commute Initiative is based on the premise that living near transit and using it for work and non-work trips can reduce a household's total spending on transportation, and that those potential savings can be redirected toward housing costs. The concept began in 2002 as a Fannie Mae pilot program in Pittsburgh and Minneapolis, and has since been extended to a handful of areas across the country. Lenders participating in the program will add a share of the borrower's potential transportation savings — $200 per month for single-wage households and $250 per month for dual-wage households — to their qualifying income, thus increasing the applicant's home-buying power.


Village Mews in South Orange, NJ Transit Village

To qualify for the program, homes must be within one-half mile of rail or light rail stations or within one-quarter mile of a bus stop. Buyers cannot own more than two cars and must agree to use transit for their trips to work. Additional features of Smart Commute include low down payments of 3 percent and up to two free one-month transit passes from NJ TRANSIT. This newest incentive for locating near transit complements transit-friendly financing products already offered by the New Jersey Housing and Mortgage Finance Agency. These include the HMFA's "City Living" program for the development of market-rate rental housing in urban locations, and its "At Home Downtown" program for the rehabilitation or construction of one- to four-unit residential structures with storefront commercial components.



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