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April 2010
Volume 6, Number 1
Views from the NJ State League of Municipalities Conference
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Transit-oriented development in New Jersey was the topic of one session at the November 2009 NJ State League of Municipalities 94th Annual Conference in Atlantic City. At this huge gathering public officials as well as members of the non-profit and business communities heard speakers discuss why TOD should be part of a municipality’s plan for addressing its future housing and transportation needs. The “Transit Oriented Development/Villages—Changing Times Make It the Right Time for Transit Oriented Development” session brought together speakers representing the real estate research and development industries as well as the municipal and transit agency viewpoint.

Christopher Otteau, partner and vice president at the Otteau Valuation Group Inc., the real estate appraisal and research group, spoke about market conditions and future housing demand, noting that homes located near New Jersey’s rail stations have held their value better than other housing. He also observed that the bright side of the recent declines in home values is increased affordability, which is especially important as New Jersey has the second highest housing costs in the nation. Mr. Otteau cited declines in high paying jobs, which have caused household income stagnation, and tightening credit, which has made it more difficult to secure a mortgage, as factors that have led some to move out of state. In contrast, he cited the growth of two segments of the population, emerging seniors and young professionals, as a factor indicating greater future demand for TOD housing. Both of these groups, Baby Boomers and Gen-Y, tend to live in childless households and to prefer the amenities offered in TOD locations. He cited the 2008 study on national home buyers preferences that found that a majority of homebuyers prefer urban locations, where they can walk to work and use public transportation. These are locations where homes can be built at higher densities, resulting in lower housing costs. The demand for such homes—smaller units and those in multifamily buildings—is currently not fully met, even in the down market. Mr. Otteau concluded that demand for TOD housing in New Jersey is strong and expected to rise in the future.

Representing the municipal perspective, Mayor James Kennedy of Rahway recounted his city’s experience with its redevelopment activities, all of which have been planned with the rebuilt Rahway station as the focus. Rahway began pursuing its TOD plans in the 1990s and has transformed the area around the station with new land uses that include mixed-use and higher density structures such as a hotel and high-rise housing. The city is also attempting to strengthen its appeal as an “around the clock” community though an ongoing effort to fashion itself as a destination for the arts.

Joel Schwartz, partner at Landmark Companies, an architecture, planning and development firm, discussed why locations with transit have been good places to build in the past and why they remain so—even in an uncertain economy. Mr. Schwartz, an architect, argued that by looking at the past—especially to a time before the widespread use of cars—one finds that city builders created places that worked efficiently and that people love. He illustrated his argument with examples from his own work, Franklin Square, built in Metuchen in 2001, and Park Square, the first phase of which was recently completed in Rahway. Mr. Schwartz also demonstrated how higher density housing can be handled well and in keeping with local context.

Vivian E. Baker, assistant director of the Transit-Friendly Planning, Land Use & Development Program at NJ TRANSIT, illustrated the role that transit can play in strengthening New Jersey’s municipalities and how the agency can be a partner in the creation of TOD. Ms. Baker illustrated how relationships between NJ TRANSIT and local government have led to the Highlands at Morristown Station—a mixed-use residential project that is nearing completion, the Somerville Station Area TOD Plan (see Somerville Landfill Project Moves Forward in this issue of the newsletter) and the redevelopment efforts in Rahway that were initiated, in part, by the reconfiguration and modernization of the station in the mid-1990s.

Together the speakers provided value lessons to communities interested in growing through TOD; demonstrating the value of TOD to current and future residents, municipalities, developers and to the transit provider.  

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