|Transit Village Update|
Volume 6, Number 1
In November 2009 Pleasantville signed a master developerís agreement with River Development, LLC for the City Center Redevelopment project—an area that encompasses the Pleasantville Bus Terminal. Pleasantville was designated as a Transit Village in 1999, the only bus-based Transit Village in the state.
The initial phase of the project calls for 300 workforce housing units and 20,000 square feet of retail space. The project, located in the Pleasantville Urban Enterprise Zone, will receive $766,338 in Zone Assistance funds for professional services to implement the redevelopment of a 30-acre section of the cityís downtown district, known as the City Center Area. Planning for the City Center project has been conducted by Remington, Vernick & Walberg.
The Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA) is currently examining proposals from four developers interested in helping transform the 9.1-acre Collingswood Station Transit Village adjacent to the PATCO High-Speed Line station in Collingswood.
The borough, along with DRPA and its subsidiary, the Port Authority Transit Corporation (PATCO), issued a request for qualifications and expressions of interest (RFQ/RFEI) for a master redeveloper last spring. They received 15 responses, chose six to request specific development proposals from, and received four. Collingswood Community Development Director John Kane said some developers had difficulty following through on the process due to difficulties in getting financing. Companies that did submit RFPs were: Keating Urban Partners LLC/AMC Delancey (co-submitters), Trammel Crow Company, LCOR Incorporated, and The Commonwealth Group, Ltd. & Mid-City Urban LLC.
Following a review by DRPA, a period of public input will begin. The plan eventually chosen will have to be able to produce surplus revenue over and above the project’s expenses. Once chosen the winning team will move forward on design. Environmentally-friendly aspects of some plans include green roofs, solar canopies over parking structures, and green walls, which are basically gardens.
“The citizens are positive [about the project] but we haven’t shown any renderings of what the buildings would look like,” Kane explained. “The citizens have expressed concern about the height and the mayor in our public meetings has said it’s just not in the cards to go high.”
The area in need of redevelopment is situated between Lees and Homestead Avenues, between Haddon Avenue, the borough’s main thoroughfare, and the PATCO station, which is located in the median between North Atlantic and South Atlantic Avenues.
“We’re of the opinion, here in the town, that our infrastructure is good and that our schools have room and the result of these buildings will be that, as the support for them gets done—the streets and the curbs and the parking—that they’ll actually reduce taxes,” Kane said. Travel between Collingswood and Center City, Philadelphia, takes about 16 minutes. Nearly 1,800 riders board at Collingswood each weekday.
This project is the second of Collingswood’s efforts to promote transit-oriented development. The first project, The LumberYard, will ultimately consist of 119 residential and 19 commercial units. Despite a delay in the completion of The LumberYard caused by the economic downturn, the first building is complete and fully occupied. Work is underway on the second LumberYard building. All of the concrete work has been completed on building, which is as long as two football fields. Two underground garages will be built during this part of the project, offering more than 400 new parking spaces in the downtown area. Some of these spaces will be used by building residents, while 132 spaces will be dedicated to public use.
The second and third phases of this project—a series of row houses adjacent to the PATCO High-Speed train line facing Atlantic Avenue—are still being completed. The end date for the $54 million redevelopment project has not yet been determined.
In other news, in October Collingswood approved a resolution designating 765 Haddon Avenue as a redevelopment area. The local weekly Retrospect newspaper notes that the property, located about quarter mile from the Collingswood Station, is owned by TD Banknorth and served as a bank from 1905 until its closing June 2007. Mayor Jim Maley said there are parties interested in the property, which has a sale price of $900,000. None of the potential buyers are banks, however, necessitating the property’s redevelopment designation. The Retrospect also reports that as a redevelopment area the property is eligible for payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) programs, modified zoning, and is subject to eminent domain.
Collingswood’s main thoroughfare, Haddon Avenue, which runs parallel to the PATCO High-Speed train line, was also named a Great American Street by the American Planning Association. According to the APA: “Haddon Avenue is a mixture of small town friendliness and larger city diversity. The tree-lined avenue with its historic buildings, wide sidewalks, town clock, period lamp posts, flower baskets, and pole banners captures the look and feel of late 19th and early 20th century small town America. At the same time, a more contemporary side to the avenue is making Collingswood one of New Jersey's smart growth leaders.”
Transit-oriented redevelopment efforts in Rahway continue, though not without setbacks along the way. Though progress has been made on several fronts, some projects have had difficulties. Recent achievements include an award of New Jersey brownfield funds that will help in creating the city’s Arts District as well as the completion of the first phase of the mixed use Park Square project, the start of construction on the Renaissance at Rahway project and the approval of the Station Place project.
In October 2009, the NJ Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) named nine sites in downtown Rahway as a Brownfield Development Area or BDA. This award makes the city eligible for up to $5 million each year in grants and loans for the testing and cleanup of sites from the Hazardous Discharge Site Remediation Fund, which is administered by DEP and the NJ Economic Development Authority. Among these sites is the former Hamilton Laundry and adjacent properties along Robinson’s Branch of the Rahway River—the location of a new addition to the Rahway Arts District. The centerpiece of the District will be a planned 1000-seat amphitheater as well as a 200-seat flexible performance space or "black box" theater to be located in a former NJ Bell building. The city also has plans to create cooperative gallery space in the adjacent Elizabethtown Gas building. The project will complement the Union County Performing Arts Center, located to the east at the corner of Irving Street and Central Avenue. The city is seeking to borrow $8.5 million to finance the work and had previously bonded $3 million for site work and to acquire the Hamilton Laundry property. Plans call for the amphitheater, theater, and gallery to eventually become self-sustaining through sponsorship and fee-based programming.
In late 2009, tenants started moving into the first of two buildings at Park Square, located about a 1/10 of a mile from the station at the corner Irving Street and Elm Avenue. Reportedly 90% of the 63 one and two-bedroom apartments have been leased with rents ranging from $1,550 for a one-bedroom to $2,375 for largest two-bedroom. Planned completion for the second building, which will provide an additional 96 apartments, is fall 2010. Two commercial tenants have occupied some of Park Square’s 7,000 square feet of first floor retail space. Eyes for You, an upscale optometrist, opened in January. Chess Mates, a chess café and club, opened in March.
Last fall, construction began on the Renaissance at Rahway project, located about 4/10 of a mile from the station. The project calls for a total of 88 one and two-bedroom rental units to be built. In 2005 Rahway named Capodagli Property Company LLC as the designated developer of the two-acre site, the location of the former Triangle Inn. Earlier plans called for the construction of 72 condominiums. However, difficulties in land assembly as well as housing and financial market conditions led the developer to seek amendments to the previously approved site plan. The current plan for rental housing was approved by the Rahway Redevelopment Agency in 2008. Demolition and site preparation was completed during 2009.
A third project, The Station Place, was approved for a site adjacent to the westbound station platform. In late 2009 Heartstone Development LLC received approvals to develop 116 rental units on the 2+ acre site.
Additionally, in December 2009, the city was awarded $470,000 in NJDOT Local Aid Transit Village Program funds to continue the streetscape improvement begun in 2001. The most recently awarded funds will be used to replace sidewalks, curbs, trees, and lighting and to resurface the roadway along Irving Street, from Broad Street to Seminary Street, a quarter-mile stretch of roadway connecting the station to the new Park Square project, the Union County Performing Arts Center and the future site of the Rahway Arts District amphitheater.
Adverse economic conditions have taken a toll on some of Rahway's pioneering TOD developments. Case in point, Skyview at Carriage Place, reported on in the December 2008 issue of the newsletter, has had difficulties in selling all of its 222 condominiums and has been offering leases with an option to buy. The 16-story mixed use project, located on the plaza at Rahway Station, combines ground floor retail, a hotel and residences. One-bedrooms lease for $1,350 and two-bedrooms for $1,600. As of late 2009, 58 units had been sold and another 43 units were rented.
Last year, Carriage City Properties, Skyview's developer, was found to be in default of its 2005 redevelopment agreement, which had no provision for rentals. That agreement entitled the city through its redevelopment agency to $10,000 per unit sold. The agency is now seeking compensation from Carriage City Properties for the apartments that have been leased.
Another project that has suffered from the current economic downturn is Riverwalk, located along the eastern edge of the Rahway River about 4/10 of a mile from the station. Since 2006, Diversified Communities sold 67 of a total of 86 townhouses. In late 2009, unable to find purchasers for the remaining 19 townhouses, the developer defaulted on an $11.8 million loan from Bank of America. Bank of America assumed ownership of the remaining units and is known to be seeking a buyer for the units. In addition, Rahway has been pursuing the developer for more than $400,000 in site and roadway improvements that were not completed.
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