With the concept plan for Route 571 reconstruction now approved and sitting before Council, the West Windsor Planning Board will turn its eyes to a study that could affect the future of the township’s business district.##M:[more]##
On Wednesday, November 2, township planner John Madden will present the results of a study to determine if a 362-acre area encompassing downtown Princeton Junction and surrounding parcels — including parts of Berrien City and Penns Neck — can be classified as a “redevelopment area” as outlined under the state’s Local Redevelopment and Housing Law.
The law allows municipalities to designate public or private parcels that are abandoned or under-performing as redevelopment areas. The designation provides officials with tools to spur redevelopment including the use of tax exemptions, favorable bond financing, and the creation of revenue allocation districts.
The initiative is separate from the township’s plans to create a transit village at the train station. Officials are hoping that by naming the Junction both a redevelopment area and a transit village, they will be able to increase the number of sources of funding.
Planning Board Chairman Marvin Gardner says that as part of the study, Madden will identify the geographical confines of the redevelopment area, evaluate negative impacts that various properties have within the area, and assign them with a grade. The overall negative impact is submitted to the state in an effort to certify the area as being in need of development.
In response to concerns expressed to the News by some residents that their neighborhoods could be targeted for redevelopment, Gardner points out that residential areas are being excluded from the study.
“Within the framework of the study areas, there may be properties that will remain untouched because they may not meet the requisites,” Gardner says. “Residential neighborhoods will not be touched. The purpose of what we are doing is to enhance the value of those properties and quality of life for all of those residents.”
If the board determines that the Junction is an area in need of redevelopment, the planning board must hold a public hearing and then make a recommendation to the township council of the boundaries for the redevelopment area. The council would then have to approve the redevelopment area and forward the measure to the state Department of Community Affairs for approval.
The township would move to draft a redevelopment plan if the redevelopment district is approved by the state, says Gardner.
According to the Local Redevelopment and Housing Law, an area may be determined to be in need of redevelopment based on the following criteria:
• The majority of buildings in the area are substandard, unsafe, unsanitary, dilapidated, or obsolescent, or are so lacking in light, air, or space, as to be conducive to unwholesome living or working conditions.
• The discontinuance of the use of buildings previously used for commercial, manufacturing, or industrial purposes; or the abandonment of such buildings.
• The existence of land that has remained vacant for at least 10 years that is unlikely to be privately developed due to its location, remoteness, lack of access to developed sections or portions of the municipality, topography, or nature of the soil.
• Areas with buildings or improvements determined to be detrimental to the safety, health, morals, or welfare of the community.
• A lack of proper utilization of properties caused by the condition of the title or diverse ownership resulting in a stagnant or not fully productive condition of land potentially useful and valuable for contributing to and serving the public health, safety and welfare.
• Areas, in excess of five contiguous acres, where buildings or improvements have been destroyed by a fire or natural disaster in such a way that the aggregate assessed value of the area has been materially depreciated.
In June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Kelo v. New London that municipalities can condemn property in order to make way for private projects. Both Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh and Gardner have vowed that West Windsor will not make use of eminent domain in pursuing a plan for redevelopment.
“We would hope to be able to negotiate with developers and commercial landowners to renovate, rehabilitate, and in some instances create something new entirely,” Gardner says.
“If a redevelopment area is designated, it opens us up to a considerable amount of private-sector funding. Suddenly the area becomes attractive to developers who may be desirous of acquiring some of these properties. It also encourages existing property owners to renovate or create something new out of what currently exists. That may require some demolition on their part.”
Gardner says that he, Hsueh, and Sam Surtees, township manager of land use, were to meet the property owners — commercial and residential — in the affected area to explain the redevelopment study this week.
“We don’t want anyone being surprised or misinformed with respect to its intentions and its status at this moment,” says Gardner.