While the West Windsor Township Council is anticipating a draft of its redevelopment plan from Hillier by the end of August, InterCap Holdings CEO Steve Goldin’s own proposal for his 25 acres on Washington Road and the rest of the train station redevelopment area will be formally discussed by township officials at a special council meeting Monday, August 25, at 7 p.m.##M:[more]##
At the meeting, Gary Davies and John Madden, the township’s traffic circulation and planning consultants will present their review of InterCap’s proposal.
Goldin has been holding his own public presentations about the 350-acre redevelopment area all year long. During the most recent presentation on May 31, Goldin revealed proposals for 250 senior citizen condos and townhouses, 450 market-rate condos and townhouses, and 144 affordable housing units on his company’s 25 acres on Washington Road.
Taking into account all properties in the redevelopment area, Goldin’s proposal calls for 755,"000 square feet of office space, 292,"000 square feet of restaurant and retail space, 250 senior units, 144 senior affordable housing units, 450 market-rate townhomes, and 152 non-senior affordable housing units. He also proposed that parking for West Windsor residents at the train station increase from 1,"000 to 2,"000 spaces, and that NJ Transit parking increase to 4,"000 spaces from 2,"500.
Council President Charles Morgan says that the review is similar to the discussion of the concept plans presented by Hillier last summer. “We want to hear from our consultants what they think of the proposal,” Morgan says. “The InterCap proposal is not a plan. The Hillier proposal is not a plan. People are getting confused about that. A redevelopment plan has yet to be written or proposed. These are concepts.”
He points out that the actual redevelopment plan will be written by Hillier, and a draft is expected to come before the council at the end of August. He did mention, though, that it will not be a complete plan, as other information, like the traffic circulation element, will not be available until October or November.
In order for final decisions to be made on subjects like the size of the Vaughn Drive connector road and how traffic should flow along the Route 571 “main street” area, a subgroup of officials from state and local agencies will need the time to continue reviewing traffic data collected by their own experts as well as data collected by InterCap Holdings. This is to see how the proposals for these roads will fit in with the state’s regional goals for traffic circulation. During an “interagency meeting” of township, state, and county officials in July, officials said that because of this extensive review, the traffic circulation element of the redevelopment plan would not come until at least October.
In a related matter, during its August 4 meeting, council approved a change to the Hillier contract specifying that the remaining $50,"000 that council has agreed to pay the firm will go toward Hillier’s preparation of a draft redevelopment plan, not a final plan, as originally approved by council earlier this summer.
RMJM Hillier had asked for the modification to state that its responsibilities include the creation of a draft redevelopment plan by the end of the year, not its completion, according to township officials.
The council approved the contract with a resolution that stated it was interpreting that a “draft plan” means a complete plan that satisfied New Jersey statutory requirements.
“A final plan has to be done with council in consulting with the planning board,” Morgan explained. He said he is confident the township will get the work for which it is paying $50,"000. “They cannot present a document that is not complete and really a good draft for us to consider, otherwise it impairs their professional reputation,” he said. “Whatever they give us has to be good.”
Councilman Will Anklowitz said he had some “deep reservations” about the contract modification, but says the council has assurances from the administration that “this will get us a plan that will allow us to do redevelopment.”
“We’ll keep a positive outlook, and we’ll give it a try,” he added. “It’s the only option we have before us.”
Councilwoman Linda Geevers also expressed some concern, saying that with the total $330,"000 the council has already paid Hillier all together, she expected it would get a final redevelopment plan. “We need to make substantive decisions so that we don’t endlessly spend money on consultants,” she said. “With the involvement of the state DOT, NJ Transit, and the Parking Authority, I think we can present a land use plan that improves the circulation and addresses the need for more West Windsor parking.”
In reference to the August 25 meeting to review Goldin’s plans, Geevers said she feels that “the more substantive discussion we can have with our professionals, the closer we’ll get to forming a final plan for public review and comment.”
Referendum. Meanwhile, Anklowitz was unable to draw up any support from his colleagues on council to put a referendum on the November ballot to gauge residents’ views on redevelopment.
But Fisher Place resident Pete Weale and Mike Ranallo, a Trenton resident and West Windsor property owner, are trying to collect the necessary 1,"200 signatures by August 22, the deadline the township must meet for any referendums to be placed on the ballot.
Anklowitz’s motion to pass a resolution to put a question on the November ballot was not supported with a second by any other council member on August 4.
Anklowitz said if he were a resident of the township not at the dais, “I’d be outraged, and I’d be disappointed because I wouldn’t have a chance to weigh in on it, and the election is just around the corner.”
He said that if the township is going to make redevelopment happen, “we’re going to have to take a much more positive look at things. Whether people want a transit village is a yes or no question.”
He said that given the township’s track record of putting complex issues, like open space, up for referendum, “the voters have shown the ability to deal with it.”
Some residents have said they supported the idea of holding a referendum because they believe it will decide once and for all where the majority of township residents stand when it comes to the type of development at the train station, and whether it should include a significant housing, retail, and office space component. Others believe it will prove that the majority of residents simply want infrastructure improvements and nothing else.
But there are also those who are opposed to the idea of a referendum, saying that there are so many components to redevelopment that wording the question would be cumbersome and unsuccessful in painting a true picture of taxpayers’ feelings. They say that it would be very hard to word the question in yes/no format when trying to gauge the number of housing units township residents would find acceptable in the development.
Council President Charles Morgan says he feels the referendum would have garnered an overwhelming yes answer, but that “it would not have changed the conundrum around the scope and scale.”
He said referendum questions would lead to inconsistent results, especially the way Weale and Ranallo are proposing to word the questions. “I supported all along a survey that would answer the questions,” which would not create a conflict, but he admits there has been no council support for that idea, either.
“I think I have a good idea of what the community wants,” Morgan says. “I know the people want redevelopment to go forward in a way that’s reasonable. Everybody wants parking. Everybody wants a little bit of retail. Everybody wants something that’s a little bit pedestrian friendly.”
Further, “I want us to move forward in a way that will not invoke the law of unintended consequences,” he said.
Councilwoman Heidi Kleinman also commented on her decision not to second Anklowitz’s motion. “Asking the public if they would like to have a transit village at the train stain over simplifies the complexity of the design process,” she said. “If you ask our residents why they moved to West Windsor, repeatedly they say it was for access to the train station and the schools. One out of every five households uses the train station regularly. Many more use the trains occasionally. Our residents are demanding parking at the stations because the continual need to use the trains. Our town is defined already by its access to the train. We are already a transit-oriented community.”
Councilwoman Linda Geevers said she has no problem with referendum questions, but she says they have to give detailed information on the issue, including the tax impact, rather than “broad questions of a conceptual nature.”
For example, she says, “a question reflecting the financing and tax impact of building a parking garage and/or surface parking along with accompanying road improvements or better circulation would be very specific as opposed to just asking residents if they want a new garage. It may be easy to say yes to a garage without having a full understanding of the financial options and tax impacts for such a project.”
In addition, if a ballot question is turned down by voters, she asks, “What’s going to happen to all the work that’s been done up to this point? Do you throw that all out? Where do you go then?”
Geevers said that instead, she would prefer to give residents a detailed and specific redevelopment plan to review and share their input.
Similarly, Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh said that “the redevelopment process is so complicated, there’s no such thing as yes or no.” He says that residents can say yes or no to a parking garage, but the unanswered question in a referendum would be over who would pay for the parking garage. The same goes for the number of housing units. Everyone can say they don’t want new housing units, but if there are no housing units, “you’re going to be subject to a developer’s remedy lawsuit. That will put the township in a worse position,” he said. “I’m pretty sure everybody wants to have parking garages for free, but then again there is no such thing as a free lunch.”
Weale, however, says that he and Ranallo do feel the issue is too complex to distill into a single question because there may be some elements of redevelopment that residents support, but not others. “The taxpayer will at least have the opportunity to weigh in,” he said. “The outcome of that will provide council with a sense of urgency and some guidance.”
He said that the challenge in looking at the whole project is the financial aspect of it. He points to Goldin’s proposal as an example. “Three of the council people ran and were elected on this 1,"000 homes and a circle and a diagonal slash through it,” he said, referring to campaign posters for Anklowitz, Morgan, and George Borek last summer, who ran against Hillier’s concepts for 1,"000 residential units. But “800 units is closer to 1,"000 than 200. What I think is the glaring omission is the emphasis on numbers in just about everything and anything.”
This is the reason why it is important to have residents’ input, he said, and he and Ranallo have broken down the referendum into five different sections. Weale said he passed out about 100 petitions at the August 4 council meeting, and 250 more later in the week. So, there are 350 petitions, each of which has the ability to collect up to 20 signatures. The two men need to collect 1,"200 signatures, or 25 percent of the registered voters, who voted in the last election.