West Windsor may have finally approved its controversial redevelopoment plan, but it will be a long time and a lot of dollars before any shovels hit the dirt.
After more than three years of political wrangling and a planning charrette process that engaged hundreds of interested residents, the township council last month adopted a plan for the redevelopment of a 350-acre area around the Princeton Junction train station. The next step is for the township to look for for redevelopers, review their credits, and make a selection, says West Windsor Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh,
Without funding commitment first from the state and county, Hsueh says nothing will happen. But even if those commitments are made, the mayor doesn’t expect any development to happen for at least two to three years, as township officials will still have to meet with property owners, go then go through the process of selecting the developers.
“After this, specific proposals will be prepared together with all of the required analyses of fiscal, environmental, and social impacts for review against the Redevelopment Plan,” he stated in a press release. “It will be a while before the first shovel is in the ground, but we need to start now so that our momentum and our dedication to this project retain the interest of those who would invest in the township.”
But what is his best guess as to what will happen first, once redevelopment does begin? Infrastructure — parking and roadway — improvements will come first, he said. And it might not be exciting, but the remediation of the former township compost site might create the first, much-needed new parking spaces at the station.
The township already received a grant to help with testing at the site, which officials are preparing now. “What this really means is potentially there will be an additional West Windsor parking lot,” Hsueh says. “Depending on the study, investigations, and the level of contamination, it could go anywhere from six months to a year,” before that surface lot is seen, Hsueh said.
Hsueh says no development can take place without the road and parking infrastructure in place, and while the landfill/compost station is being remediated, he will also be working with the West Windsor Parking Authority and New Jersey Transit to determine other sites for structured parking. But if there are going to be structured parking decks, roadways would have to go in first, Hsueh says.
In adopting the redevelopment plan, township officials said it would continue to be a work in process, but that it would allow redevelopment to move to the next step. Three members of the West Windsor Township Council voted to adopt the plan after a four-and-a-half hour meeting last month.
Council President Charles Morgan, who is running for mayor against Hsueh, voted against its adoption, saying that he feared the plan did not provide enough safeguards to ensure a large number of housing units would not be built in the redevelopment area in the future. Council members Linda Geevers, George Borek, and Heidi Kleinman voted for its adoption.
“This is not the end — this is the beginning of the end,” said John Madden, quoting Winston Churchill, during the meeting during his description of the implications of adopting the plan. He said having the plan will allow township officials to work with state agencies, including New Jersey Transit and the state Department of Transportation, as well as the county and the West Windsor Parking Authority in hashing out funding and finishing designs for the station’s core area.
Details for NJT properties and the station core area — including the Bus Rapid Transit system, kiss and ride, and other immediate train station features — could not be completed without the adoption, first, of a plan, some officials had argued.
The plan calls for a total base number of 483 housing units consisting of 311 market-priced units and 172 affordable housing units.
As for non-residential development, the plan proposes 207,910 square feet of retail with the potential option to increase retail floor area in District 1 — which encompasses the 25 acres off Washington Road owned by InterCap Holdings — by an additional 67,500 square feet along with 75,000 square feet of added office space.
If the option for 75,000 square feet of additional commercial space is implemented, it would add an obligation for 9 more affordable housing units. This would bring the total redevelopment area residential unit count to 496, with 311 market units and 185 affordable units. Office use is the predominant future land use proposed for the redevelopment area, with a total of 871,909 square feet, built and proposed.
With traffic congestion a main concern with residents, Madden told the council that “there is less traffic in this redevelopment area than the current zoning would create.” This is because there is half a million square feet less development. However, “there will continue to be congestion, which is unavoidable.”
Madden said there is no plan that could fix the traffic congestion because of the “capacity limitation” imposed on the roads in the east side of the redevelopment area by previous township councils. “This plan, or any plan, is not going to relieve that traffic.”
And the issue of the number of school children brought to the area by development is something that is going to be monitored over time, said Madden, who said that it would be a factor in determining, during negotiations with developers in the future, whether those developers would be able to build more housing units. Madden said that the multiplier of .28 children generated per dwelling unit was a “very generous multiplier.”
Madden said there are 5,500 parking spaces called for in the plan, and the next step after adoption is for NJT and the parking authority to detail their respective parking plans, as well as plan for the design of the station core area. “New Jersey Transit has just preliminary started on that, so that will create some alterations in the plan,” Madden said.
Morgan said he believed transit villages “are a place to be,” but stressed that he was against “hastiness and urbanization of our town.”
He said he also opposed the idea that West Windsor had to cater to “regionalization” needs to help residents of other towns, but on the backs of West Windsor taxpayers. But the most prominent issue Morgan raised throughout the meeting was the idea of too much housing to come later. The plan states that after the first phase of construction is complete, developers could negotiate based on studies of the impact to the township, including economically, financially, and on the number of school children generated. However, Morgan said a developer might complete all of the studies with favorable results but still be denied by West Windsor for further development, which could cause a legal challenge.
And, “if everything we’ve heard about economics is true, we’re kidding ourselves if we think there’s going to be less than 935 units,” he said, referring to an earlier comment by Steve Goldin, InterCap CEO, who said that developers would not be interested in redeveloping the site unless the 935 units served as a base number.
He said he feels West Windsor would then be left with the burden of taking care of those units. And those units would have to be built in an inclusive manner within more market-rate units, which would then generate an affordable housing obligation of their own, he added. “On a worst case basis, we’re starting to talk about a lot more than 500 units,” Morgan said.
“It’s not the perfect plan, but it’s a plan that we can all work on,” said Borek, who said township officials now had a plan they could bring to state agencies. “If they don’t work with us, the plan will probably sit on the table for 20 years.”
“It is not a redevelopment plan set in stone,” said Hsueh. “It is a plan that will encourage much needed private investment; stimulate federal and state financing; and finally bring relief to an estimated 1,500 West Windsor commuters who have been waiting for years for affordable parking.”