West Windsor has been officially designated as a transit village by the state as a result of its plans to redevelop the area surrounding the Princeton Junction train station.
The approval, announced by the state Department of Transportation last week, make the town the 24th transit village in the state.
James Simpson, DOT commissioner, says West Windsor’s designation is unique from other transit village plans because it is starting with surface parking lots and undeveloped land rather than redeveloping a downtown or main street area.
“West Windsor plans to transform the parking areas around the Princeton Junction train station into a vibrant residential, retail and commercial community served by public transportation,” Simpson says.
“The combination of dense, mixed-use development and access to robust public transportation stimulates economic activity and creates healthy, walkable opportunities for residents, workers, and visitors to leave their cars at home,” says Simpson.
“The whole idea is to promote business, mass transit, a sense of community, and a reduced reliance on cars,” says West Windsor Mayor Shing-Fu Hsueh, adding that the designation is the culmination of an application process that began in 2009.
The transit village designation provides a municipality with the following benefits:
• Coordination among the state agencies that make up the transit village task force.
• Priority consideration for funding from some state agencies.
• Technical assistance from some state agencies.
The transit village initiative began designating municipalities in 1999. The roster of transit village municipalities also includes Pleasantville, Morristown, Rutherford, South Amboy, South Orange, Riverside, Rahway, Metuchen, Belmar, Collingswood, Bloomfield, Bound Brook, Cranford, Matawan, New Brunswick, Journal Square/Jersey City, Netcong, Elizabeth City, Burlington City, Orange, Somerville, Montclair, and Linden.
West Windsor’s interest in the train station area intensified in 2005 when it designated a 350-acre area on both sides of the train station as an area in need of redevelopment.
That was followed by a community-wide series of grass-roots architectural planning session, or charettes, to formulate a vision for the area.
But the plans became mired for several years in political debate and progress stalled until developer InterCap Holdings presented its own plan for a mixed-use development on the site of its 1970s era office complex at 14 Washington Road.
The township approved an agreement with InterCap in September for a mixed-use development consisting of 800 townhomes and condominiums and 100,000 square feet of retail on the 24.4-acre property.
The development is the centerpiece of the 300-plus-acre redevelopment zone and a key component of the transit village.
InterCap CEO Steve Goldin has said he hopes to submit a site plan to the planning board in 2012 and break ground in 2013.
Meanwhile, as the township waits for InterCap to submit its plans, officials are moving ahead on another component of redevelopment — a new parking lot for township residents on the old township compost site on Alexander Road.
The new lot would provide parking for some 650 township residents who are currently on the waiting list for parking spaces at the station.
One current snafu in the plan: although commuters would be allowed to enter the lot from either direction on Alexander Road, the exit is right-turn only.
That means residents leaving the lot would be forced to travel towards Princeton and wind their way home the long way back into West Windsor.
The ban on left turns is necessary due to traffic backups caused by the roundabout at Alexander Road and North Post Road.
Not only would left turns toward the roundabout be difficult, they would be next to impossible, and potentially dangerous, say officials.
“It has to be done that way, otherwise you are going to have a lot of traffic problems over there,” says Mayor Hsueh.
“What commuters would have to do is go north through the new south lot and head through the existing Vaughn Drive Lot and take Vaughn Drive to Alexander Road,” says Gary W. Davies, vice president of Newark-based AECOM, who is working with the West Windsor Parking Authority on the project.
But another possibility may also exist. As part of West Windsor’s overall redevelopment scheme, officials have hopes to extend Vaughn Drive through the station and connect to Washington Road.
The state had set aside $19 million in funding for the estimated $36 million project, but pulled the funding in 2008 because progress had stalled on redevelopment due to political infighting between township officials.
The financial details of the parking project have not been finalized. Mayor Hsueh says he expects negotiations of a lease with the Parking Authority as the tenant and township as the landlord to continue until mid-January at the earliest. However, he said the financial outcome should bode well for both sides.
“Basically it will be annual payments, which more or less we will consider as a rent. On top of that if the Parking Authority makes profits there will be a percentage to be shared by the township taxpayers, but that has yet to be identified,” Hsueh said.
The project’s final cost will depend upon any revisions the parking authority includes when it submits its plans to the township. A few electric-vehicle charging stations would be included in the project, as would the electricity to charge such vehicles.
Township Business Administrator Robert Hary and the parking authority are focusing on coming up with a new estimate for the project by the end of this month. Hsueh says if the cost is higher than originally anticipated there could be a slight delay.
The township is waiting for the Parking Authority to submit its final plan to the planning board sometime in the next two months. After approval, construction could begin as soon as this spring.
However Hsueh says a more realistic timeline might see construction begin in early summer with completion by the end of the year. Construction is estimated to take five or six months, weather permitting.