Thursday, May 17, 2007

Development, Part 2: Telling the good from the bad

I favor the Transit Village approach for Plainfield but I have reservations which I will explain below.

Transit Village is a concept whose time has come, especially for a densely populated state like New Jersey. It means redirecting development away from our shrinking farmlands and green space and concentrating it where the infrastructure already exists - where the mass transit is, near shopping and jobs. In Plainfield, it means concentrating development around one or more train stations. We are currently in the pre-construction phase of a large mixed use residential and retail project across from our downtown train station.

The Transit Village approach can reduce the tendency towards suburban sprawl and revitalize urban centers. But it can also be an excuse for poorly conceived projects that benefit “in and out” developers but not neighbors and property tax payers.

Remember urban renewal? It was supposed to eliminate slums in the 1960’s. Until recently, the empty Park-Madison block in downtown Plainfield was an all too real example of the failings of good intentions and big picture planning. How do we use the transit village concept so that all stakeholders benefit from development? Here are some ways:

1. Mix of commercial and residential

Development must benefit property taxpayers. Even though most of the development profits seem to be with residential projects and the denser the better, commercial development must be part of the mix in tax starved urban towns like Plainfield. These towns already carry undue burdens of costly public safety and human services. Residential tax ratables do not solve town’s tax problems because the new revenue is offset by the cost of services to the new residents. Municipal tax experts are telling us that commercial ratables are necessary to reduce the property tax burden. A healthy development mix that includes commercial and retail is good for everyone as it is creates more local jobs and reduces vehicular traffic. Towns will have to take a strong negotiating approach with redevelopers to accomplish this goal.

2.Dependence on sound land use planning

Downtown living is a good thing as long as open space, security, parking and traffic congestion are addressed. Although towns are competing for experienced developers and must be responsive to their needs, the driving force for development must be the needs of the town residents. Their elected officials and volunteer land use board members must be proactive in creating a vision that works for everyone. The town Master Plan and Zoning Ordinance must be used to guide beneficial development. After land use plannning comes project planning. Residents and business owners must feel confident that their input is important and that plans are not just developer driven.

3. Competition

A town like Plainfield, with unique features, will not benefit from cookie cutter development. In order to attract developers that respect our cultural diversity and history, we will need to use competitive bidding for some projects. Its not just about price, it's about finding creative partners that are the right match with Plainfield.

Tomorrow my blog will continue with "telling good development from bad". Let me know what you think at

1 comment:

Bill Hetfield said...

The Frankiln Place property reached its sorry state because of the failure of government to inforce its housing codes! If the City had acted in a timely manner, the porch would be intact;the interior would not have been gutted. The tone of the blog regarding housing is certainly more biting then your actions steps or voice of influence as councilman. If you lived in Crescent area of Plainfield or owned/managed residential & commercial property in Plainfield over the past 30 years,as I have, you would relaize how hollow your voice sounds today.

I am glad you are for redevelopment. That is an easy one!However, the failure to demand competitive bidding at the outset for the redevelopment projects, such as North Avenue, is disappointing. Now is when the City has real choices - not later. Assemblymen Green realizes the risk in picking from the top approach. The burden will fall on the citizens and elected officials, like yourself, to see that Plinfield's future is something we can be proud of.

You are not an easy guy to vote for. As recent Democrats, Lisa & I will look for you to make a case to convince.
Best Regards,
Bill Hetfield