Friday, April 28, 2006

City Sees Four Transit Villages

Statewide, only 17 Transit Villages have been approved since 1999.

But in comments Thursday (April 27, 2006) Plainfield officials are envisioning four transit villages within the city's six square miles.

Plainfield once had four train stations - Netherwood, North Avenue, Grant Avenue and Clinton Avenue - but today only the main station at North Avenue and Netherwood are active.

At a 100-day mayoral report Thursday (April 27, 2006) Economic Director Jennifer Wenson Maier projected a map showing four “pods” of housing density around the rail stops.

“Each pod will have a separate identity,” she said, saying people might travel back and forth from pod to pod.

Wenson Maier said the city might see the renaissance of features such as the old Tier’s Pond for skating and new concepts such as canoeing in a dredged-out Green Brook.

She said the plan might take 20 years to fulfill the goals, but the city is working toward them.

She said developers are highly interested in the possibilities of transit village development.

Plaintalker did some research on Transit Villages and came up with the following context:

In the 19th century, houses and stores just naturally sprang up along rail routes connecting commuters to New York.

On the present Raritan Valley Line, Westfield, Fanwood, Dunellen and Bound Brook are examples.

In Plainfield, the main station anchors the city’s only commercial historic district, where in the 1800s Wall Street executives living on West Eighth Street’s Millionaire’s Row departed for the city. Shops in the block between Park and Watchung Avenues offered wares for their tables and households.

“These were transit villages before we had the term,“ said Jan Wells, program director with the Alan M. Voorhees Transportation Center at Rutgers University.

Part of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Policy and Planning, the center examines virtually all aspects of transportation, including the New Jersey Transit Village Initiative that began in 1998.

The 17 Transit Villages approved in a state program had to meet rigorous guidelines for applicants. Eleven state agencies are represented on a Transit Village Task Force that examines the applications and determines a municipality’s eligibility. Bound Brook, Rahway and Cranford are among Central Jersey transit villages.

The idea behind the Transit Village program is to redevelop and revitalize blocks around train stations to make them attractive places to live, work and enjoy life.

An applicant is expected to have, among many other things, an adopted land-use strategy based on what the New Jersey Department of Transportation calls “transit-oriented development” principles. A good candidate must also have a project ready to go that can be completed within three years.

Ample parking, cultural activity, some affordable housing, a station management plan and architectural guidelines that support the historic and architectural integrity of the community are other desired facets of a Transit Village application.

Plainfield’s rail history dates back to 1837, when the Easton & Amboy Railroad was built from Elizabethport to the city, according to a 1901 history published by the Plainfield Courier News. After the tracks were elevated in 1874, rail traffic increased from 11 trains each way to more than forty east and west at the turn of the 20th century. The Central Railroad of New Jersey had stations at Grant Avenue and Clinton Avenue in addition to North Avenue and Netherwood.

--Bernice Paglia

KEYWORDS: development, transit village