Friday, August 11, 2006

What Is A Transit Village?

A nine-page draft of master plan objectives and policies, liberally peppered with “transit village” references, brought reactions Thursday (Aug. 10, 2006) from both citizens and planners who want the term defined.

The document was the centerpiece of a discussion and hearing held by the Planning Board in City Hall Library. The board is re-examining the master plan that sets goals for how the city should address its physical, social and economic development. Once the plan is complete, the city’s Zoning Ordinance will be revised to uphold the goals.

A small but vocal group attended the meeting and raised many questions about the transit village concept.

The new administration of Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs unveiled a plan in April to have four so-called transit villages, two around existing train stations at Netherwood and North Avenue, and two more at former train stops on Grant and Clinton avenues.

Throughout the discussion, Planning Board members probed the meaning of “transit village” status and whether it meant just rail access or other transportation, such as buses.
The implications for transit village status are that the areas around transit hubs can have increased density. But the city has not yet been designated as a Transit Village under strict criteria of a state program involving 11 agencies.

Planning Director Bill Nierstedt said the city could make a local designation and then try for the state designation.

Planning Board member Siddeeq El-Amin, also a city police captain, said the state program designates the municipality, not just an area, as a “transit village.”

Planner George Stevenson, a consultant on the master plan review, offered a definition of transit village that contrasted with El-Amin’s findings.

In public comments, resident William Michelson said the definition should state that a transit village should be within a quarter-mile of a rail passenger station. He disagreed with language in the document that referred to development along the rail line. He also disputed the notion that the former Grant and Clinton railroad stops could be restored, given possible concerns of NJ Transit about insurance for the locations.

Michelson said given the unlikelihood of the defunct stations opening, the last thing he wanted was people building along the train tracks on speculation that the stations would open.

Other residents, including Barbara Kerr and Dottie Gutenkauf, echoed Michelson’s concern about a lack of definition of the “transit village“ term.

“I’m getting to the point where every time I hear the term, transit village, I want to reach for my revolver, “ Gutenkauf said.

She cautioned against using “buzzwords and fads” and recalled the term, “urban renewal,” that prevailed in the 1950s.

Several speakers said a transit village must include access within walking distance to food stores, dry cleaners, restaurants and pharmacies to be effective.

Planning Board Chairman Ken Robertson said the document was still being revised.

The Planning Board has set its second meeting each month to consideration of the master plan review. At Thursday’s discussion and hearing, both planners and residents said they did not want to vaunt new economic goals over historic preservation considerations, because the city’s history is its greatest legacy.

--Bernice Paglia


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