Saturday, November 10, 2007

Planners Question Proposed Density, Uses

The next time planners see a depiction of the Netherwood redevelopment study area, they said, they want to see color keys to brownfields, vacancies, residential use and other indicators of conditions on the 16 target lots. And they want to know what plans the city has to relocate the Public Works yard that is one of the targets.

At a special meeting Thursday (Nov. 7, 2007) George Stevenson of Remington & Vernick displayed a map that showed the whole area in battleship gray, without any distinction of existing conditions or use. The study area, reduced from more than 90 lots, is now between Richmond and Berckman streets on both sides of the Raritan Valley Line and extends east to the boundary of the city yard across South Avenue from Central Street. Neither Stevenson nor mayoral representative Barbara James could say Thursday where the city intends to relocate the yard.

The planners also want to know what exists on all four adjacent sides of the study area.

In questioning, Stevenson confirmed that there is a suggestion of five-story residential buildings for the site. That set off more questions about density closer to the Netherwood train station. The theme of transit-oriented development is high density around train stations, phasing to lesser density in a widening radius. But most of the proposed Netherwood target area is outside the quarter-mile range. Planning Board member Ron Scott-Bey asked whether five-story construction there would mean a higher density of 12 stories around the station.

Planners received four quarter-mile maps Thursday for discussion of the four transit hubs - Netherwood, the main station on North Avenue and two sites of former stations at Grant and Clinton avenues.

Planners said the process seems to be “project-driven” and “developer-driven” rather than reflecting what the community might want in redevelopment. Planning Board member Donna Vose said the city needs industry that will provide jobs, not all residential development.

Planning Division Director Bill Nierstedt said planners must consider what concessions they want from developers in return for higher density, such as ground-level plazas or other amenities.

Around the main train station, a 2000 redevelopment plan only included three blocks north of the tracks. But with recently proposed expansions to the west and south, the North Avenue Historic District redevelopment area is now to be known as the “North Avenue Expanded Area.” The historic 1880s buildings of the city’s first commercial district will be preserved, but high-rise construction behind them is proposed.

A large redevelopment area south of the main train station was studied, but is not part of the plans now under consideration. Planning Board Chairman Ken Robertson said the Downtown Station South study was sent to the City Council, but the board received no response.

The Planning Board will not meet on Nov. 15, due to the League of Municipalities meeting. The next meeting will be Dec. 6.

--Bernice Paglia


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