With talk of development filling the airwaves, newspapers and social media outlets, I feel the need to make a public comment. Much of what I read and hear is based on misinformation, rumor and incorrect facts. With an election in the fall, there are those who seek to capitalize on public confusion to create division and anxiety when such times call for a steady, calm and unifying approach.
Despite what some politicians seeking office wrote recently, there is a very big difference between redevelopment and the development projects you have heard about at Summerhill Road and at Tices Lane in East Brunswick.
HD Summerhill is proposing to construct three, four-story residential buildings, a clubhouse, a CVS and a Chase bank at 377 Summerhill Road near the Spotswood border.
Alfieri’s Hidden Oak Woods development plan is proposing the construction of seven four-story buildings, with 275 residential units, including 55 affordable housing units, off Tices Lane.
The projects such as Summerhill and Tices come out of the Council on Affordable Housing (COAH) settlement in late 2016. This COAH issue is facing every township in New Jersey – we are not alone. The developers are supported by the courts, COAH and the State of New Jersey. They claim they are doing the township a service by helping us meet our affordable housing obligation. Our township has always done a good job of this and we really do not need their help.
It is my contention, and it has always been my contention, that COAH should not be driving the master plan of the township. The needs of the township come first – including the impact on schools, the environment, traffic, infrastructure, services, tax base, etc. Our affordable obligation comes second. But the needs of the development community are the caboose – their needs matter, but after the others.
At this point, it is important that residents continue to let their feelings known at the Planning and Zoning boards and I urge them to do so. Residents are free to voice their concerns, ask questions and cross examine experts and professional reports. But this is a formal process and the developer is entitled to a fair evaluation of his application. He will get exactly that. Any attempt to circumvent this process provides the developer with the grounds for an appeal should the application be denied.
As it is related to the Summerhill project, the council should be advised to avoid public comment as it could be interpreted as an attempt to influence the Zoning Board since Zoning Board appointments are made by the Township Council. The Save Frost group is certainly smart enough to recognize the politics of a sitting councilperson.
Now, all of that is completely different from redevelopment. Redevelopment has been the only “development” focus of my administration since taking office in 2017. By this, we are talking about the blighted properties on Route 18 – Loehmann’s, The Gap, The Wiz, and 110 Tices (Wonder Bread). We understand, based on our experts, professionals and advisors, exactly the highest and best development uses for Route 18. Creating an area that fulfills the role of a Transit Oriented Development (TOD) that has the look and feel of Pier Village, Long Branch, works best here. Living where there is night life, restaurants, a commuter bus station, connectivity, community areas, a high end hotel, etc. – that is what works best on Route 18.
Many elected officials and residents have served on commissions and boards to study this project. I, myself, have had many town halls and Facebook Live presentations to the public in order to garner public support and to answer questions. The people on these committees represent both political parties, as I have always wanted to unify the township and found folks who all shared a common interest in doing the right thing for East Brunswick. Most residents agree that we need to redevelop this blighted corridor.
So yes, there is a very big difference between redevelopment and the developments that are part of COAH. Any attempt to link the two under the heading of development is just a replay of the politics of fearmongering.
We have been able to stick to our redevelopment timetable, and in some instances, have been ahead of schedule. Expect demolition of the Wonder Bread Factory this fall. Building should commence after the winter, in early 2019. This area will boast mixed use properties along with a public ice skating rink. A Request for Proposals (RFP) for the Route 18 properties is expected to go out in early August. The Redevelopment Agency should be ready to announce a final plan by October. Again, this area is slated for the mixed use community described earlier.
In short, this is the time when our township needs to come together and define the Master Plan that fits the most cohesive and vibrant vision of the future. We must be realistic in that some growth will be necessary if we are to see any stabilization of our tax base and if we are to attract to East Brunswick the millennials that we need for our community to grow. But, the township should determine where this growth can be sustained and is needed, not developers. This is a time when calmer heads should prevail – those that seek to unify and resolve issues. I trust that the residents can tell the difference.
Dr. Brad Cohen is the mayor of East Brunswick. He writes the occasional column for Newspaper Media Group.