Redevelopment Agency moves forward with small steps towards the larger development vision

Highland Park’s redevelopment agenda continued to make progress at the Thursday, April 16, 2015 Redevelopment Agency meeting at which several important items were discussed.

—International Market Property: Agency Chairwoman Rosie Baruh stated that a redevelopment proposal for the International Market property, first introduced on Feb. 5, 2015, is progressing and that the proposals committee had referred the developer to Main Street Highland Park’s Design Committee for a consultation on the aesthetics to make sure that it conformed to the overall look and feel of downtown.   The Agency has been in discussion with other potential developers and anticipates public presentations in the near future.

—Capital Improvements Planning Task Force: Redevelopment Agency member Clint Andrews announced that the Capital Improvements Planning Study was to be presented to the members of the Highland Park Capital Improvements Planning Task Force on Tuesday, April 28, 2015. Dr. Clint Andrews chairs the Infrastructure Task Force and revealed that the study would include the inventory of infrastructure assets, such as streets, buildings, sewers, an assessment of infrastructure condition, and priorities for future refurbishment and investment. (HPP will be doing a story on that report).

—Areas in Need of Rehabilitation: Ms. Baruh noted that one issue that could be confounding to a developer is the fact that the downtown is a patchwork of sites, some in the Redevelopment Zone and some not. Depending on which site was being considered, a potential developer would need to go before the Redevelopment Agency or go right to the Planning Board. Mr. Solomon introduced the idea bringing all of the downtown under the jurisdiction of the Redevelopment Plan by designating them “Areas in Need of Rehabilitation.” Unlike “Areas in Need of Redevelopment,” which requires a finding of blight and carries with it condemnation authority, an Area in Need of Rehabilitation explicitly does not carry with it any condemnation authority by the municipality. The Area in Need of Rehabilitation is subject to the zoning rules in the Redevelopment Plan and gives the borough negotiation room to work with developer. The amended draft will be presented at the Redevelopment Agency’s on May 7, 2015.

—Status of Proposed Redevelopment Plan Amendments: Ms. Baruh indicated that an informal presentation to the Planning Board would take place at the Thursday April 23 Planning Board meeting.  Ms. Baruh stated that these informal presentations are meant to maintain open discussion while the Redevelopment Agency considers amendment recommendation so that the final recommendations are in line all agency goals.

The informal presentation to the Planning board did take place on schedule. Following the presentation Kim Hammond, chairwoman of the Planning Board, commented that “the Planning Board welcomed the collaborative nature of the meeting,” and then proceeded to commend the Redevelopment Agency for initiating the conversation with the Planning Board before everything was set in stone.

Other items related to the revising the Redevelopment Plan included:

—Effort to Reconcile Redevelopment Plan with Zoning Plan:

—Hand in hand with the Agency’s efforts to amend the Redevelopment plan is an effort to reconcile the Redevelopment and Master Plan with the Zoning Plan. Typically the Master Plan is an overlay of the Zoning Plan and where conflicts between the two exist, the Master Plan takes precedent. Council members identified that there are many areas in which the Master Plan is silent on issues of significance to Redevelopment. A review committee has been formed to look at the Master Plan and the Zoning Plan side by side and and fill in the gaps wherever the redevelopment plan is silent.

—Curb Cuts: Agency Member Randall Solomon presented a recommendation for revised language on allowable curb cuts (driveways over the sidewalk) on Raritan Avenue. The general consensus is that the existing language is too restrictive and would block some good developments in addition to protecting against unsafe situations and too many cars crossing the sidewalk in pedestrian areas. Commissioners Solomon, Baruh and Perlman worked on language that is intended to limit the number of curb cuts, but not prevent otherwise positive development projects. The current plan allows only “one midblock curb cut per block.” He cited the fact that some blocks are larger than others, and that a curb cut might be warranted for a very large development but not for a smaller one. He proposed that no curb cuts be allowed on corner sites that have access to side streets and that curb cuts be granted based on the linear feet of development frontage on Raritan Avenue for each project. This acts as a bonus to property owners to encourage them to assemble many small properties into one larger parcel that can be developed more efficiently. Mr. Solomon said that the specific language, as well as the number of linear feet of Raritan frontage that would earn a curb cut, were still under development.

—Parking:   Highland Park resident Robert Roslewicz called for implementation of parking meters along Raritan sooner rather than later. Mr. Roslewicz stated that he regularly sees cars left parked along Raritan Avenue all day long. In later statements both Roslewicz and George identified Park Mobile as an operational and revenue collection App utilized by other municipalities including New Brunswick, Metuchen, and Westfield.

Agency member Frances McDonald questioned whether metered parking should be considered. Mr. George responded that Highland Park had metered parking which generated revenue until the first recession hit, at which time Highland Park switched to current practice of free parking along Raritan. Dr. Andrews speculated that based on population projections in the Planning Task Force Study, parking meters would receive support.

Mr. Perlman disagreed, identifying that we need to bring in development and make Highland Park into a destination before we can charge for parking.

Mr. Solomon noted that the Redevelopment Plan is silent on parking strategies, and by default falls back on the state issued Residential Site Improvement Standards and the Zoning Ordinance which set minimum numbers of parking places that must be provided for each new unit in a development.  Mr. Solomon stated “The concept of parking requirements is antiquated, particularly for walkable communities. It often serves in practice to prevent downtown development from occurring unless it can provide suburban levels of parking. It’s just not possible.” Eliminating parking requirements and allowing the market to decide –(allowing businesses to decide operationally what amount of parking fits their needs and constraining the maximum amount allowed) – reduces parking over-build, encourages walkability and frees up more desirable redevelopment.

Agency Member Phil George agreed, reiterating his belief that any reference to parking in the Central Business District following Municipal Zoning Laws be changed or taken out of the Redevelopment Plan. Mr. George also identified that Main Street has suggested two-hour parking on Raritan, though no recommendation on how to regulate this was offered. According to Mr. George only one Council Member supported this idea.

Resident David Tawil took issue with the depiction of intent to connect existing parking lots between south third and south fourth as shown in the current redevelopment plan. He questioned the possibility of these being connected in the future at the borough’s direction.  “To connect these lots creates a thorough fare and bypass for route 27 and creates a hazard to the children and parents of yellow brick road and others walking along south third and south fourth.”

After assuring Mr. Tawil that changes could only be implemented by the borough if those properties owning the parking areas were sold or redeveloped,  Ms. Baruh responded “We hear you and we understand your concerns.”

Mr. Solomon indicated that if and when these changes take place, again only if the property owners seek to redevelop, site plan approval will be sought which requires expert testimony from traffic engineers qualified to assess and ensure the design of traffic movement responsive to pedestrian safety.





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