Working for Smart Growth:
More Livable Places and Open Spaces

 

Bringing a Regional Focus to Growth Investments

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Project Name Supporting Priority Investment in Somerset County through Access and Mobility Improvements Study

Partners: North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, Parsons Brinckerhoff, Somerset County Planning Board


Smart Growth ChallengeHow can a county play a strategic role in guiding economic-growth investments across its municipalities so that regional and statewide smart-growth goals are supported?

In 2011 the state of New Jersey released a draft update to its existing State Development and Redevelopment Plan, called the State Strategic Plan. In place of a prescriptive map that would govern where various types of development could go, it proffered criteria for determining what kinds of development or preservation investments should be made in various types of places. Somerset County, long known for strong regional planning leadership and close cooperation with its municipalities, immediately began using and modifying those criteria, and adding some of its own, to identify “areas for growth, agriculture, open space conservation and other appropriate designations.”

The resulting Somerset County Investment Framework uses these criteria to evaluate the ability of existing centers and employment nodes to accommodate additional growth; to confirm the importance of areas identified in agricultural development and open space plans for resource protection, preservation and restoration; and to identify neighborhoods where the enhancement of existing community character would be of highest priority. The county was able to generate its own map, based on these criteria, that identified these different areas.

As a next step in advancing this framework, the county began to look for specific places that would require various kinds of investments in order to enable different kinds of growth. The resulting study, Supporting Priority Investment Through Access and Mobility Improvements, was a three-phase project that, through extensive public outreach and a thorough technical analysis, identified seven pilot sites in the county where land-use changes and transportation improvements could be implemented to spur investment in and reuse of underutilized, underperforming or vacant sites.

One of the hallmarks of both plans is the extent to which the county reached out to each of its municipalities to secure their input and support. As a result, the municipalities have aligning their growth plans with the two reports.

It contains an implementation strategy for each that prioritizes recommendations and identifies partner agencies that can provide implementation assistance. Recommendations range from roadway and transit projects to bicycle and pedestrian improvements to land-use and zoning changes.

The strategies and recommendations focus on:

  • Creating or enhancing connections to existing developments or plans. The sites were in already-developed areas and were identified as priorities in local municipal plans as well as in the county’s Comprehensive Economic Development Plan.
  • Creating or enhancing a vibrant mix of uses (residential, retail, office). Many of the zoning changes recommended a mixed-use approach to the reuse of the sites and promoted a range of housing types.
  • Protecting or enhancing open space, farmland, parks, and critical environmental areas. The study had a reuse and redevelopment focus aimed at limiting or curtailing new development in greenfield settings. Several recommendations included suggestions for linking to open space and greenway/trail systems.
  • Increasing the range of housing options available. Several sites were identified as good opportunities for multi-family development.
  • Creating or enhancing transportation choices. Recommendations were for multi-modal improvements ranging from sidewalks and bicycle improvements to roadway/intersection improvements to new transit services.
  • Design that fosters walkability and activities at the street level, including sidewalks and other bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure improvements.

Supporting Partners: Franklin Township, Hillsborough Township, New Jersey Department of Transportation, New Jersey Transit, Office of Planning Advocacy, Ridewise, Somerville Borough, Somerset County Business Partnership,

 

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