Cooperation as a Catalyst for Remaking an Older Borough’s Downtown
Project Name: Block 64 Redevelopment, Fanwood
A cooperative approach to re-making a transit-oriented downtown
Partners: Borough of Fanwood, Maser Consulting, Rogut McCarthy, T&M Associates
Smart-Growth Challenge: How can a small borough leverage public improvements effectively to encourage private investment in revitalizing its transit-centered but fading downtown?
The Borough of Fanwood led the redevelopment of its underutilized and outdated but transit-centered downtown by taking the lead and working directly with developers and property owners to bring the heart of its community back to life. Today, the borough’s nearly-realized vision is a lively mix of new retail and residential development combined with inviting new public spaces. Located across from the borough’s charming, Victorian-era train station, this transit-oriented village offers many of the benefits of urban living, coupled with the appeal of a small town.
The first hint of change came as the borough oversaw the refurbishment of its celebrated rail station, now a popular fixture on Union County’s Four Centuries in a Weekend tour, an annual event that began in 1994 when 16 historic sites and the county organized a weekend event to tell the story of the growth of Union County and its municipalities. Next came enhancements to downtown sidewalks and the installation of planters and what have become known as “Fanwood lamps.” As a finishing touch, the community raised funds for a new park and a four-faced Victorian-themed “Millennium Clock” at the intersection of the rail station and commercial downtown, in a “found” open space area created by closing off an unnecessary and unsafe entrance to a commuter parking lot.
Residents and borough officials hoped that these public beautification efforts would entice private business owners to follow suit and beautify their own properties; when that didn’t happen, it became clear further action was needed. After establishing the one-block downtown as an area in need of redevelopment, borough officials used a Smart Future Grant from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs Office of Smart Growth to hire a consultant to develop a building façade upgrade guidebook and a shared-parking strategy. Local government partnered with a Citizen Redevelopment Committee to conduct public outreach, which included resident and merchant surveys, televised open public forums, and, ultimately, adoption of the Redevelopment Plan for Fanwood Downtown Block 64, that reflected the community’s aspirations. The plan sought to extend the characteristics of the historic Victorian railroad station to the rest of the commercial downtown, and included design guidelines and new zoning that encouraged residential, retail, commercial, and open public spaces all within the same downtown block.
So far, the redevelopment has produced lovely new buildings in keeping with the historic buildings that characterize the community, as well as 24 units of affordable housing and additional contributions to the local affordable-housing fund. New residential options are diverse, ranging from rental apartments to condominiums and townhomes, all boasting immediate access to mass transit. In a town once known for “all those nail salons,” there is now also a rich mix of retail, leisure and restaurant uses, including a Pilates center, couture dress shop, craft store, and SAT prep center, as well as a variety of new eateries.
Redevelopment has also been used to leverage infrastructure improvements. Through public/private partnerships, officials were able to secure the installation of updated drainage systems to protect against future flooding in the downtown, and a new shared-use municipal parking lot to serve the community. In addition, the project enabled the remediation of two seriously degraded former toxic industrial sites.
As Fanwoodians like to say, progress in redeveloping the downtown has occurred at a measured but successful pace. For a community that values its historic roots and traditional charm, it’s clear that now it wouldn’t have things any other way.
Supporting Partners: Helen Ling, Michael Marcovecchio, Elite Properties LLC