Working for Smart Growth:
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Smart Growth in the Somerset Hills

January 13th, 2016 by

Bedminster Mayor Steve Parker

Bedminster Mayor Steve Parker

If two recent news articles are any indication, change could be coming to parts of the Somerset Hills.Two neighboring municipalities are discussing putting smart-growth principles to work in order to boost their local economies.

At Bedminster’s annual reorganization meeting, Mayor Steve Parker stressed that the soft local business climate is continuing to put financial pressure on residential taxpayers, and he encouraged residents to be open to the idea of modest “smart growth” as a way of fueling the local economy. He is asking the township’s professionals to compare Bedminster’s residential code with those of similar nearby municipalities, to make sure it is not out of step, and to offer proposals to encourage what he called “reasonable residential and business growth.”

Smart growth for Bedminster will likely involve modest increases in residential densities where appropriate, in particular near amenities, to provide a greater customer base for local businesses and a broader tax base to shoulder municipal expenses. Hence the recommendation to examine the residential zoning code is a sound one, in order to identify areas where zoning changes could bring about that density increase. Ideally, this will also involve preserving or increasing the diversity of housing types in the township, to include enough rentals and smaller units to accommodate older residents who want to stay in the community and younger people who may want to move in.

Somerset County Freeholder Peter Palmer

Somerset County Freeholder Peter Palmer

Up Route 202 in neighboring Bernardsville, the Bernardsville News editorialized on the importance of the borough’s fledgling efforts to boost its economy by planning improvements in the retail area around its train station, recognizing the station as an under-used asset that can serve as a focal point for economic activity. Somerset County Freeholder Peter Palmer, a Bernardsville resident, local business owner and the newly elected chairman of the board of trustees of the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority and someone with an extensive background in transportation planning, is encouraging the borough to take the steps necessary to apply for Transit Village status, citing the benefits such a designation has brought to Morristown and Somerville. In both those municipalities development around the train station has included not just retail but residential, creating “18-hour” mixed-use, mixed-income neighborhoods that give residents easy access to transportation options and to desirable amenities. As a result, both communities are enjoying increased vibrancy and higher property values.

That both Bedminster and Bernardsville are considering smart-growth options is a welcome development in an area of the state perhaps better known for its expansive, low-density profile. There is plenty of evidence to show that smart-growth development and enhancements around transit assets do indeed bolster local economies, and the leadership in both municipalities is to be commended and encouraged for supporting this approach.

The Bernardsville News also deserves praise, for recognizing the strategic, long-term importance of local planning initiatives, and for its efforts to keep its communities well informed on these issues.

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