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What's wrong with this picture?

There's an old saying that if it sounds to good to be true, it probably is. Our response to the Wayne Master Plan Revision.


Here are some Facts on the Four Towns in the Planner Presentation

Oh, and did I mention that the parking lot floods?

Mixed use development, where Commercial, low income and high density housing are put on the same site is no silver bullet solution for Wayne. In fact there is every indication that it won’t work.

In the 1990 and into the early 2000’s Senior Housing, which was rebranded Active Adult Housing, was the big thing in housing. So municipalities encouraged developers to build Senior Housing, and they built it, a lot of it. So much in fact, that they outstripped demand and the least desirable of the developments couldn’t find tenants. That’s when the courts and the legislature stepped in, basically invalidating the concept of age restricted housing and allowing the apartments to be rented anyone.

Now we have a new a new flavor of the month in housing, the mixed use, town center concept. In an attempt to sell this to Wayne residents, the administration and Town Planner have put together a slide presentation ( http://waynenj.pegcentral.com/player.php?video=7940f1d1d69aeec9a7ba431e0e12d29b ) that extols the virtues of mixed use developments. Unfortunately, it appears that you have to be very cautious of what is being told to you by the Wayne administration. The presentation given to the Planning Board on August 26, 2013 cited four mixed use properties as examples as to why Wayne should encourage their construction but there was a lot that wasn’t said too.

Voorhees Town Center

The first project was The Voorhees Town Center, NJ that was a rehabilitation of a previously existing property that was called the Echelon mall. They changed the name to the Voorhees Town Center and about 4 years ago, reconfigured the mall space to accommodate 50 to 60 rental properties and constructed large apartment buildings adjacent to the mall. According to information provided, by the mall itself, on the internet where you can mouse over the space for rent, about 33% of the individual spaces offered appear to be vacant. (http://voorheestowncenter.com/directory/46-level-2 ) Additionally, the town of Voorhees is the third largest renter and have their town hall and municipal departments located in the mall. Why would you rent space to put the town hall in a shopping mall if it wasn’t to prop up a failing project? As to the apartment buildings, they are huge and provide well over 750 parking spaces that are separate from the mall parking. There are evidently apartments for rent in each category offered, but the overall vacancy rate is not available and vacancies may be due to turnover as they now state that they want to construct more low income and high density housing on site. MORE

Robbinsville Town Center

The second property used in the administration's presentation is The Robbinsville Town Center. The Sharbell Building Co. which is the developer of the town center and in 2006 they agreed to build age-restricted housing. But, after its application was approved Sharbell went to court and successfully sued the township to convert the age-restricted units into all-age housing with 20 percent of the units for low income tenants.

“The state Supreme Court won't hear the township's appeal of Sharbell Development's application to open up 150 age-restricted units on the Gordon-Simpson tract to families of all ages", Mayor Dave Fried said today ...

The township has fought the removal of the restriction, saying the crowded school district cannot accommodate and taxpayers cannot afford an influx of more families with children. "They asked us to get that project and then… put 300 to 350 new kids into the school district. That's the real challenge," Fried said. ( Mike Davis/The Times 7/13) The Times, Trenton

How much this cost the town in legal fees is not known, but by in May of this year the council was appropriating additional fund to supplement the $237,000 already budgeted. “While Fried (Robbinsville Mayor) would not comment on the exact cost of legally fighting Sharbell over the measure, the town’s most recent budget includes nearly $237,000 for legal services, and an additional $13,000 in anticipated legal costs was requested at a recent council meeting.” ( Bridget Clerkin/The Times of Trenton 5/13) ) MORE

Livingston Town Center

The third project that was used as an example by the administration in their presentation before the Planning Board is the Livingston Town Center. This project is a 65,780 square foot retail shopping center located at the crossroads of North Livingston Avenue and East Mount Pleasant Avenue in the heart of downtown Livingston, New Jersey. The property, originally developed in 2006 by Roseland Properties, is part of a master development mixed-use community featuring 32 townhomes, 24 condominium flats, seven attached townhomes and 17 single-family homes, and 65,780 square feet of retail.

One person from Wayne went down to Livingston and sent this report:

Approximately 40% of the project is undeveloped at this time. An additional row of condos is just starting but are being offered at a lower price than those originally constructed. There are vacant stores and because of the vacancy rates, the restrictions which were originally in place prohibiting pizzerias and other tenants that the town planning department deemed to be less desirable, have been eliminated. The resale value of properties has been less than what was originally paid. In talking to some of the neighbors of the project it was reported that “They all said it looks nice, but it hasn't reduced the taxes at all. Most felt it was a complete waste of money.” MORE

Fair Lawn Promenade

The last property is the Fair Lawn Promenade, a mixed-use, town center-style development that when completed will consist of 150 rental apartment units and 63,000 square feet of retail and office space. This is a development that could do well now and maintain high standards into the future. Let’s compare this project with those proposed for Wayne.

Fair Lawn Promenade: 15 minutes to NYC by car | Train - easy walking distance to the Radburn station ( .3 miles, 5 minutes) with direct service to NYC average of 40 minutes ride, $7.25 per trip | Bus - easy walking distance to bus stop ( .2 miles, 4 minutes) with direct service to NYC average of 30 minutes ride, $5:50 per trip | Location - development located on nearest highway (Route 4/208) Wayne Hills Mall: 40 minutes to NYC by car | Train - not in walking distance (5 miles 15 minutes by car parking $2.00 per day) with no direct service to NYC - average of 70 to 90 minutes ride, $9.25 per trip | Bus - easy walking distance to bus stop ( .2 miles, 4 minutes) with direct service to NYC average of 65 minutes ride, $9:00 per trip or drive to NJ transit facility on Rte 23 average of 35 minutes ride, $7:50 per trip parking $2.00 per day |
Location - development located several miles from the nearest highway (Rte 23)
State Farm” Property: 30 minutes to NYC by car | Train - not in walking distance (3 miles 6 minutes by car parking $2.00 per day) with no direct service to NYC, average of 70 to 90 minutes ride, $9.25 per trip | Bus – no bus service within walking distance, drive to NJ transit facility on Rte 23 average of 35 minutes ride, $7:50 per trip parking $2.00 per day | Location - development located on nearest highway (Rte 23) MORE

Some last Points

Some last points about rental housing, which is the least likely form of housing to be kept up by either tenants or landlords. What happens if these apartments, either at first or eventually, can’t be rented as “luxury apartments”? Would they just deteriorate like so many other apartment buildings have in the past? Would the courts step in again, as they had in the Senior Housing, when they allowed the apartments to be rented to anyone? What would the courts do when faced with apartments that could not be rented at market rate when the town had a growing legal obligation to provide more low-income housing because of the Mt Laurel decision?