What is redevelopment and what can be expected?

This 2006 rendering shows a once abandoned concept for what was called Mariners Village. The plan was to build  a large cruciform-esque building on Browns Point between Washington Street and Broadway along W. First Street. The area was recently designated as redevelopment zone.This 2006 rendering shows a once abandoned concept for what was called Mariners Village. The plan was to build a large cruciform-esque building on Browns Point between Washington Street and Broadway along W. First Street. The area was recently designated as redevelopment zone.

Redevelopment is the buzzword in Keyport these days.

A section of Brown’s Point Marina is the latest zone to be designated as redevelopment area. But, redevelopment designations have been made to the old Aeromarine factory and sections along routes 35 and 36. According to Steve Gallo, the borough manager, potential buyers of the Ye Cottage Inn, which was destroyed by Hurricane Sandy, have approached him about a redevelopment designation for that property.  And, in 2007, the entire borough was designated as an area in need of rehabilitation.

The Anchor reached out to Anne L. Studholme via email. She’s a land-use attorney and the New Jersey State Bar Association’s chairwoman for its land-use and planning committee. (She’s knows what she’s talking about.)  She breaks down the basics of rehabilitation, redevelopment, and how each might benefit Keyport.

What is the difference between a redevelopment area and a rehabilitation area? What tools do each offer towns who employ these tactics?

Formally designating an area as “in need of rehabilitation” primarily lets towns offer various forms of tax relief to properties and developments in the area.  It does NOT confer the power of eminent domain.  In 2007, all of Keyport was designated an “area in need of rehabilitation.”  Most of the criteria to qualify for rehabilitation are objective and relate to the age and condition of buildings and infrastructure.

“Redevelopment” designation was, customarily, far more frequently employed by New Jersey towns, for several reasons.  First, it is easier to qualify an area as “in need of redevelopment,” since more of the criteria are subjective.  They relate to perceived market difficulties, underutilization, fragmented ownership, and the like.  Second, redevelopment designation, formerly, ALWAYS conferred the power of eminent domain.  This meant that the town, or other condemning authority, could take the land and pay the landowner only what it had been worth BEFORE the redevelopment was introduced.

How was that fixed?

Originally, awarding compensation without taking into account the “project influence” on the property’s value, protected the landowner from the loss in market valuation that often resulted when a property was declared in need of redevelopment.  However, in the boom real estate markets of the 1990s and 2000s, landowners felt that towns were seizing their land in order to permit favored insiders to make money from redevelopment and improperly denying the owners a share in the profits realized, citing the old “project influence” rule.

This led to various changes in the law.  Among the most important, in 2013, was an amendment that lets a town declare that it will not exercise eminent domain when it declares an area to be in need of redevelopment.

Supposedly, this will let both the public and the landowner reap the advantages of redevelopment declaration.  Those advantages include eligibility for property tax relief, streamlined zoning procedures, and highly site-specific planning.

How much does zoning play a part in redevelopment and rehabilitation? What are its limitations?

The town’s planning officials and Planning Board may be involved in the study and designation of the area. Often, the town’s Master Plan addresses perceived needs relating to the use of various parcels, and, in turn, may be referred to when studies are conducted for redevelopment.  People tend to call the entire process of land use planning “zoning,” but that term really means the designation of particular zones as appropriate for particular uses.  That is only one part of redevelopment, and of land use planning in general.

How are redevelopment and rehabilitation meant to help town officials plan their communities?

The ability to designate areas in need of rehabilitation or redevelopment lets town officials tap various State resources (such as tax relief, or even tax-revenue-supported bonding).  It lets the town work with planners, consultants, and landowners to plan comprehensively for the property, including an eye toward the public good.  Public good can come from improving the utility of a neglected or deteriorated parcel, or from the new use, or both.  If eminent domain is employed, it can enable the assemblage of larger parcels.

What are the steps from examination to plan implementation for a redevelopment area?

The governing statutes set forth the steps that need to be taken.  These steps include preparing a study of the parcel or area proposed for designation; adopting the formal designation; in some cases, designating a redeveloper; in some cases, acquiring the property by eminent domain; preparing or accepting a redevelopment plan; passing ordinances or resolutions as necessary to enable the plan to be implemented; monitoring the entire development to ensure that municipal goals area achieved.

What are the best practices in for designating and developing a plan for a redevelopment area?

Best practices include assembling a reputable, experienced team of consultants for the municipality–planning, engineering, fiscal/economic, and legal–and complying with the spirit of the public notice requirements, which is to enable informed public participation.

Many planners and analysts have said that pre-war towns like Keyport that are walkable, and offer good live-work-play balance, could be the places where future growth will occur as young people look to places to live. What can towns like Keyport do to become attractive to these future homebuyers and maintain their character while also bringing new projects to town? How can zoning, rehabilitation and redevelopment areas help towns achieve that?

Land planning, which includes zoning in general, as well as specialized designation and planning for rehabilitation and redevelopment, can best promote walkability and the desired retail/residential mix by encouraging residential density, to foster pedestrian density.

There is a chicken-and-egg problem to retail: without enough pedestrian density, people shop by car.  That requires the stores to have parking.  That forces the stores to spread out.  That reduces the number of people who live near the stores, so yet more people drive to shop.  The vicious spiral continues, and, voila, sprawl.

So, what’s the solution?

To combat this, towns must zone land at residential densities that will put enough pedestrian shoppers on the streets to support the desired retail.  Red Bank and Haddonfield are both good examples of pedestrian-oriented downtowns.  Naturally, there will be a certain amount of community parking, often tucked on side streets.  But the prevailing look and feel will be at human scale, rather than car scale.  This density is what creates  “charm.”

Older towns originally mixed multi-family buildings in among single-family buildings, and clustered the single-family houses close together.  Small retail areas, schools, and small parks were tucked in residential neighborhoods, with walking distance in between.  Montclair provides an excellent example of this land use pattern, as does Freehold.  The pattern should be encouraged by zoning and planning, not prohibited.

Redevelopment and rehabilitation designation can help the town and the landowner finance the project, which, in turn, can provide features that the private market might not support, on its own.  Designation can also provide an opportunity for highly detailed and specific project planning, well beyond what normal zoning provides.

Possibly one of the most important but overlooked actions towns can take to maintain their “charm” is to apply for relief from the Residential Site Improvement Standards.  These statewide standards govern road width, curbing, turning radii, parking requirements, etc.  They were passed in an attempt to make housing development less expensive by standardizing aspects which, earlier, each of New Jersey’s 565 towns approached individually.  However, the RSIS standards tend to foster a uniform, car-oriented design.  They were drafted by engineers concerned primarily with safety and with accommodating as much vehicular traffic as smoothly as possible.  Towns with high density, old (pre-automobile) development patterns, etc., can qualify for relaxation of the RSIS, either in the entire town or in certain areas. This helps new projects blend in with the old neighborhoods, rather than standing out in a sea of their own parking and access roads.

By zoning for density and mixed use, and by planning for pedestrian orientation, towns can maximize their chances of developing with a mix of housing types and demographics, retail, commercial, transit, and good public education and property values.