Long Branch receives Transit Village designation

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By KENNY WALTER
Staff Writer

LONG BRANCH — The city has officially become the state’s newest Transit Village designee.

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More than three years after the city officially applied to become a Transit Village, the New Jersey Department of Transportation (DOT) announced last week that Long Branch was going to be the 32nd municipality with the designation, which opens up planning and funding opportunities.

“It makes certain things and funding sources easier for us in the future,” Mayor Adam Schneider said. “I’ve sat in on probably three generations of discussions on why it is a great thing and what it does for us.”

The designation gives the city priority consideration for certain funding opportunities and allows for better coordination among 10 state agencies that comprise the Transit Village Task Force and technical assistance from state agencies.

According to Schneider, the designation will benefit all of the stakeholders in the area.

“From a simple planning perspective, the idea that you have this great mass transit source that enables people to be less reliant on their cars and has a fairly large parking lot, there has to be a way we can enhance the whole neighborhood using all those assets,” he said. “The goal is to put together a partnership between the property owners, DOT, the hospital and [local businesses] and how do we work this to everybody’s benefit.”

State Sen. Jennifer Beck (R-Monmouth) also said the designation is a benefit to the city. “With a bustling train station and the prestigious Monmouth Medical Center, Long Branch has enormous potential to become a thriving destination for commuters, new residents, tourists, and business owners,” Beck said. “This designation paves the way for the city to become more pedestrian- and bicyclist-friendly, with new businesses, improved parking, and a walkable downtown with abundant opportunities for shopping and community-building.”

Long Branch presented a “master plan” for the zone to the DOT, which includes constructing bike paths around the area to be completed by 2019, a mixed-use district that encourages pedestrian activity, public safety, human interaction and easy access to goods, services and mass transit and commercial development and retrofitting that emphasizes quality architecture, shared access and parking, transit-friendly facilities and walkability.

“A municipality can only be designated a Transit Village after performing important visioning and planning work that sets the stage for redevelopment to occur,” DOT Acting Commissioner Richard T. Hammer said.  “I applaud Long Branch for its planning efforts and the proactive approaches in its exciting current and future developments. Long Branch can expect priority consideration in funding and technical assistance from many of the participating agencies.”

In 2013, the City Council voted unanimously to adopt an ordinance designating the zone around the railroad station as a Transit Village District.

The district, bordered by Ocean Boulevard and Bath, Prospect and Chelsea avenues, would have four sub districts: a mixed-use core, higher-density medical/residential transition, lower-density residential fringe and a medical village.

However, the Planning Board recommended changes to the Transit Village ordinance, calling for lower-density housing west of the Third Avenue train station and requiring developers who do not meet parking requirements to pay into a fund for accessibility improvements, which was approved by the City Council last year.

The Long Branch Planning Board recently approved a project tied to the Transit Village by DKD Investments for a mixed-use project located in the heart of the city’s Transit Village District, across from the train station and a block from Monmouth Medical Center.

New Jersey’s first Transit Village was designated in 1999.  The roster now lists  Pleasantville, Morristown, Rutherford, South Amboy, South Orange, Riverside, Rahway, Metuchen, Belmar, Collingswood, Bloomfield, Bound Brook, Cranford, Matawan, New Brunswick, Journal Square/Jersey City, Netcong, Elizabeth, Burlington City, Orange, Somerville, Montclair, Linden, West Windsor, East Orange, Dunellen, Summit, Plainfield, Park Ridge, Irvington, Hackensack and Long Branch.

The department has programmed $1 million in the Fiscal Year 2016 Capital Program to provide funding to local governments that are part the state Transit Village Initiative.  Applications for Transit Village designation are accepted on a rolling basis and reviewed by the Transit Village Task Force.  The task force reviews applications and makes recommendations to the DOT commissioner, who has final approval of Transit Village designations.

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