HomeEast Brunswick SentinelEB NewsEast Brunswick mayor acknowledges how 'times have changed'

East Brunswick mayor acknowledges how ‘times have changed’

EAST BRUNSWICK–Highlighting last year’s accomplishments and the goals for 2018, Mayor Brad Cohen gave his State of the Township address for the residents of East Brunswick.

“East Brunswick as you see it now is a suburb that grew out of the migration from big cities in the 1950s, 60s and 70s. The structure, architecture, roads, commercial space, car-dependent nature of community worked for those that sought quiet safe refuge living a distance from the city – but times have changed,” Cohen said on Jan. 22.

“Led mostly by our millennial and Generation Z children and grandchildren, they seem to prefer city lifestyle characterized by a community where one can live, work and play in one locale. This trend has been reflected in our own population distribution as demographics studies have shown that our township is aging,” Cohen said.

Cohen said that the township must attract young adults and families back to East Brunswick.

“We must redevelop our vacant commercial space to fit in with the needs, shopping patterns and demands of the new economy – one that is less dependent on cars, one that does a large amount of shopping online, one that cares about its environment, and one that provides a rich, diverse and exciting lifestyle,” Cohen said.

In 2017, the township created and selected members for a redevelopment agency. The purpose of creating the agency was to provide stable individuals separate from the governing body that could act solely and completely on redevelopment, according to Cohen.

“Despite the controversy, we were able to redefine some of the areas of redevelopment as ‘Areas in Need of Redevelopment’ with the right of condemnation. This has allowed the town to simulate meaningful discussions with some of the larger developers and commercial real estate owners in the redevelopment zones,” Cohen said.

The mayor said the township’s goal is to act in the interest of the township and create an area that would attract the kinds of businesses, restaurants, nightlife, and services that East Brunswick residents today can only find in areas outside of East Brunswick.

“We can do better, much better, and we will treat every property owner with the respect they deserve and is guaranteed by law,” Cohen said. “The planning process is well underway as we look to develop a transit-oriented development in the northernmost area of Route 18. Then we will center and expand upon our bus and parking utility that we already operate.”

According to Cohen, in order to keep the township’s redevelopment process transparent, he recreated the Economic Advisory Committee. The committee is in charge of developing a strategic plan for the redevelopment zones and providing town halls for open and public discussions of the township’s plans.

The committee will host a Redevelopment Public Strategy session at 7 p.m. on Feb. 6 at the Community Arts Center, 721 Cranbury Road.

“As we look to 2018, I anticipate that the first area to be redeveloped will be the 110 Tyson or Wonder Bread area located being Dick’s Sporting Goods. The Kmart was recently purchased and is likely to be renovated into a much smaller commercial space and we did see a series record-breaking store, restaurant and office openings this year,” Cohen said.

According to Cohen, a few of the businesses that opened in 2017 include the Park Chateau, Red Robin, Five Guys, Aldi and HomeGoods.

“When it comes to property taxes, let me keep this simple: any long term stabilization or reduction in property taxes can only occur if we bring in new ratables to the township. It’s that simple,” Cohen said. “Our goal is to keep property taxes stable this year. This will depend in large part on able of the Board of Education to likewise limit any increase.”

In an effort to help stabilize property taxes for residents, the township in 2017 launched the Shop East Brunswick Card and Estate Card initiatives.

Cohen said that Shop East Brunswick allows residents to accumulate savings from discounts offered by local merchants and apply those savings directly to their property taxes. The Estate Card provides savings from local stores, but also includes 3,200 stores throughout the nation and online shopping.

Cohen also addresses infrastructure improvements.

“Highlights for the [construction] department is that we continued our pavement management plan this past year, repaving 3.5 miles of road at a cost of a million dollars,” Cohen said. “We finished the tennis courts by Bicentennial Park and Lenape Park and the pickleball courts at Lenape. We completed the new building at Crystal Springs which was used and is still used for bathrooms, storage, reservation and food vendors.”

The township also renovated the lights and road at the corner of New Brunswick Avenue and Rues Lane.

“Plans for 2018 include continuation of our pavement management plan. We allotted $1.7 million this year in hopes of doubling the number of miles of road that we can repave,” Cohen said.

According to Cohen, the township will start a four-year project to develop bike paths and lanes throughout the township, which will start this spring.

Cohen also mentioned the East Brunswick Police Department’s Security Survey Vulnerable and Risk Assessment program which is offered for free.

“While school emergencies capture national attention and are tragic, fortunately they are rare and our schools have been well trained and prepared for years through lockdown, fire and active shooter drills that they do regularly, but the fact remains that houses of worship are attacked far more frequently,” Cohen said. “I do not want to be that mayor one night on the news telling the public, ‘I never thought it could happen here.'”

Cohen said that he and the police department invite every house of worship this year to participate in the Security Survey Vulnerable and Risk Assessment program. The program is also offered to hotels and large conference centers.

After thanking his family, the police department and the municipal employees, Cohen said, “… [T]he biggest thank you goes to the 50,000 residents of the township of East Brunswick, who have placed their faith in me. This is really the best job that I could want and I intend to keep my promise to always act in the town’s best interest above all.”

For more information, visit www.eastbrunswick.org/content/885/101/default.aspx.

Contact Vashti Harris at vharris@newspapermediagroup.com.

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