As the economy continues to recover, it is imperative for municipalities, as partners in the redevelopment process, to communicate their redevelopment needs to potential developers. Many municipalities suffer from an identity crisis when it comes to redevelopment, resulting in miscommunication and project delays. There are opportunities to address these concerns by creating a Redevelopment Identity. The Redevelopment Identity, or brand, is a set of defined outcomes that municipalities, whether rural, suburban or urban, can identify to create an environment that attracts development opportunities. These outcomes express what is most important to and needed by the municipality.
The adopted redevelopment plan contains zoning requirements, planning guidelines and parameters specific to the development of any project. However, the subjective expectations to revitalize communities are oftentimes not expressed within the confines of the redevelopment plan; and moreover, are rarely communicated during the early stages of redevelopment negotiations. It is vital for municipal leaders to identify their anticipated objectives in order to ensure that a specific direction is clearly defined for the potential developer. The need for this is simple: in the developer’s world, time equals money. By having clear goals and a vision in place, there is an opportunity to balance the developer’s fiscal realities with the needs and objectives of the community.
From the private developer perspective, Ronald S. Ladell, Vice President of AvalonBay Communities, Inc. in Iselin believes that “the most successful redevelopment projects are those with municipalities that have done significant work up front in trying to understand what the market dynamics are for the site and separating reality from a wish list. Neither a prospective redeveloper nor a town wants to spend an inordinate amount of time and money to realize that the two sides are far apart in their vision for the site. Therefore, the earlier in the process developers are involved, the better the result.”
The Riverwalk apartments in Bridgeton are the result of a public and private partnership which identified the needs of the area’s senior citizens.
Ladell also states that “It is also helpful for municipal officials to identify the “must haves” versus a “wish list.” Understanding density needs, construction costs, parking challenges and the environmental condition of the site are key factors that allow municipal representatives to work cooperatively and more expeditiously with redevelopers.” Consideration should be given to include a section in the municipal redevelopment plan that addresses the town’s Redevelopment Identity. This concept includes a menu of six elements that should be examined at the beginning of the redevelopment process.
Incentives Every municipality should decide what incentives will be put on the table to entice and welcome developers into the community. Knowing what incentives will be offered can ease the process for the developer and encourage positive interaction with residents. Tax abatement, a popular local financial incentive, is an essential tool that leverages private investment, attracts homeowners and reduces development costs for homeownership and rental projects. It should be determined whether this type of tool, or others, is appropriate. “Generally, redevelopment projects by their own nature warrant some form of incentives. In many cases, the incentives can be a win-win for both the redeveloper and the municipality,” according to Ladell. “From a redeveloper’s perspective, the hope is that there is flexibility shown by the town coupled with an eye to both the short term benefits, allowing the project to actually start with an acceptable market yield, and the long term perspective, especially for those projects that the redeveloper will own for many years as opposed to a merchant builder looking to quickly sell the project.”
Infrastructure Needs Another component of the Redevelopment Identity are local infrastructure needs. Will there be a need for road or sewer improvements? What are the open space requirements or expectations? These questions should be asked and answered in order to determine whether the town intends to have future developers capture these costs in their own budgets or whether municipal resources will be used for these types of improvements. In a society that is going “green,” care must be taken to ensure that these improvements are designed for sustainability, giving attention to environmental and energy use considerations.
Parking As populations grow and new opportunities arise for mixed-use development and housing, parking is an essential piece of the puzzle. While many cities and towns are moving to incorporate walkable, pedestrian-friendly communities, there is still an increasing dependence on automobiles. What level of collaboration will there be in order to accommodate the changed parking needs? While implementing minimum parking requirements is an option for many municipalities, some flexibility may be required to accommodate redevelopment. Insufficient parking is a clear obstacle to redevelopment, and may eliminate otherwise interested developers who may have concerns about its impact on the long-term marketability of their projects.
Affordable Housing Municipalities should evaluate whether affordable housing fits within their redevelopment plan. How much is appropriate and where it is located raise legitimate questions. Will such new units be rental or owner occupied? Age restricted? Designed for special needs? Provisions for affordable housing should be tailored to local needs and the same strategy cannot be easily implemented across the board. This complex issue requires a discussion of market conditions and residential patterns of the community, as well as the overall benefits that affordable housing can bring, in advance of any redevelopment that will incorporate this feature.
Density Requirements Thoughtful consideration of density is vital to a strong economic foundation of any community. Are age-restricted housing opportunities desired? What is the capacity of the school system? Whatever is deemed best for the community, issues of density should be carefully evaluated. Transit-oriented development with a rich mixture of housing types such as small single-family homes, duplexes, townhomes and apartments offer great opportunities as well as economic incentives. This allows for a mix of transit service, higher density and increased neighborhood services.
When properly integrated, density can be beneficial to the entire community, improving the quality of life and increasing property values for existing residents, while addressing the needs of the growing population.
Employment Opportunities One of the many benefits of redevelopment is job creation. What are the needs of local residents in terms of job opportunities and training? These objectives, once identified, can be communicated to the developer from the outset of the redevelopment process. Additionally, the potential benefits offered by the redevelopment to residents may relieve the tension or anxiety sometimes caused by new development.
Community Amenities Redevelopment creates opportunities for new amenities. Is there a need for new or additional community amenities? Will the developer be expected to contribute to the same? What kind and where? Any new private investment is likely to cause conjecture among the residents who either live in the neighborhood where the redevelopment will take place or in surrounding neighborhoods. Residents should be engaged in the community planning process, as this typically eases the obstructions to redevelopment. At the very least, there should be a mechanism in place that solicits the needs and expectations of the community so that it can be communicated to the developer. The developer can then make educated decisions about what it may decide to provide in the form of new community or day care centers or even healthcare clinics. A set aside of a certain percentage of retail space for local small businesses also might be attractive to local people. There are many options but all are predicated on an open dialogue that must begin from the local government side of the relationship.
Indeed, the City of Bridgeton, under the direction of Mayor Albert Kelly, recently embarked on a “visioning study” to gain the input of residents on what they see as the needs and future identity for the city. Home to 25,000 people and a pristine 1,200 acres of parks and recreation, Bridgeton is unlike any other small town or other mid-size community in New Jersey. The city boasts the only free zoo in the state, numerous walking trails named after the past Indian chiefs of the Nanticoke Lenni-Lenape Indian tribes, and several lakes and boating areas. What development takes place and where, will require thoughtful consideration and dialogue. Toward this end, Mayor Albert Kelly has said “We are currently seeking to study whether we can extend our redevelopment zone to include our park system in order to give it an added benefit of the Urban Enterprise and Empowerment Zone funding. We are mindful of what our neighborhood needs and the needs and preferences of our residents, including employment opportunities.”
Ultimately, an acute understanding of the redevelopment process enables critical analysis and is necessary to establish a Redevelopment Identity. Once established, this inevitably puts the municipality in a better position to negotiate private investment for the community and increases the opportunity to achieve vibrancy and economic success.
To learn more about the Redevelopment Identity, join the New Jersey Redevelopment Authority and Executive Director Leslie Anderson at the 95th Annual League of Municipalities Conference on Wednesday, November 17, 2010 at 3:45 p.m.