RARITAN, NJ - As in-person workshops cannot be held amidst Covid-19 regulations, consultants with the Sustainable Economic Development Plan for Downtown Raritan have created a virtual experience for residents to provide input.

Borough planner Angela Knowles gave an update on the project during the borough council meeting Nov 17.

The project was introduced in September and is being done through a grant from the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority. Planning consultants from Fitzgerald & Halliday, Inc., have been hired to support the creation of the plan. 

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The consultants will use information procured from the online workshop and surveys to develop recommendations for the plan, which aims to create economic development by updating and improving Downtown Raritan sustainably, specifically Somerset Street.

“We know that whatever happens on Somerset Street hopefully will be a catalyst for more economic development throughout the entire area,” Knowles said.

The online workshop was designed to replace the in-person workshop that would typically be held.

“At a public workshop we would present the plan, we would have people do breakout groups, we would have people drawing on maps, we would have them talking about strengths, weaknesses and opportunities,” Knowles said. “Now you don’t have to leave your home to go to the workshop.”

The online workshop is an interactive map designed to appear as a video game. The map begins at the Raritan Train Station, extends across Somerset Street and ends at the riverfront.

Spots on the map can be pinpointed for feedback.

Residents can make an account, create an avatar and earn points for their responses and participation. By participating as much as possible, there is an opportunity to win gift certificates from local businesses.

At the beginning of the workshop, a series of prompts are available for selection, including “What is your vision?” and “Where should change occur (or not)?”

Residents can leave responses to each prompt and “like '' other responses they agree with. It is encouraged to leave one idea per response, the more likes, the more likely the idea will be incorporated into the plan.

“This is exactly what we would do if this was an in-person workshop, where you would pose the question and people could put dots on a map and make comments,” Knowles said.

The workshop is now available in English or Spanish on the Downtown Raritan website. In addition to the workshop, a survey for business owners and residents, as well as a regional survey, is available for responses.

There have been about 60 responses to the surveys and about 30 registrations for the workshop so far, and much more feedback is wanted, Knowles said. 

“When our consultants get this information back, they will be able to go through each of the categories and really start to make recommendations that are meaningful to each of those different categories,” she said.

For those who want to give feedback face to face, a series of one-hour online meetings are scheduled on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1. Residents can register online through the workshop.

“It’s just another way to engage in the process, so I would encourage everyone to sign up if you have any pressing concerns or anything that you want to share,” Knowles said.

If residents want more information on the project, the website at downtownraritan.com includes an option to stay updated via newsletter, information on sustainability, details on the plan thus far and information on the team running the project.