EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - So how does Route 18 take on a new face and focus? It takes a plan, a committee, a point-person, and some creativity to reinvigorate an outdated commercial zone. Mayor Brad Cohen has assembled all those elements in East Brunswick, and, along with a future-driven view, he intends to make that change happen.
The East Brunswick Town Council approved the creation of the East Brunswick Redevelopment Agency, a 7-member body that will oversee growth and rehabilitation of the Route 18 corridor and bring to fruition the plans for creating a re-visioned township. The Agency will include 2 sitting Town Council members and 5 community members who will work unpaid. Members will be chosen by Mayor Cohen, who has already spoken to some interested individuals, and then approved/disapproved by the Town Council.
"We are looking for people with ideas," said Cohen in an interview with TAPinto East Brunswick earlier this week. "People could have experience with redevelopment. Perhaps millennials? We need East Brunswick residents who are willing to make the time commitment (2 meetings a month over a five-year term) and who are willing to get the proper training which will be paid for by the township. We plan to begin meeting in June, 2017."
Interested individuals are asked to contact the mayor directly regarding this agency, which could re-direct the future of East Brunswick.
The Council also approved a resolution to hire an individual to help with reorganization and to serve as the Executive Director of the Redevelopment Agency. James Kennedy, the 20-year mayor of Rahway, New Jersey, and current Democratic Assemblyman for Legislative District 22, will be paid "no more than" $4,000 a month to facilitate the Agency.
Kennedy's experience with development flows throughout New Jersey and his support is strong here in town. Councilman James Wendell, a long-time friend of Kennedy's who has worked with him on construction and development projects in Rahway including a blossoming arts district, said that he introduced Kennedy to then-Mayor David Stahl 6 years ago in a discussion of economic revival of the Route 18 Corridor. "Since then, Brad Cohen and I have built on this established relationship for the benefit of East Brunswick. I am glad that Brad saw fit to introduce Kennedy for this position," said Wendell in an interview with TAPinto East Brunswick today.
"Kennedy sees our vision and has the ability to execute it, "said Wendell. "He is a good negotiator who can be the 'eyes and ears' of the governing body. He has also been hired by Hackensack to invigorate redevelopment and is also working in Burlington." James Kennedy is also a principal at Skye Consulting of Rahway: "Matching new development with public transportation assets is essential for creating a sustainable, well-functioning community."
Wendell, who opposed Cohen in the recent election, says he meets weekly "over coffee" with Cohen to discuss the "bold plan" for East Brunswick's direction. "We want to make this happen. The Mayor sees and understands. He knows that he needs a professional to manage this."
Cohen stated that Kennedy will negotiate with local landowners: "If we give them the right deal, they will come around. They want something to incentivize them. The 'Redevelopment Zone' status allows us to offer those incentives." Cohen referenced taxation offers that would encourage landlords to invest in their properties. "This is a better model than begging some retailers to choose East Brunswick, " said Cohen in a nod to pressure brought by some individuals to bring high-end shopping to the township. "There needs to be a plan that everyone benefits from."
Brad Cohen, who sees the township's current status as a "great opportunity" to create a "lively" environment that will attract young people who want to live in a mixed-use, easy transportation location, reiterated his plan to develop the bus transit centers that are public utilities owned by the township. "We are looking at improving and strengthening transit use that will give us the benefits of being in a city without the cost of being in a city." Cohen added that millennials and young workers are "priced out" of apartments in New York, Hoboken, and Jersey City.
Cohen asserts that the transit center/mixed use concept is also more likely to draw financial support from the state of New Jersey which has encouraged plans such as the one proposed by East Brunswick.
"We are hoping to make the redevelopment 'center-like' with 1-2 bedroom apartments for singles or Seniors who will be attracted by more restaurants, perhaps a new hotel, and opportunities to relax and enjoy," said Cohen. Then, when the young people get married and start families, we will be more than happy to let them know about the great homes and schools in East Brunswick."
"I am already considering the needs of 'Generation Z' (those born after 1995). We want them to live here, too," said Cohen.