EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - Following a 3-1 vote by the East Brunswick Town Council on Monday night, the section of Route 18 South beginning at Eggers Street and ending at Ferris Street has been designated as an "area in need of redevelopment." Numerous store closings, declining architecture, safety concerns, and traffic problems have turned the area into a zone in need of renewal and, perhaps, repurposing. The Council is about halfway through an eight-step process that identifies, defines, and addresses decline on Route 18.
The process began with information acquistion, moved on to examination and review, mapped out the zone in question, and, at the midpoint, produced a recommendation to designate the area for redevelopment. Monday night's vote confirming the area's status permits East Brunswick to create a representative committee to plan for the most effective use of the area.
Mayor David Stahl noted, "50 years ago, East Brunswick was a center of commerce." However, he also pointed out that East Brunswick is still suffering from the effects of recession. "East Brunswick is a 'built out' community," suggesting that there is no more room for development, just re-development following deconstruction. According to njfuture.org, "More generally, two-thirds (217 out of 328) of the municipalities that presently have fewer residents than at their peak are primarily “built out,” meaning that, based on 2007 data, at least 90 percent of their land area was already developed. These places lost population but retained their developed land, so they could be repopulated simply be refilling that land to its prior capacity."
Mayor Stahl also noted that some property owners are letting their properties go untenanted or unrepaired. He was hopeful that the redevelopment process could "prevent, arrest, and reverse" the decline of properties in East Brunswick.
Some people feel that the redevelopment will just be an opportunity for developers to do what they want to make money in the township. Councilman Michael Spadafino, who abstained from the final vote, cited the lack of consistency between what the township desired for the "Golden Triangle" plan and what was actually delivered by developers.
During the meeting, there was much discussion about the "plan" for East Brunswick redevelopment. East Brunswick Board of Education President Dr. Brad Cohen expressed concern about the possible impact of apartment buildings on the school system. Dr. Cohen described the quality of the EB public schools as "the main reason why people live here...The residents do not want apartments." He also referred to some ideas present in the book The End of the Suburbs by Leigh Gallagher which suggests that the suburbs are affected by factors including the price of gas and the decline of the nuclear family.
Several community members spoke about their concerns, mostly focusing on the "lack of a plan" for the redevelopment. Mayor Stahl reaffirmed that the plan comes after the designation, "Having the designation allows us to create a plan." He discussed the creation of a committee of township stakeholders - businesses, schools, residents, members of the planning board, and members of the council - that would work toward the creation of a redevelopment plan that would both keep the character of East Brunswick and get rid of underutilized and outdated property on Route 18.