By Joshua Burd
State lawmakers have approved a bill that would create an office of transit-oriented development within NJ Transit and require an annual inventory of the agency’s real estate holdings.
The measure, A3654, is now headed to Gov. Phil Murphy’s desk after its passage last week by the Assembly and passage in April by the state Senate. If enacted, the bill could create the dual benefit of spurring new development opportunities near mass transit while also generating new non-fare revenue opportunities for the embattled agency.
Among other requirements, the legislation calls for NJ Transit to compile an annual list of parcels it owns, the appraised value of properties that have been appraised within the prior three years and the agency’s reason for owning the property. The report would also include details from NJ Transit about any properties that it has sold during the prior year.
“The office shall assess and develop recommendations for economic development and transit-oriented development opportunities for parcels of real property in which the corporation holds a property interest in order to increase the corporation’s non-fare revenue sources,” the legislation reads. “The office shall report to the Executive Director of the corporation, at least annually, all recommendations developed pursuant to this section with an estimate of the amount of non-fare revenue likely to be generated by each recommendation.”
Advocates of what’s known as smart growth have pushed for the measure in recent years, while developers continue to clamor for land that would allow for mixed-use projects near transit nodes. New Jersey Future, a smart growth organization, touted the bill’s passage.
“This is a critical first step toward maximizing the economic opportunities that properties near our transit system offer, for both residents and employers,” said Peter Kasabach, New Jersey Future’s executive director. “New Jersey Future identified this as an important policy priority for the incoming Murphy administration, and we are pleased to see it move forward so quickly.”
Kasabach added that property owned by NJ Transit “is a significant asset, and current market conditions make this exactly the right time to capitalize on it. These properties are perfectly poised to meet the growing demand for transit-rich, walkable, mixed-use communities with easy access to jobs, and to offer enhanced economic opportunity to all residents of New Jersey.”
A report last fall by the Smart Growth Economic Development Coalition, a high-profile group of business and labor associations in the state, also called for a transit-oriented development ombudsmen within NJ Transit. The recommendation cited the need for a liaison to meet with prospective developers or local officials and guide such projects through layers of bureaucracy.
“The state policy has to demand that New Jersey Transit make TODs a priority,” said Stephen Santola, executive vice president and general counsel with Woodmont Properties, who is a member of the coalition. “And that needs to be broadcasted loudly to all the mayors who have train stations in their towns and all people who have ideas and concepts.”