Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Trenton's Broad Street Bank Project's Smart Growth & Community Catalytic Features: Hurdles, Challenges, and Opportunities

Smart Growth Principles for Communities

Smart Growth has evolved as a term for planned growth that considers a wide array of potential impacts. There are different viewpoints as to the development of the concept of Smart Growth. Many believe that “Smart Growth” originated from the discourse on sustainable development, a movement developed during the 1980s. The most widely used definition of sustainable development came from Our Common Future also known as the Brundtland Report from the World Commission on Environment and Development in 1987:

“Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Source

COMMUNITY COMPASS / HAMILTON COUNTY 2030 PLAN AND IMPLEMENTATION FRAMEWORK ---------------------Appendix 12: Smart Growth Principles for Communities

Trenton's Broad Street Bank Project's Positive Community Impacts:

Building Open Opporunity Structures Together (BOOST) will continue to share it analysis of smart growth, green building, and sustainable design features incorporated into real-time projects that can be studied, monitored, and replicated in similarly situated areas of our cities and towns. BOOST's primary premise is that wherever real estate develpment occurs, and especially when it is proposed for densly populated areas, very strict attention should be given to both soften the potential negative impacts and ensure that the impacted commununity be involved in the planning and decision-making processes very early.

In part 3 of this series, scheduled to be posted on Wednesday, February 13, we will look at walkability and leveraging non-automobile metropolitan multimode transportion systems as a means of achieving several smart growth principles and use the Broad Street Bank project as a model.

In addition increasing the range of housing options; creating or enhancing a vibrant mix of uses; providing multiple choices to getting around, and walkability (spawning activities at the street level and encouraging personal interaction); Smart Growth principles also include building and developing places and spaces that respects community character, design, and historic features and creates various forms of linkages to existing development plans and takes into consideration future trends as well as implementing a creative mix of financing mechanisms to keep the residential and commercial units within the reach of the local market and – at the same time – creating enough value to warrant higher-income earners consider living in an economically struggling urban environ. BSBB has achieved many, if not most, of these mounting, yet important set of rules by being a respondant to and catylsts of community inclusion, al beit, towards the end of the process:

1) Responding to demands by local preservation groups’ desire to saving “Trenton’s First Skyscraper”, Trenton’s largest blighted building, and one New Jersey’s most endangered buildings from demolition;

2)Earning historic preservation tax credits, green building tax credits, and low-income housing tax credits to keep the units affordable to a mix of income levels;

3) Providing the local arts and cultural community with funds for programming and events to help spur a revival of appreciation for life’s more enjoyable pursuits and engagements;

4) Encouraging and facilitating community inclusion in the redevelopment process by partnering with a local community building network to bring over 1,000 curiosity and housing seekers into the building for site tours, workshops, and social networking activities – inbuilt human interest and empowerment;

See more smart BSBB smart growth community-catalytic features in items five (5) and six (6) listed towards the end of this treatise.

In the case of the Broad Street Bank project in Trenton, the developer - although they may dispute this - reached out to the affected stakeholders very late in their project's redevelopment process, thereby minimizing the potential for local residents, organziations, and businesses to be able to adequately prepare to capture any significant portion of the pre-construction, construction, and post-construction jobs and contracts. This late outreach also hampered the developer's ability to mobilize community support when it needed it most and also limited their view of existing needs and conditions and the ability to adequately address and leverage the several hidden assets and challenges posed and presented by local municipal leadership.

However, the municipal leadership actually failed to cooperate with the developer in terms of the project's financing structure and, thusly, the new housing created remained and may continue to remain outside of the reach of the existing local and regional rental market's middle-income earners. Of the 124 apartment units, 26 were set aside for low-income residents with the remaining units left for higher incomce earners.

Moderate income earners earned too much income to qualify for the income-restricted units, but not enough to be able to justify a move from their out-of-town residences to the heart of a still less than attractive area with very few night-time amenities to warrant spending the types of rents being asked for by the developer. In addition, many moderate-income applicants could not get through the strict screening process employed by the rental company and would have to spend more than 40% of their gross incomes to afford the market rate units, thus leaving them without the much talked about "disposable income" to spend at the downtown shops and restaurants during their day-time only business hours.. City leadership was petitioned to pass a resolution of need in order to allow the developer to accomodate the dozens of applicants who would have benefited by having their parking tab picked up by the developer, a reasonalbe reduction of the just-out-of reach market rate rents, and a relaxation of some of the less-restrictive credit screening requirements.

Note: In future renderings on GSS-SET Central, we shall take a closer look at what was proposed to City officials and how this arrangement has worked in other cities to keep housing both affordable to moderate to middle income earners while not requiring tax abatements or cash subsidy from the local governing bodies. **Note 2: Another noticeable (non)factor was the abscence of affordable housing advocacy, homelessness prevention, and civic groups throughout the highly publicized "back and forth" between the developer and muncicipal leadership regarding tax abatements, affordability measures, job creation, parking agreement impasse, and what looked to be "bait and switch" tactics being employed by public officials as promised cooperation to make this project a true "cornerstone" around which Trenton's downtown would make a significant step forward was compromise by stubbornly adhered to positions stated at the projects outset. The jury is still out as to whether the stated aims of the Broad Street Bank project to "activate the city streets" with retail and, again, giving merchants a much needed boost from downtown dwellers with disposable incomes.

In spite of the myriad hurdles this project had to overcome, it still achieved the many smart growth benchmarks that make it a model for other jurisdictions throughout the United States and these shall be examined in subsequent postings here, at GSS-SET Central.

Two more very discernable community-catalytic smart growth features include:

5) Prompting key decision-makers, very hopefully, to take a closer look at better ways to accommodate existing and future redevelopment by examining the Abandoned Properties Rehabilitation Act, Middle-Income Housing Tax Credits, and citizen inclusion very early in the planning and decision-making processes, an often under recognized, yet vitally essential aspect for redevelopment and psycho-sustainability; and

6) Prompting local stakeholders to research, engage, and mobilize around new and emerging tools, strategies and priorities that prepare them for green collar jobs, energy efficiency in their personal and professional lives, sustainable design of buildings and neighborhoods, and building bridges across race, religion, gender, educational, and economic divides to achieve social equity and mutually beneficial outcomes - BOOST’s Green, Smart, & Sustainable Stakeholder Education & Training (GSS-SET).

The Broad Street Bank Building has been successful in both implementing smart growth principles through its adaptive reuse of the historic structure into a mix-use, mixed-income, sustainably designed, multifamily, and conveniently located complex while retaining its primary historic features and adding in a number of energy-efficient features. Taking into consideration that this project was wrought with many economic, structural, and socio-political hurdles and challenges, Bayville Holdings LCC has given the City of Trenton, the State of New Jersey, and the American Republic a model example of building in older, struggling, former industrial urban centers that can be both hard-structurally (bricks and mortar) sound, economically viable, and soft-structurally (people) oriented tying together the human, built, and natural environments

1 comment:

Tim Razzaq said...

Better late than never?

Kudos to the TDA and Capital City Development corporation for finally stepping up the meet the mandates of their mission statements and, at last, openly and aggressively supporting Trenton's downtown cornerstone project. They are either seeing the light, or the "green", and BOOST asks that we all focus and build upon the smart features of the Broad Street Bank Building. What is smart growth and why does BSBB fit the bill?

Smart Growth is an urban planning and transportation theory that concentrates growth in the center of a city to avoid urban sprawl; and advocates compact, transit-oriented, walkable, bicycle-friendly land use, including neighborhood schools, streets that work for everyone, mixed-use development with a range of housing choices.

Smart Growth values long-range, regional considerations of sustainability over a short-term focus. Its goals are to achieve a unique sense of community and place; expand the range of transportation, employment, and housing choices; equitably distribute the costs and benefits of development preserve and enhance natural and cultural resources; and promote public health. The Broad Street Bank Building does all of this and more.

The Broad Street Bank Building (BSBB) project has been successful in putting theory into practice, as the development is directly adjacent (due east of) to New Jersey capital’s center city business district, putting its future residential and business tenants within easy access to shopping, dining, recreation and arts, education, government, worship, and employment. Consisting of 124 one and two bedroom units and 8 first-floor commercial spaces, BSBB has also doubled the amount of new housing units produced in the City over the past decade within two years of development. Thus, BSBB has increased the range of housing options not just for City residents, but for workers who practice their occupations in the City but have had limited choices of affordable, centrally located, and attractively designed inner-city rentals to justify making Trenton their home. BSBB is a model that can be replicated in New Jerseys other older cities for adaptive re-use of historic infrastructure to accommodate workforce housing. In fact, the developers (Bayville Holdings LLC) are nearing completion of an energy audit that will make the BSBB building the first nationally designated historic building redeveloped into a “green” (LEED-certified) mixed-use multifamily complex. The restoration of the stairwells have already been cited as a ‘benchmark’ for maintaining historic character while meeting current building code requirements - according to the U.S. Department of Interior’s National Park Service web-site.

Long-term regional considerations and socio-economic contexts of this project includes the fact the it is the first major privately funded development project in New Jersey’s capital city’s downtown in recent history, and many view BSBB as the “cornerstone” around which future real estate and economic development activity will take place. In the backdrops of the growing need for affordable and attractive rental spaces for individuals and small families being squeezed out of the home ownership market due to the wide-impact mortgage and credit crisis and the increasing demand for inner-city housing options due to rising fuel prices, increasing tolls, and vehicle inspection policies that make commuting to and from suburban, exurban, and rural locations to their state, county, federal, or private-sector jobs and positions too costly represents, BSBB could not have been better times. And, with great (inter)national attention being given to “global warming” and rising energy consumption, the Building’s sustainable design mechanical systems, energy-star appliances, units modeled around the windows to increase natural lighting, and roof-top terrace “heat island”-reduction strategies have earned this historic site Green Building Tax Credits and BSBB has also served as a spawn for public awareness and community capacity building around green, smart, and sustainable growth policies and practices. BSBB is proving to be a work in progress in that the catalytic nature of its community inclusion in studying environmental economy is still producing forums, discussions, and related education and training for long-term benefits while meeting current demand. Attracting mid- to upper-income earners with disposable incomes is another goal of the project that can benefit the downtown shops, arts centers, and restaurants are an added bonus.

BSBB is located directly on two New Jersey Transit bus stops, a five-minute walk from Trenton Station, around the corner from a taxi stand, has on-site bicycle storage racks, achieved a hard-earned shared parking agreement with the State of New Jersey and the Trenton Parking Authority for its tenants, and is within a short commute to Trenton-Mercer Airport. The Building is also within comfortable walking distance of the New Jersey Capital complex, the Mercer County administration building, Trenton City Hall, the State Library of New Jersey, Mercer County Community and Thomas Edison State Colleges, major hospitals, most state of New Jersey governmental office buildings, and the City’s Waterfront. Walkable features combined with the Building basement exercise room, make it a perfect fit for tenants who have the desire to promote their own personal health and reduce their own “carbon footprint” by walking to and from work, business, study, worship, and recreation sites and using metropolitan multimode transportation to reduce our region’s contribution to the nation’s reliance on fossil fuels and fight against global warming. Again, BSBB can be replicated in other New Jersey and American cities and towns that have near or all of these vital institutional and transportation assets and resources centralized around abandoned or underutilized historic buildings and former industrial sites. Catalytic aspects for abound in light of the 2007 “Restoring Prosperity” report issued by Brookings Institution.

In addition increasing the range of housing options; creating or enhancing a vibrant mix of uses; providing multiple choices to getting around, and walkability (spawning activities at the street level and encouraging personal interaction); Smart Growth principles also include building and developing places and spaces that respects community character, design, and historic features and creates various forms of linkages to existing development plans and takes into consideration future trends as well as implementing a creative mix of financing mechanisms to keep the residential and commercial units within the reach of the local market and – at the same time – creating enough value to warrant higher-income earners consider living in an economically struggling urban environ. BSBB has achieved these mounting, yet important set of rules by:

 Responding to demands by local preservation groups’ desire to saving “Trenton’s First Skyscraper”, Trenton’s largest blighted building, and New Jersey’s #1 most endangered buildings from demolition;

 Earning historic preservation tax credits, green building tax credits, and low-income housing tax credits to keep the units affordable to a mix of income levels;

 Providing the local arts and cultural community with funds for programming and events to help spur a revival of appreciation for life’s more enjoyable pursuits and engagements;

 Encouraging and facilitating community inclusion in the redevelopment process by partnering with a local community building network to bring over 1,000 curiosity and housing seekers into the building for site tours, workshops, and social networking activities – inbuilt human interest and empowerment;

 Prompting key decision-makers to take a closer look at better ways to accommodate existing and future redevelopment by examining the Abandoned Properties Rehabilitation Act, Middle-Income Housing Tax Credits, and citizen inclusion very early in the planning and decision-making processes, an often under recognized, yet vitally essential aspect for redevelopment and psycho-sustainability; and

 Prompting local stakeholders to research, engage, and mobilize around new and emerging tools, strategies and priorities that prepare them for green collar jobs, energy efficiency in their personal and professional lives, sustainable design of buildings and neighborhoods, and building bridges across race, religion, gender, educational, and economic divides to achieve social equity and mutually beneficial outcomes - BOOST’s Green, Smart, & Sustainable Stakeholder Education & Training (GSS-SET).

Broad Street Bank Building has been successful in both implementing smart growth principles through its adaptive reuse of the historic structure into a mix-use, mixed-income, sustainably designed, multifamily, and conveniently located complex while retaining its primary historic features and adding in a number of energy-efficient features. Taking into consideration that this project was wrought with many economic, structural, and socio-political hurdles and challenges, Bayville Holdings LCC has given the City of Trenton, the State of New Jersey, and the American Republic a model example of building in older, struggling, former industrial urban centers that can be both hard-structurally (bricks and mortar) sound, economically viable, and soft-structurally (people) oriented tying together the human, built, and natural environments. BSBB is a smart project, indeed, connecting people to the places and the reasons to be there that count!