Panelists Offer Up Guidance on Making TOD Real

The first installment of the new TOD in Your Downtown Forum Series, organized by Downtown New Jersey (DNJ) and NJTOD.org, was held on May 30 at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. Planners, municipal officials, and other practitioners assembled at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy to hear from expert panelists who work on the front lines of planning and implementing transit-oriented development.

The event, “Making TOD Real: Planning & Building Transit-Oriented Development in NJ,” was an opportunity to learn about panelists’ experience engaging communities, planning for success, negotiating projects, and fostering great places around public transit.

Two municipal officials sat on the panel: Michele Alonso, Director of Planning & Redevelopment in Asbury Park, and Caroline Ehrlich, Executive Director of Woodbridge Township Redevelopment Agency. They were joined by three developers: Deb Tantleff of TANTUM Real Estate, Steve Santola of Woodmont Properties, and Ron Beit of RBH Group.

The mix of developers and municipal officials provided perspectives from two sides of the development process. Both the municipal officials and developers agreed that community engagement is required to ensure the success of TOD projects and should be started early in the process. Panelists identified critical issues that are often sources of community pushback and offered up effective techniques for engaging the public.

Panelists discussed strategies to address the challenges of negotiating a project, including how to effectively implement Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOTs) and the importance of establishing a vision for a specific site before development begins.

They also shared their perspectives on providing affordable housing in TOD projects, with panelists concurring that affordable housing is essential to the vitality of a community. Affordable and diverse housing is also important to ensure TOD can attract families who will put down roots. As Erlich explained, “We used to talk about ‘starter homes.’ Now people need a ‘starter apartment.’” Panelists offered ideas for attracting and maintaining an effective mix of retail that makes a TOD community a great place to live and visit.

The developers discussed what amenities they provide at their properties – from those that have become “must-haves,” like gyms and courtyards, to the more extravagant, such as industrial-size washing machines and pet care centers.

The discussion was followed by a lively Q&A from the audience, with topics ranging from walkability to outdoor dining.

The panel was the first in a series of events to be co-presented by Downtown New Jersey (DNJ) and NJTOD.org. The TOD in Your Downtown Forum Series aims to advance efforts to implement TOD in New Jersey’s diverse communities by providing opportunities for practitioners and members of the public to gather and share experiences.

Among the topics to be discussed at future TOD in Your Downtown Forum events are creative placemaking, TOD financing, and public engagement. If you have an idea for a TOD in Your Downtown Event Forum, please send us an email at: njtod@ejb.rutgers.edu, subject: Future TOD Forum Ideas.