Call for Volunteers: Community Planning Assistance Program

APA-New Jersey is please to announce its next round of Community Planning Assistance Team Projects in partnership with the Together North Jersey Transit Hub Pilot Program.

Please review the projects below and submit your interest to Tom Schulze at

Dunellen Transit Hub Pilot

The Borough of Dunellen is seeking to initiate a transit hub planning study for a several block downtown area along NJ Route 28 North Avenue and Bound Brook Road. The goal is to strengthen the town’s commercial area by leveraging its close proximity of the NJ TRANSIT Raritan Valley Line station and the access it provides to Newark and New York City.
Located in the northwest corner of Middlesex County, Dunellen has a well-established downtown, with local businesses serving the community’s retail and service needs. The station area, which was designated a Transit Village in 2012, has experienced some decline due to changes in the area’s local economy. Commuter parking and the town’s library occupy the south side of the elevated rail line, while a gas station, post office and bank with associated parking occupy the north side. Across the street in the commercial district, North Avenue features residential over retail – office, retail, mixed use and public buildings. Just one block away from North Avenue, however, residential uses – single-family, duplexes, apartments and townhouses, and a few civic spaces predominate.

The train station building itself, while functional, is not in good repair, and the surrounding surface parking lots and disparate uses create challenges to both access and visibility. While both local and regional bus routes to Newark and New York City stop near the station along North Avenue and south of the area, they do not stop at the station itself. Redevelopment around the station has been limited, however that may change soon. There is a 19 acre industrial site one block east of the station, with approved plans for 9,000 square feet of commercial space, and 252 apartments and 130 townhouses. Also, there are properties along North Avenue, all within walking distance of the station, located in a designated redevelopment area. The Borough would like to create a strategic plan for improving the area. This vision would integrate the station into the surrounding blocks, redevelop the parking lots with uses that would attract visitors, and improve sidewalk, crosswalks, and public plazas and spaces to create attractive streetscapes and community gathering points. Improvements to the station’s aesthetic and physical design, with a focus on pedestrian, bicycle, transit and vehicular circulation improvements, would also be welcome.

The borough’s desired goals for this work are:

  • To engage all stakeholders, including residents and businesses, and visitors, to identify the best ways for improving the area to support economic growth, stronger land uses, and access to jobs and arts and cultural activities,
  • To build upon the active work of the Dunellen Arts and Cultural Commission to bring more cultural activities to Dunellen’s facilities and parks, and attract more visitors,
  • Strengthen the connections between the planned development on the 19- acres site and the downtown area and the train station and the rest of downtown,
  • To keep stakeholders informed about the benefits to being a Transit Village,
  • To lay the groundwork for the upcoming update to the Borough’s Master Plan in 2021,
  • To create an actionable plan with strategies that can be implemented over time, with resources from a variety of sources.

The community has a number of established local organizations that will participate in this effort, but will also be looking to expand outreach to groups and individuals that have not participated in past efforts.

We are looking to create a team of volunteer planners with project development and management experience in the following areas:

  • Land use planning,
  • Pedestrian and bicycle planning,
  • Retail analysis / economic development,
  • Parking management, and
  • Transportation and traffic circulation

Watsessing Avenue Station Transit Hub in Bloomfield, NJ

The Township of Bloomfield in Essex County seeks to initiate a transit hub planning study encompassing an area surrounding the Watsessing Avenue Rail Station. The goal of the project is to develop a strategic plan to revitalize the surrounding neighborhood by building upon the area’s redevelopment opportunities and better utilizing and integrating the Watsessing Avenue station.

Serving former residential and industrial neighborhoods near the border between Bloomfield and East Orange, the Watsessing Avenue station is located on NJ TRANSIT’s Montclair-Boonton Line. With travel times of less than 10 minutes to Broad Street Station in Newark and approximately 30 minutes to Penn Station New York, the frequent rail service provides access to regional employment, cultural and retail opportunities.

The station is surrounded by a mixture of both older residential and commercial uses and infill redevelopment. Tree lined streets with early 20thcentury houses adjoin the modest commercial “five-point” station plaza area surrounded by aging neighborhood retail buildings. The underutilized brick station building sits at the convergence of the plaza streets above the open cut carrying the electrified rail ROW that separates the plaza in two. Several blocks away, large contaminated and vacant former industrial sites are undergoing remediation while newer infill retail and housing developments, including an Aldi’s Food Market and Home Depot have been added. Just beyond but within walking distance, a large residential development called Grover at One92 on Bloomfield Avenue and a residential conversion development project called Parkway Lofts created from an old seven-story General Electric factory in East Orange have brought hundreds of new residents into the area.  About one block west of the station is the Garden State Parkway, which is built above grade in this area, and effectively separates the Watsessing station area from the residential communities west of the Parkway.

Several recent projects have advanced local efforts to strengthen the area:

  • In 2017 Bloomfield was awarded a Safe Routes to Transit $400K grant to reconstructing sidewalks and curbs as well as safety and traffic calming measures. This will address some of the pedestrian safety concerns in the station area. Also, there is parking for commuters which means that most commuters must walk a significant portion of their trip. Creating a safe walking environment will encourage transit ridership as the station will be more accessible.
  • NJ Transit has authorized a second phase of improvements to restore the station’s exterior. This is to complement the first phase completed in 2007 which restored the platforms, canopies and retaining walls at the station.
  • The Township is using NJ DOT Local Aid funding for streetscape improvements to the Myrtle Street and JFK Drive intersection, and resurfacing JFK Drive North and South from Myrtle Street to the Railroad Overpass.

To better understand how the area can take better advantage of the Watsessing Station by creating a more vibrant neighborhood in the surrounding blocks, this study would create a strategic plan for directing the redevelopment of the area while protecting the existing uses. The plan for the area would include:

  • A review of existing and opportunities for developing new housing stock focused on the station.
  • An evaluation of the state of retail in the area, and strategies for both strengthening existing and incorporating new retail that could attract more people into the area.
  • A review of transportation circulation, parking and non-motorized mode strategies to improve Watsessing neighborhood access and mobility, and to explore improved connections to surrounding neighborhoods
  • Dynamic involvement from stakeholders in the area, including residents, businesses, and visitors.
  • Coordination with East Orange to ensure the plan is not inconsistent with plans for proximate areas in East Orange, and to uncover opportunities to work together to strengthen the study area.

We are looking to create a team of volunteer planners with project development and management experience in the following areas:

  • A strong background in project management to lead the team,
  • Land use planning,
  • Housing,
  • Retail analysis/Economic Development
  • Transportation, and
  • Environmental analysis.

Main Avenue Bus Transit Hub Pilot

The City of Passaic in Passaic County seeks to initiate a transit hub planning study for a several block area along Main Avenue serving the central business district. The goal of the project is to develop a strategic plan that will integrate a soon-to-be constructed relocated bus transfer facility into the city’s revitalizing commercial and residential areas within the downtown.

Main Avenue is highly active and serves as the nucleus of the City of Passaic’s Central Business District (CBD), which extends approximately .5 miles from Pennington Avenue to Monroe Street. Within the CBD are approximately 500 businesses, consisting primarily of small retail shops such as variety stores, bodegas, beauty and nail salons, restaurants, and travel agencies that largely cater to the walking public. Some larger retail shops (athletic apparel, clothing, 99 cent stores, etc.) are also scattered throughout, as well as professional health and service providers. The CBD benefits from a supportive community, a youthful and growing workforce, low crime rate, and a strong commercial and residential real estate market. It also has strong potential for growth in the areas of ethnic goods, services, and restaurants.

Until 1963, the center of Main Avenue formed the right of way and former station area for the Erie Railroad. Following removal of the tracks and station structure, the linear “island” was converted into parking for downtown businesses and the current bus transfer facility located near Madison Street. While several NJ TRANSIT local and commuter bus routes use the current bus transfer facility, numerous jitneys and taxis traveling along Main Avenue do not, stopping at designated bus stops, or wherever hailed in the street. Further, outdated intersection designs that include slip ramps and skewed approaches often lack crosswalks, making the area uncomfortable and confusing for pedestrians and presenting significant challenges to pedestrian safety and circulation.

The city has taken several steps to begin improving the downtown area. There are large vacant or soon-to-be vacant spaces with mixed-use potential. The city has worked with interested redevelopers on a parcel by parcel basis to transform abandoned or endangered properties into modern, attractive, and mixed- use buildings. The City has also spent $400,000 of its Passaic Enterprise Zone Development Corporation (PEZDC) funds for streetscape improvements. At the same time, efforts to transform Main Avenue into a transit-oriented hub are continuing. As mentioned above, there is an agreement with NJ TRANSIT to move its existing bus transfer facility two-and-one-half blocks further south to Passaic Avenue and Prospect Street. There are already over $5.2 million in funds dedicated for this relocation project.

Among the larger challenges facing the city are:

  • Determining how to best use underutilized, mostly vacant floors above retail buildings fronting on Main Avenue.
  • Maintaining an adequate parking supply for current and future needs of the business community.
  • Identifying roadway, intersection, and streetscape improvements that promote pedestrian safety, improved connections to the surrounding retail blocks, and transit stops in the area.

The benefits of integrating the relocated new transit hub into the fabric of Main Avenue could be dramatic, potentially increasing the CBD’s customer base, adding vitality to the CBD in the evening, and improving neighborhood security and safety. These factors in turn could help support the city’s vision of Passaic’s CBD as a destination area for international goods, services, and restaurants. For an economically distressed City, where a staggering 31.6% of its individuals live below the poverty line, these economic benefits are crucial.

The City is looking for technical support to help guide this process. We are therefore looking to create a team of volunteer planners with project development and management experience in the following areas:

  • Land use planning,
  • pedestrian and bicycle planning,
  • Retail analysis / economic development,
  • Parking management, and
  • Transportation Planning and Engineering with skills in traffic circulation and transit, and pedestrian and bicycle planning