The Town of Boonton is a small historic town of approximately 2.5 square miles and 8,500 residents with a downtown poised to play a role in northern New Jersey’s regional growth. A classic “Main Street” business district contains a unique mix of locally owned shops and businesses including fledgling art galleries. Main Street surges with residents and visitors on summer evenings and weekends patronizing local restaurants, retailers and enjoying the Boonton Main Street events. Over the past several years, Boonton’s community leaders have actively worked to enhance the business environment, which in turn is leading the way for future re‐development of the community.
The development of Boonton began in 1829 s a result of the construction of the Morris Canal along the Rockaway River and formation of the New Jersey Iron Company. During the company’s fifty years in operation the Lackawanna‐Erie rail line which is currently the Boonton commuter rail line. Other industries were established including Ashland Oil and Boonton Rubber. While few of these industries remain, Boonton’s industrial and transportation legacy has created an opportunity on which the community can claim a renewed identity in the new economy and build upon its industrial past.
Boonton is similar to many communities become a destination that have been experiencing a shift away from an industrial‐based economy to a service economy and a growing “creative class” over the past few decades. While a portion of the industrial base remains, the Boonton EDC recognizes that this shift creates an opportunity. Given the existing traditional downtown development multi‐modal options including bus, county roads and interstate highway, Boonton can accommodate various types of transportation for its residents, workers and visitors.
In 2015, the New Jersey American Planning Association (NJAPA) Community Planning Assistance Program (CPAP) team was asked to assist the Town of Boonton Economic Development Committee (EDC) with a feasibility analysis and community visioning relative to transit oriented development. As a component of the CPAP project, the EDC requested support in making application to the New Jersey Department of Transportation for “Transit Village” designation. As a Transit Village, the town would be eligible for priority funding and technical assistance from state agencies and certain NJDOT grants. NJDOT allocated $1 million in 2014 for funding to municipalities designated as part of the Transit Village program. The town would take advantage of this funding and technical assistance to advance the town’s plans for the downtown and surrounding area thereby contributing to the livability and quality-of‐ life of Boonton and supporting the local economy. The transit village designation and subsequent development would ultimately enhance the sense of community that entices visitors and residents to live, shop and play in Boonton. Additionally, a comprehensive planning process and update to the zoning would substantially reduce the uncertainty involved with re‐development, facilitating a more streamlined process, and communicate Boonton’s willingness as a partner in the development process. The CPAP team committed to evaluating the feasibility of a Transit Village and associate transit oriented development despite the low ridership from the local train station of fewer than seventy (70) riders per day per NJ Transit ridership data. The CPAP team determined the course of action to include delineation of the suggested Transit Village boundary including subareas and baseline land use, transit and economic analysis. The team also prepared a SWOT analysis, which was augmented over the course of the project and shared with the EDC and the Boonton Main Street Board, soliciting their input, which was incorporated into the final document.
The CPAP team assessed the feasibility of Transit Village status and ancillary questions that included:
- Community’s desire for change in particular re‐development of underutilized parcels and conversion of vacant and underutilized properties.
- Guidance relative to design (form), density, and parking accommodations for any new multifamily housing and land characteristics and assemblage potential to accommodate higher density transit‐ oriented development.
- Local government capacity to guide and implement Transit Village.
- Existing market capacity to attract private investment and local market conditions.
- Physical capacity of transportation (mobility) network including bicyclists and pedestrians.
The team concluded that it would be of benefit to the community to identify a course of action and path forward that is proactive in its land use policies relating to the new economy. Additionally, the CPAP team realized that there would be items that the Town would need to continue to explore including that would need to be addressed and incorporated in future comprehensive and strategic planning processes.
- creative placemaking to further the attractiveness of the public realm,
- traffic calming,
- property maintenance and enforcement, and
- implementation of improvements to the downtown.
Fortunately for the Town, during the course of the project, it was announced that a studio would be offered by Rutgers University’s Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy focusing on transit oriented development in Boonton. It was also announced that Boonton was the recipient of a grant from the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority for professional planning services related to master planning and zoning for transit oriented development. Both in‐kind professional planning analysis and services further Boonton’s efforts to support transit‐oriented development and realize a Transit Village designation.
The CPAP team members were:
- Meghan Hunscher, PP, AICP – Project Coordinator
- Phil Abramson, Esq., PP, AICP
- Indradeep Chakrabarty, AICP
- John Jahr, TSOS
- Steve Martini
- Don Meisel, PP
- Bettina Zimny, PP, AICP