February 07, 2011
By Sarah Portlock/The Star-Ledger
A recent study found the Transit Village designation has no direct impact on a town's property values.
The state's Transit Village designation is a helpful, but not necessary, program for towns to see an increase in property values, according to a new study. Instead, the municipalities that saw the most property value increases were those with a commitment for mixed-use developments around the train station, the study found.
The results are based on the researchers' two-pronged approach: case studies and site visits to six of the state's 20 Transit Village towns, including Metuchen and Bound Brook, and statistical analyses of those municipalities' average home values, crime rates, school test scores and population density, the report's authors said Friday.
"There is an association between being designated "Transit Village' and seeing an increase in the property values, (but) that does not mean becoming a Transit Village leads to increased residential proper values, it just means the two are moving simultaneously," said Robert Noland, who led the study and is director of the transportation center at Rutgers University's Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy.
"The positive results really seem to be from those communities being committed to seeing something happening, to really doing the planning and having the political leadership to see it through," he said.
The study focused on two towns each in northern, central and southern New Jersey, including Bound Brook, Belmar, Burlington City, Journal Square (Jersey City), Metuchen and Pleasantville and was released by the New Jersey Association of Realtors. The state's Department of Transportation runs the Transit Village program, which creates incentives for municipalities to redevelop or revitalize areas around transit stations with pedestrian-friendly amenities, according to the program's website.
In Metuchen, which was named a Transit Village in 2003, researchers attributed its "lively downtown" to enhanced pedestrian access and new developments with businesses on the ground floors and office and residential space above. But the study said the borough's residential property values and growth trends are slightly below the average for central New Jersey.
"This is surprising, as Metuchen has some very attractive features for a transit-oriented development," the report said.
Metuchen Mayor Thomas Vahalla credits the downtown projects to the Transit Village designation, which has helped the town qualify for and receive numerous grants and attract investors and developers, he said in an interview.
"It's a blessing in that respect," he said.
In Bound Brook, trends in residential property values match those of other northern state municipalities, but the borough itself did not see strong improvements after its Transit Village designation in 2003, the study found. The borough has been "languishing," researchers wrote, because of uncertainty over flood-management projects when researchers visited the borough in the fall of 2009.
"In this case, we see no impact of the Transit Village designation, either proceeding or after designation," the report said.
The town's council president, Anthony Pranzatelli, said engineers hope to complete a system of levees and berms by the end of 2012 that will block water from the Raritan River when big storms cause it to flood the area.
The town also is in the midst of planning a mixed-use project that will encompass nearly a half-mile arc around the train station to improve parking, create pedestrian and bicycle paths, and connect the river with downtown amenities, he said.
"Obviously, if public transportation becomes a number one issue (of investment in Trenton) and the price of gas goes up, all downtowns that have the luxury of having a railroad station are going to be golden," he said.
Ideally, the projects will also help increase property values, he added.
"Obviously we hope they go up, and we hope they're enhanced by public transportation doing better, but also by good planning to make the town a better-functioning town," Pranzatelli said.
The DOT did not return calls for comment.
Sarah Portlock: (973) 392-5994 or firstname.lastname@example.org