“New Urbanism” Bringing Balanced Development to Downtowns

New urbanism, an emerging suburban trend stemming from changing socioeconomic profiles, prompts changes in land planning.
Eugene Diaz, Principal Partner of Prism Capital Partners

Eugene Diaz, Principal Partner of Prism Capital Partners

“New urbanism,” an emerging suburban trend stemming from changing socioeconomic profiles, centers on the importance of leveraging the symbiotic relationships among the different commercial sectors. For the past several decades, regional municipalities have approached office, retail and multifamily development as distinct silos that should not be mixed together. They are now re-thinking that strategy – and with good reason.

In fact, a tangible change in land-planning, in which balanced downtowns are the focus, is being driven by the convenience lifestyle philosophy of the millennial generation. These younger residents and professionals are drawn to a 24/7 lifestyle with centralized environments that include live, work and play components. At the same time, millennials are being priced out of cities where these components have traditionally co-existed.

In turn, tuned-in suburban municipalities see the resulting opportunity and are working to mix things up in order to achieve this traditionally urban balance. They are encouraging more housing options and amenities to make their downtowns and commercial corridors attractive for millennials and the businesses looking to hire them.

The results speak for themselves, in the form of increased commercial and residential rents, and enhanced tax base stability. In New Jersey, Morristown was a frontrunner. Now others are following suit. Englewood altered its downtown zoning to allow higher building heights, encouraging residential development to support robust retail. Summit has been considering significant changes to its land-use plan, providing for a greater mix of alternative uses in their downtown zone to achieve greater balance.

Woodbridge is also promoting this type of balance. Prism Capital Partners recently signed a definitive agreement to purchase a five-acre parcel at the corner of Rahway Avenue and Green Street, directly across from NJ Transit’s Woodbridge Station. Designated for redevelopment with residential zoning, the property formerly housed a car dealership converted into a 12,000-square-foot retail property with a Quick Chek convenience store. Prism plans to build a 180-unit multifamily rental community on the site (preserving the retail amenities) and looks forward to providing the type of luxury, fully amenitized property for which demand is so strong and which is associated with Prism.

Our firm is excited to be part of the push to introduce projects that will benefit New Jersey for the long-term by meeting the needs of our changing population. Already, we have seen how the right product in the right place is working to do just that. Phase I of Parkway Lofts in Bloomfield, a 118-year-old former General Electric Warehouse transformed into 361 apartments, is more than 70 percent rented. One third of the residents there came from addresses outside New Jersey. We also expect to break ground imminently for Phase I of Edison Village in West Orange, another downtown project focusing on the conversion of a 100-year-old factory complex into 331 rental apartments.

It is quickly becoming clear to towns in New Jersey and neighboring states that we need to continue to redesign our downtowns and commercial corridors around the ideals of new urbanism. Ultimately, our navigation through this positive, transformative period will result in better-balanced business centers with a multitude of housing options and appealing amenities, making our region all the more competitive in attracting and retaining jobs and residents.