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Development plan aims to take advantage of Hackensack transit access

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In a separate undertaking from Hackensack's recently unveiled Main Street rehabilitation plan, a group of New Jersey Institute of Technology graduate students have mapped out potential growth areas that focus on the city's three downtown transit hubs.

The students' semester-long community visioning exercise was funded by a grant from the Federal Highway Administration, funneled through the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority.

According to Darius Sollohub, the project's principal investigator and associate professor of architecture at NJIT's College of Architecture and Design, the NJTPA and NJ Transit asked the group to explore high-level, transit-oriented development within a half-mile radius of the city's two train stations and bus terminal, which he said encompasses almost the entire downtown area.

In its initial findings, the group — which is comprised of 11 NJIT graduate students and private-sector transportation, design and real estate consultants — recommended the city construct higher-density pathways; a longer walkway along the riverfront; shared parking spaces for commuters, visitors and residents; and mixed-use buildings to embed retail development in residential communities over a time span of 20 years. Sollohub said a draft of the report will be presented in June, and the final report will be issued in November.

"Transportation is the primary driver for a higher-density area, but there has to be other amenities to drive people there," Sollohub said. "Green space and park space is often associated with transit-oriented development, so we focused on those key sites."

Although the transportation planning agency considered several areas in its 13-county region for the redevelopment grant, it decided to focus planning efforts on Hackensack because it identified the city as "a place that already has good transit service and facilities, but where more could be done," said David Behrend, a NJTPA spokesman. "We really looked at places where the transit structure is working as a place for job growth and residential growth, and Hackensack is a good example of work that can be done."

Sollohub said Hackensack is very similar to New Brunswick — since it also is a county seat that houses a university, hospital and sophisticated transit system — so NJIT's transit-oriented plan recommends the city to follow New Brunswick's lead by bringing on a large-scale developer, like New Brunswick Development Corp.

But Hackensack city manager Stephen Lo Iacono said the city has "no plans like bringing a Devco in," noting that New Brunswick's plan focuses on redevelopment, not rehabilitation. He said Hackensack will reach out to developers located in the downtown area to facilitate Main Street's rehabilitation.

While the rehabilitation plan — which will be presented before the city's planning board on May 9 — has occurred simultaneously with the transit-oriented plan since January, Lo Iacono said the projects are not related, but could easily cross paths.

"Neither has anything to do with other. The NJIT project is a kind of a snapshot of what's happened here and what can happen through improvements tied into transit," Lo Iacono said. "But I would be surprised if we didn't incorporate some of their elements into our plan."

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