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December 2012 | Volume 1, Issue 6  


 Boulder Improves Energy Efficiency in Rental Housing
 Grantee Spotlight: Canal Crossing — From Brownfields to Mixed-Use Community
 Innovative Partnership Funds Transit-Oriented Housing in Denver
 Pilot Program Promotes New Sustainable Farming in Montgomery County, Maryland

Grantee Spotlight: Canal Crossing — From Brownfields to Mixed-Use Community

Canal Crossing — From Brownfields to Mixed-Use Community
Several sites within the Canal Crossing Redevelopment Area require environmental remediation. Image courtesy of Hudconja.
In the mid-19th century, industry flourished around the Morris Canal in Jersey City, New Jersey. As transportation technology improved, the canal was filled in and used as a corridor for freight rail and heavy trucks, which led to the establishment of more intensive industries and neighborhoods for workers in the area. By the mid-20th century, however, many industries had abandoned the city, leaving the areas near the canal with obsolete buildings, contaminated soil, and deteriorated neighborhoods. To address the neighborhood decline, Jersey City created the Canal Crossing Redevelopment Area and, in 2009, approved the Canal Crossing Redevelopment Plan. The plan calls for the 111-acre area to be redeveloped as a mixed-use, mixed-income, transit-oriented community designed in accordance with smart growth, new urbanism, and green building principles. The Jersey City Redevelopment Agency (JCRA) took a major step toward achieving the plan’s goals when it was awarded almost $2.3 million in a joint HUD Community Challenge Grant and U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Tiger II Planning Grant in October 2010.

The Canal Crossing Redevelopment Plan

The Canal Crossing Redevelopment Area is located in the southeastern portion of Jersey City and is bounded by the West Side Avenue-Tonnelle Avenue Line of the Hudson-Bergen Light Rail (HBLR) to the north and the 8th Street-Hoboken Terminal Line (Bayonne Line) of the HBLR to the east. Less than a quarter-mile farther east is Liberty State Park. The site’s location, adjacent to light rail, is its greatest asset. However, Canal Crossing’s long years of industrial use and subsequent abandonment created many barriers to redevelopment. Dilapidated buildings and vacant parcels characterize the site; these conditions are further exacerbated by a sparse street network, outdated sewer and water lines, and a number of environmentally contaminated properties. In addition, the departure of the area’s industries has resulted in unemployment, reduced land values, and the deterioration of nearby neighborhoods.

To transform this area into a thriving mixed-use community, the Canal Crossing Redevelopment Plan supports sustainable and equitable redevelopment with objectives that include remediating brownfields, creating a series of connected parks and open space, designing a pedestrian-friendly street grid, and connecting the site to the region’s light rail transit system. It also aims to set sustainable development standards, such as silver certification under Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) for New Construction for all new buildings and silver certification under LEED for Neighborhood Development for all projects encompassing more than one block. The plan envisions a predominantly residential neighborhood with two commercial centers located along the existing light rail lines. Buildings in the commercial centers will be 10 to 16 stories, providing density near the stations and opportunities for a mix of uses and housing options. Much of the rest of Canal Crossing will consist of residential buildings four to eight stories tall; these residences will be for sale and rent, and will offer market-rate, affordable, and workforce housing.

A proposed school at the southern edge of Canal Crossing will serve both the new neighborhood and a neighborhood to the west. Existing streets in the adjacent neighborhoods will be extended into the Canal Crossing Redevelopment Area to create a new street grid of pedestrian-scaled blocks. The streets will be designed to calm traffic speeds while allowing alternative routes through the new neighborhood for automobiles and pedestrians. Proposed open space includes a town square in the larger commercial center, small parks and playgrounds in residential areas, a greenway along the former Morris Canal, and a pedestrian connection to Liberty State Park.

JCRA Puts HUD/DOT Grant Funds to Use

The HUD/DOT grant will bring JCRA a step closer to effecting the Canal Crossing Redevelopment Plan. The agency is using the grant money for engineering and planning services; consultants are currently working on four tasks:

  • Outreach and establishment of a redevelopment equity mechanism. Rather than condemning property for transfer to a redeveloper, JCRA wants to make the redevelopment equitably beneficial to existing property owners. With the participation of property owners, JCRA is working to develop an innovative mechanism, such as property owners becoming equity partners in a joint venture with redevelopers.
  • Survey and legal documents. Baseline information about parcel boundaries and topography is being established. This task will result in new lot lines, grading, and rights-of-way based on the Canal Crossing Redevelopment Plan. This task will include the preparation of applications and documents to support the necessary resubdivision.
  • Planning and design for infrastructure improvements. Redevelopment requires new streets and bikeways, open space, water supply, and separate stormwater and sanitary sewer systems. Consultants are developing preliminary schematics and cost estimates for this infrastructure.
  • Light rail study. The Canal Crossing redevelopment will take advantage of the HBRL line north of the site. Consultants are preparing conceptual designs for improvements to an existing station on that line. In work already completed for this task, a feasibility study/ridership analysis concludes that a new station on the Bayonne Line of the HBLR is not feasible at this time.

Benjamin Delisle, JCRA’s director of development, explains the advantages of these tasks being performed together: “[T]he 111-acre Canal Crossing Redevelopment Area is comprised of some 30 property owners. It is highly unlikely that anyone would pay for a $2.5 million planning and engineering study. Any studies done for individual properties or development sites would be singularly focused and may not support the larger vision. Taking a macro look at the infrastructure needs for the entire area will ensure that the entire system works and will likely jump-start the redevelopment of the area.”

JCRA’s consultants have done about a third of the work, which is expected to be fully completed by September 2013. “We have been so grateful for the opportunity presented by the HUD/DOT grants. It is a rare chance to be able to plan for so many aspects of a redevelopment area in one study with one funding source,” notes Delisle.

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