SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY

NJ Future rewards development projects for ‘smart growth’

BY Michael Hill, Correspondent |

Hands, Inc. did not see the old Harvard Printing Company in Orange as just abandoned when it bought it before the Great Recession.

“We have a track record of having vision and being stubborn about our vision and we have confidence in our partners,” said Luther Flurry, executive director of Hands, Inc.

Those partners remediated the site’s environmental issues and replaced the printing company with a four-story apartment building. More than half of the 128 units are for affordable housing, and there’s lots of walking space. There’s parking, too, by preserving the historic art deco factory building right next to a stop on the NJ Transit Essex and Morris line.

“People will be able to commute straight into the city without using cars and burning gasoline, so we think it’s just a great use for the land,” said Joseph Alpert, president of The Alpert Group. “We really believe in urban redevelopment. We feel that it’s a much smarter growth pattern.”

The architects’ design called for uncovering and redirecting a fork of the East Branch of the Rahway River, allowing Orange and West Orange to cope with stormwater in Sandy-type events.

“This is a first, that an urban site like this has had a stream, literally, day light. In history what happened was you took these kinds of urban streams and you put them in pipes so that you could build on top of them. Now we’re getting smarter and realizing that streams need some space to breathe and grow and do what they’re supposed to do in managing storm events,” said Stephen Schoch, managing partner of Kitchen & Associates.

The project has earned one of eight Smart Growth Awards from New Jersey Future.

“We think the best way for people to learn about smart growth is to see great examples of smart growth,” said New Jersey Future Executive Director Pete Kasabach.

The public nominates candidates for the Smart Growth Awards and then an independent selection committee of professional developers, planners, architects and redevelopment experts from across New Jersey does the judging.

“We were also looking at some project that were at the nexus of economic development and environmental improvements, and this year specifically, we were looking for projects that demonstrated climate change resiliency features,” said Olivia Glenn, jury chairwoman for the Smart Growth Awards.

The jury found plenty examples of all those criteria, Somerville turning its Division Street from blah to beautiful and developers in Hoboken added new housing, two parks, recreation sites, all near mass transit and features to deal with Sandy-type flooding in one of the densest cities in the state that sits on low lands and filled-in wetlands along the Hudson River.

“The building and the site has underground pipes that hold 450,000 gallons of water, so in the event of a rain event, what would happen is the rain would go into these pipes, the pipes would store the water, and then the water would then eventually, slowly, be let out into the sewer system as to avoid flash flooding,” said Dean Marchetto, founding principal at Marchetto Higgins Stieve Architects, in an interview with New Jersey Future.

Superstorm Sandy has the industry redesigning its purpose.

“Things like Sandy don’t happen everyday, but when they do they’re so impactful and so destructive. Now, architects, planners, engineers, policy makers are all thinking not just to deal with the next 100 year storm, but really thinking, what could be on a regional basis, a way to think differently so we can manage the impacts,” said Schoch.

In other words, smart designs make smart growth.