SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield Town Council has been working on a redevelopment project to help the downtown area for some time, and recently gave the taxpayers an opportunity to see what is in store.
At a recent township council meeting, Deputy Mayor David Barnett oversaw a presentation that showed the public what a redeveloped Morris Avenue corridor could look like. The redevelopment area in question includes a stretch of land that reaches multiple blocks in all directions from the section of Morris Avenue between the Interstate 78 overpass and Main Street.
But while the plan has been in the works in one form or another for multiple years, the legwork is finally paying off and the project is just beginning to take flight, thanks in part to a number of factors.
“The township has been interested in rehabbing the downtown area for some time,” said Barnett. “The concept started about two or three years ago. It really got propelled last year when we won a grant”
According to officials, the township, with the county’s help, was able to win a $90,000 grant that, according to Barnett, gave the town the ability to get all the right experts needed for the project to get off the ground.
“The one thing that the grant did was put together a team of people from local, county and state agencies,” Barnett said. “All the agencies are needed to get the project moving along.”
Barnett also said that with the help of all these agencies, all the necessary prep work has been moving quite smoothly.
“There was about a year long study that was done,” he said. “It included everything from surveying traffic, how people use the center, talking to bus riders and more.”
Following the survey, the committee was able to put together a comprehensive plan based on the needs found and what could be done with the challenges presented.
For instance, Barnett points out, most of the downtown area is a flood zone, as many victims of Tropical Storm Irene will attest when sections of the downtown area were beneath several feet of flood water. Barnett also mentioned that there are several bus zones and traffic issues.
“All of that was taken into consideration,” he said.
Recommendations from the redevelopment committee included widening sidewalks, establishing new design standards for building facades, relocating bus stops for better pedestrian flow, opening up more green space, upgrading traffic lights, improving signage and potentially increasing parking.
According to Barnett, many of the recommendations from the committee actually came from holding open houses and polling residents on various styles.
“Forty-six percent chose an older Victorian style,” Barnett said concerning the construction of new homes and facades.
In fact, Barnett said some of the early elements of the work will soon be seen by residents.
“The other element, which residents will start to see really soon, is that we entered into two public-private cooperation agreements,” Barnett said. “The first one is to develop a large piece of property on Morris Avenue, between Caldwell and Center streets. There is a plan already and now it will go to the planning board and the buildings will be torn down.”
The new building, Barnett said, will feature retail on the ground floor and the upper floors will be apartments with ample parking behind the building.
The second agreement happened just two weeks ago.
“We entered into a second agreement to redevelop property along Church Mall off of Morris Avenue. There are some old houses there that will be replaced with more housing,” he said.
According to Barnett, this new housing is expected to be a garden apartment style of housing, but that this effort is not as far along as the first agreement. Currently, the area in question contains old, rundown houses that the township hopes to replace with “residential units, but the plan is not finalized and the style is unknown,” Barnett said.
“The two cooperation agreements married with the overall plan is really exciting,” Barnett said. “This is probably the first time in the last several decades where we finally have a redevelopment plan in place that can finally happen, because the agencies that are necessary for the plan are actually a part of the plan. This is one of the best chances we have ever had to redevelop the downtown.”
Barnett, who is really excited about the potential of the redevelopment, also said that the planning is not done, but well underway. On April 4, representatives from different agencies will be coming to Springfield and Barnett will be walking with them in the downtown and talking about the plan.
“This has been real exciting,” Barnett said.
Edited March 25: A previous version of this story stated the Deputy Mayor’s name as Mark Barnett. The deputy mayor’s first name is David.