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Poised for Success

by Freeholder Joseph B. Donnelly
…From the pages of Burlington the Beautiful…

Thanks to “smart growth” planning, marketing, loan programs, and other incentives, Burlington County has been looking past the fiscal downturn to a future of more economic growth and development, and jobs!

Amid all the day-to-day news about struggling businesses, layoffs, rising taxes, not to mention the debate about federal stimulus funds, earlier this year big headlines suddenly appeared about the small borough of Palmyra.

The story was and is about a 189-acre brownfield site along busy Route 73, yet a glance away from the Tacony-Palmyra Bridge. It was, notably, once the home of a popular drive-in movie theater.

But the breaking news is that a redeveloper has the site eyed up for a 200,000-square-foot expo center, not to mention hotels, restaurants, lots of other retail and commercial space, plus hundreds of townhouses and condos. Add in a marina and a 2,000-space parking garage.

Big plans for a small town? Absolutely. But all doable. It will take a cooperative effort between the borough and the redeveloper, not to mention resources that the Burlington County

Freeholders and the Burlington County Bridge Commission have to offer. But the agreement’s been signed between the developer and the town, and, even with the business world still waiting for the economic recovery to begin, this deal’s in motion.

Palmyra is the southernmost town along the Delaware River, in what is now called the Burlington County River Route, a 12-town, 17-mile long region that began its venture into smart growth planning 13 years ago in cooperation with County government.

The goal was to revitalize the business community, residential areas, the older downtowns, transportation, recreation and other amenities along this Route 130 corridor. Smart growth planning has helped to bring to the corridor 179 economic development projects, 4,400 new housing units, both market-rate and affordable, more than 18 million square feet of new commercial, industrial, and retail space, and more than 3,000 new jobs.

This is a success story with many elements, including County-sponsored loan programs for both large and small businesses, as well as a light rail system (the RiverLINE) which recently celebrated its 5th anniversary by reporting passenger numbers that exceed expectations.

Smart growth planning may have originally taken root in the River Route, but it is become the ways and means of land use planning throughout Burlington County.

In the northeastern region of Burlington County there sits our farmbelt, where 13 towns have been engaged in a planning effort intended to provide a balance between farmland and open space, economic growth and regional development.

One of the outgrowths of this study was a build-out analysis, which showed vividly that this region could become rapidly overdeveloped if steps weren’t taken to address the land use plans in the towns.

While some towns -- such as Springfield -- covet the farmland and open space that is its trademark, others (e.g. Mansfield) are looking for a mix of uses, including commercial development.

Then there is the Borough of Wrightstown, a small community like Palmyra, that borders the County’s military spaces, and is rapidly moving toward a redevelopment plan which will reinvent its downtown.

Those military bases -- Fort Dix, McGuire Air Force Base, and Naval Air Engineering Station Lakehurst -- have been merged into a new “mega-base,” entitled Joint Base New Jersey.

Because this designation will mean millions of dollars in new constructions, and hundreds, if not thousands, of new jobs, it has given rise to another smart growth venture, or Joint Land Use Study, involving the 10 towns that surround the military land.

The goal is make sure that the towns (four of which are in neighboring Ocean County) are able to work harmoniously with the base, benefit from its economic impact, and minimize potential problem issues, such as transportation.

Finally, let me take you along Route 38, which makes its way across the heart of Burlington County, passing through the County Seat. The highway is heavily used by commuters, but also serves the busy commercial and office developments in Maple Shade, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, Hainesport, Mount Holly, Lumberton, Eastampton and Southampton.

These towns are working with the County on a regional study of their own, one intent upon improving traffic flow while making accommodations for future development.

The simple conclusion is that Burlington County is poised for success, because we plan for it. And we are sensitive to the quality-of-life issues (farmland, open space, job opportunities) that have to be factored into the equation.

It is no surprise that, even in the current fiscal environment, developers and redevelopers continue to show an active interest. And as the economy improves, their interest will result in serious investment, new business and residential growth, and jobs.

Published (and copyrighted) in Burlington the Beautiful; County of Opportunities, Spring/Summer 2009.
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