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Creating Vibrant Neighborhoods in Somerset County

Sharbell performed a clear cut of trees near the corner of Routes 206 and 518 in September to make way for its Montgomery Crossing development. Sharbell will build 107 townhomes and 40 condominiums on this site, and an additional 100 percent affordable 80-plus unit family rental building on an adjacent lot, for which it has partnered with PIRHL Acquisitions.

A workshop titled “Creating Vibrant Neighborhoods” attracted 40 participants to Somerville on September 13. The workshop celebrated themes of sustainability, ‘going green,’ and energy efficiency applicable in large-scale developments, including office complexes and housing.

Laurette Kratina, chief of strategic planning for Somerset County, said the county was motivated to sponsor the workshop because of the many new housing projects with affordable housing components, which she calls “inclusionary projects.”

Kratina cited figures of 83 building projects to bring in 9,000 new apartment or condo units within the county, as a result of the Mount Laurel (affordable housing) decision and overall development of land in the county.

“We really are encouraging municipalities to take a critical look at their code and zoning ordinances as they checklist land development review practices and update them,” Kratina said, noting the workshop included details on what builders and municipal officials could do to design healthier, better neighborhoods and how to prioritize projects with resiliency in mind.”

Matthew Kaplan, a member of the U.S. Green Building Council and founder/CEO of ReVireo, spoke about new energy construction code requirements that just came into effect, plus LEED programs for homes, businesses, and redevelopment projects in Hoboken, Morristown, and Somerville to create ‘higher-quality, higher-performing residential neighborhoods.’

A panel discussion on redevelopment and sustainability featured updates from Cathleen Lewis of the Board of Public Utilities. She delivered news on community planning grants, the NJ Clean Energy Program, and new multifamily housing energy incentives. Lewis is a former mayor and current councilwoman from Lawrence Township.

Nancy Quirk, energy program manager with Sustainable Jersey, detailed actions towns could implement to advance the goals and ideals of “green action and infrastructure strategies,” including potential zoning code modifications or master plan components.

Walter Lane, Somerset County’s planning director, spoke about the county-wide bike path plan and initiatives for increased community engagement.

“The workshop was very well-received by our 21 municipalities,” Lane said, adding it came about from discussions with freeholders Brian Gallagher and Sara Sooy.

Kaitlyn Bundy, manager of the county’s Cultural & Heritage Commission spoke about “Placemaking Initiatives” within the county. She said town and county officials continue to meet to devise ways to attracting “business tourists” (who attend corporate events and expos) to visit Somerset County.

Bundy described the annual cultural heritage tourism events as an opportunity for residents and visitors to enjoy performances, tours, arts programming and more. ■

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