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Inside Montgomery: Why is there so much development in our town right now?

By Ed Trzaska | Posted February 12, 2024

— Op-Ed —

Yes, there is a lot of construction going on in town. We all see it.

One important thing to realize is that, even though a development plan is approved, it doesn’t mean it will get built immediately.

Most of the projects being built now were approved a long time ago, but delayed for various reasons (recession, shutdowns, or legal challenges). For the time being, these issues have been resolved. Let’s review commercial and residential construction separately.

Ongoing Commercial Projects

There are three ongoing commercial projects in town. Montgomery Place, next to Pike Run, includes CVS and the future Kasia Asian Market. This complex was initially approved in the 1990s along with the entire Pike Run community.

The Montgomery Promenade (Whole Foods), which had a groundbreaking ceremony a few months ago, was initially approved almost 20 years ago. 

The Village Shopper/Walk redevelopment was approved in 2018 and is making steady progress.

Personally, I am excited about these new stores and services. Less than 5 percent of Montgomery is dedicated to commercially-zoned land. This is well below the state norm for suburban towns. As such, it is important to optimize the use of this limited land to benefit our residents.

Beyond these projects, there isn’t much undeveloped commercial land left in town.  What you see is what we will have for the foreseeable future.  

Montgomery Promenade architect's rendering.

Before discussing residential development, we must cover NJ’s low-income housing mandate (COAH for short). Back in the 1970s and 1980s, the NJ Supreme Court issued the Mount Laurel decisions that restricted exclusionary zoning and ruled that towns must provide a “fair share” of low-income housing.

In response, the NJ legislature became responsible to decide how these decisions are implemented and most importantly how the COAH housing mandate is calculated for towns. 

While I generally support the court decisions and need for diversity in our housing supply, the COAH process created by the NJ legislature is remarkably damaging to Montgomery and our surrounding area.

The mandate allows developers to build four market-rate units for every COAH unit. So, if a town has a mandate of 200 COAH units, they must let developers build a total of 1,000 new units (which includes 800 market rate units).

This has caused development in the state to explode with dire consequences: increased flooding, traffic, school-aged kids, and property taxes.


YMCA Camp Mason

During the last round of mandates several years ago, Hillsborough, Princeton, Hopewell, and South Brunswick were forced to approve plans for 2,000 to 3,000 new housing units. Thankfully, we got Montgomery’s plan approved with only a fraction of this amount.

Looking at Montgomery’s current residential projects, they are all tied to our COAH mandate, every single one. (And there are three to four more coming soon). 

So, what can we do about it? If this issue is important to you, learn which state elected officials or candidates support a different approach and vote for them (Governor, State Senate, and General Assembly).

The NJ legislature can pass a bill to improve the process. How about lowering the ratio of allowed market rate units or directly subsidizing the cost of COAH units to eliminate market rate units altogether?

As for our local elected officials, please continue to aggressively preserve open space, which has been a successful bipartisan effort for decades.

Almost 39 percent of Montgomery is preserved or protected land. This benefits our community in many ways, including decreasing the amount of buildable land to mitigate the impact of future COAH housing mandates. It’s the best way to protect what we love about our town. ■

Ed Trzaska served on the Montgomery Township Committee for nine years, including six years as mayor and deputy mayor. He championed local issues such as open space preservation, parks, public safety, and thoughtful land use. Ed and his family have been Montgomery residents for over 20 years. In this new column, he will answer frequently asked questions and address local issues and events.

Ed Trzaska

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