Smart Growth Award Category: Innovative Participatory Plan
Winners: Brown & Keener, a division of RBA, Main Street Hammonton, Municipal Land Use Center at The College of New Jersey, Town of Hammonton
Smart Growth Challenge: How can a community be educated and engaged in a new approach to revitalizing its downtown?
Twelve years ago, the town of Hammonton, located in the Pinelands midway between Trenton and Atlantic City, needed to build a new town hall and police station.
The Main Street Hammonton organization encouraged the town to keep town hall at its current downtown location, stressing its importance in catalyzing downtown revitalization. Many residents called on their officials to make the decision-making process open and transparent. Contentiousness over the decision led to the birth of an independent political party, Hammonton First, voted into office in 2006 on a promise to engage the community in the discussion. The decision was made to keep both the town hall and the police station downtown.
In early 2008, Main Street Hammonton received a $50,000 planning grant from the state Office of Smart Growth (now the Office of Planning Advocacy) to explore development of a form-based zoning code – an alternative to traditional zoning that uses physical form, rather than separation of uses, as an organizing principle. No one in Hammonton knew what form-based codes were. That summer, Main Street’s newly hired executive director was given the challenge of implementing the grant. A chance meeting with representatives from the Municipal Land Use Center (MLUC) at The College of New Jersey (renamed The Sustainability Institute of The College of New Jersey) led to another $50,000 grant, this time from the state Department of Transportation, for Hammonton to serve as a case-study town for the development of a form-based code.
MLUC representatives helped Hammonton craft a request for proposals that led to the engagement of Brown & Keener as the consultant to lead the town through a participatory process to explore how a form-based code could be applied to its downtown and gateway areas. In the spring of 2009, in an effort to learn about the nature and benefits of form-based codes, a project team was formed of area leaders, including representatives from such diverse organizations as the local Chamber of Commerce, the Historic Society, local boards, NJTransit and the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, as well as the Pinelands Commission, which would need to approve any zoning changes.
In fall 2009, a survey of preferences was distributed door-to-door and in high-traffic downtown locations. Using the results of the survey, Brown & Keener conducted public workshops and open houses, at which the participation was broad and diverse. Finally, a “code-talkers’” bus tour was conducted, taking residents to various locations within the planning area to show them what current zoning would allow and how form-based codes could offer an improvement.
Over the winter of 2010, a draft code was written, also in open work sessions. Based on resident feedback, the underlying zoning ordinance was also streamlined and enhanced. The new mayor, a member of Hammonton First and a real estate developer, initially was concerned that the code would constrict developer options, but eventually urged its adoption because he recognized that for developers and citizens alike a code that specifies what a community wants, not just what is allowed, encourages revitalization. The final version of the new code was adopted by the town Planning Board in November 2011.
Supporting Partner: New Jersey Department of Transportation
Original article published by New Jersey Future