Realtors suggest that walkable housing is in great demand. Transit experts recommend higher density development near transit to prevent further road congestion. And now West Windsor has stepped up by approving a mixed-use development across the road from Princeton Junction rail station.
The Ellsworth Center right now is a standard car-oriented mall, set back from the road behind a bunch of parking. It can be found at the corner of Cranbury Road and County Road 571 (Princeton-Highstown Road). Since its first development in 1950, it has provided retail options to the growing West Windsor-Princeton Junction community. There’s nothing particularly wrong with it, but right now the land is not being used optimally, and some of the site is under-utilized. Adding residential real estate over the commercial spaces will enable people to live close by Princeton Junction rail station. This will ease demand for parking and single-passenger-vehicle trips to the station. Residential space will also sustain demand for merchants, helping to promote a greater and higher-quality range of businesses.
The reconstructed Ellsworth Center, which will be completed in around 2 years, will feature twenty one-bedroom apartments and twenty stores. Research indicates that mixed-use developments are the most ‘profitable’ for municipal finances. However we often see objections to development like this in Princeton, based on the idea that more intensive development adds to local traffic and strains services. West Windsor has also apparently resisted previous attempts to redevelop the site. The fact that this proposal was unanimously passed by the West Windsor Planning Board is evidence of the growing realization that having homes near transit and stores is the best way to prevent sprawl, reduce vehicle-miles-traveled, and maximize investment in infrastructure.
West Windsor ought to be applauded for this planning decision, which will hopefully shape future land use around Princeton Junction rail station. The only criticism is that adding just 20 one-bed apartments on the site is too cautious at a site so close to a major transit hub. Allowing more units would contribute to an emerging walkable Princeton Junction downtown, help local affordability issues, and improve car-free access to the NJ Transit station. That said, it is a welcome step in the right direction, and more housing could be added soon at the long-overdue West Windsor Transit Village.
A redeveloped Ellsworth Center, along with the mixed-use ‘Plainsboro Village Center‘ and ‘Robbinsville Town Center‘, offer examples of a growing number of walkable, mixed-use developments in Central Jersey. However, we cannot be complacent: the majority of people still do not have access to a home where they can get to stores and workplaces without a car. This is largely because of planning and zoning ordinances which constrain developers and limit them to developing car-dependent green-field sites which require unsustainable infrastructure investment. From an environmental, economic and placemaking standpoint, these policies are unsustainable. We hope that the new Ellsworth Center will be successful and more developments like it will follow.
What do you think of the look of the new Ellsworth Center? Do you believe that Princeton Junction will become a walkable place? What are the advantages and disadvantages of walkable, mixed-use developments? Have your say using the comments box below.