The people of Long Hill love their community. One can see this love at the Memorial Day parade, at Little League and soccer games and at community events such as the Freedom bike race, the annual carnival, fireworks and during any summer afternoon at Stirling Lake. People also love the outdoor activities that are a part of this rural enclave such as walking the trails of the Great Swamp, canoeing the Passaic River and observing the birds at the Raptor Trust.
The villages of Long Hill Township -- Gillette, Stirling, Millington, Meyersville and Homestead Park -- all have their neighborhood commercial centers (except Homestead Park), but no there is no downtown.
Currently the corridor consists of two planned shopping areas, and individual development consisting of retail, office, and residential uses. The architectural style and visual look and feel of the Valley Road area reflects decades of un-planned development, resulting in an unattractive, unharmonious mix of newer buildings co-existing with older structures. As part of that development, Valley Road was widened over the years in this area, creating the anomaly of a short section of multi-lane highway incongruously placed in the midst of what is still a two-lane, tree-canopied street throughout the rest of the township. Many residents have long wished for the day when they could park in one central location and easily walk to shops, restaurants, Town Hall and parks.
This Valley Road Business District Plan reflects Long Hill's year-long discussion of how Valley Road should look, feel, and function.
In 2007 and 2008 the citizens of Long Hill Township conducted a far reaching, visionary review of the Valley Road corridor. As a result of that review, this corridor has been designated as Long Hill's downtown area. Since the 1995-1996 Master Plan was written, several changes have taken place along Valley Road that support this “downtown” concept. The most noticeable has been the creation of a new Town Hall and adjoining Library at the eastern “node” of the downtown area.
This Valley Road Business District Plan was prepared with the assistance of a smart growth planning grant from the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions (ANJEC).
The Planning Board and Environmental Commission thank ANJEC for their support, guidance and encouragement throughout this effort.
III. VISION STATEMENT
The vision for downtown Long Hill depicts a vibrant hub of community activity. We envision a future in which the downtown area is highly accessible to pedestrians, hikers, bikers, transit, and automotive modes of travel. The downtown is a place where people will come to stroll, walk, talk, work, attend cultural and entertainment events, buy food and drink, conduct civic and other business and live.
The downtown should be planned to develop over time into a thriving, economically sustainable commercial center that provides many of the goods and services that residents need on a daily basis to reduce the number of resident trips outside of the downtown and also operates as a magnet to people from the surrounding region.
Consistent with this vision, traffic patterns should be redesigned to allow this area to evolve into a community focal point, not just a through road, it should evoke a sense of place on a human scale that is consistent with the semi rural nature of the remainder of the town.
Long Hill Township's dedication to a semi - rural community should be evidenced in our downtown by our dedication to environmentally friendly and green building practices as well as a park like setting with tree lined streets and environmentally friendly regulations.
This Master Plan Element shall be known as the Valley Road Business District Plan and shall encompass the area of Valley Road between the intersection of Main Avenue and Valley Road in Stirling and the intersection of Morristown Road and Valley Road in Gillette. The study area extends south to the Passaic River and north in an irregular line encompassing the first two properties north of the roadway.
Below are recommendations of the Planning Board for changes in the Valley Road study area based upon the findings listed above as well as the input from the numerous public hearings. These recommendations should be reviewed by the Township and considered as part of the suggested changes that would allow Valley Road to become Downtown Long Hill.
· Increase recreational opportunities along the Passaic River.
· Encourage establishment of an art and music center.
· Encourage establishment of an outdoor arts center.
· Encourage live music venues.
· Encourage pocket parks along Valley Road.
· Build the River Walk along the Passaic River.
· Retain existing paper streets near Valley Road to use as bike and walk paths, where appropriate.
· Consider the conservation of environmentally constrained lands for possible recreation uses in partnership with land owners.
· Identify ways to encourage more use of recreational facilities such as signage and transportation.
· Involve Morris County as a partner by using specific parcels of land for recreation purposes.
· Encourage visitors to the Great Swamp to also visit the Passaic River.
· Allow small scale residential uses on Valley Road above the first floor.
· Allow small scale senior housing along Valley Road to take advantage of the proximity of existing retail and services.
· Do not allow single family detached residences along the Valley Road Business District.
· Allow live and work residential units.
· Allow visitor lodging such as a bed and breakfast and/or a small hotel.
· Discourage large scale residential complexes In order to provide the desired balance of mixed uses. The size and number of residential uses shall be balanced with commercial uses so that the commercial uses are predominant.
· Use the Valley Road Business District to assist in addressing Township COAH obligations where feasible and appropriate.
· Encourage connectivity among all uses along Valley Road, including physical connections spanning natural barriers such as the proposed bridge between Town Hall and Valley Mall.
· Connect business, residential, recreational, school and municipal uses with walking and bicycle paths.
· Change the prohibited uses list of the land use Ordinance to ensure that all appropriate business activities are encouraged in Long Hill.
· Combine the B-2 and O zones to allow office, commercial and retail uses along Valley Road.
· Keep the existing B – 3 planned commercial zone as it currently designated and delineated.
· Allow business and commercial uses to coexist with offices.
· Eliminate the industrial zone on Valley Road, and encourage such uses on the side roads off of Valley Road.
· Allow river related businesses access to the Passaic River.
· Encourage appropriate business development that ensures a thriving, sustainable commercial area that also increases municipal revenue.
· Review and change regulations to make the land use process more attractive, less expensive and quicker for developers with appropriate projects while also ensuring that sound environmental practices are followed.
· Include business owners in the defining and developing of business friendly practices and appropriate incentives for new construction and remodeling.
· Insure that the Land Use Ordinance allows permitted uses in the Valley Road Business District that are substantially similar to the uses currently allowed.
· Require dedicated open space for all new Valley Road projects with suitable street furniture where appropriate.
· Require recycling and bicycle facilities for new projects where appropriate.
· Establish a Greenway along Valley Road.
· Establish ‘Green’ building practices and LEED building practices.
· Use bioswales, rain gardens, permeable pavers and other Best Management Practices as appropriate for stormwater management.
· Provide bonus lot coverage in exchange for higher landscaping requirements for new buildings.
5. A Valley Road for All Users
· Provide separate bike lanes.
· Provide bus shelters and signage to encourage bus travel, particularly in planned business zones.
· Allow north/south crossings of valley road for pedestrians and bicycles.
· Avoid new signalization of intersections on Valley Road, while providing for traffic calming strategies to reduce the speed of vehicles. This will change Valley Road from a through street to a destination.
· Ensure a balance and mix of uses that will support each other and encourage "park and stay" usage.
· Reduce the number of entrances, driveways and curb cuts on Valley Road while allowing interconnections between parking areas.
· Restore Valley Road to a 2-lane road with appropriate turning lanes and designated parking areas.
· Use the tree-lined ambiance and pedestrian and bicycle presence to help slow and calm traffic.
· Encourage street parking where appropriate.
· Encourage a Valley Road boulevard with small medians at the entry to blocks where appropriate.
· Promote bicycle and pedestrian paths parallel to Valley Road where appropriate.
· Continue to use architectural standards to create an appropriate look and feel to Valley Road.
· Allow some discretion in the architectural standards by allowing styles similar to those listed in the Ordinance.
· Require parking to the rear of buildings facing Valley Road.
· Where appropriate, encourage new buildings with set-backs closer to the street.
· New buildings should have pedestrian-accessible entrances from Valley Road.
· Use uniform signage to identify destinations and increase the visibility of public and private destinations.
· Adjust building height to its visual impact – such as low heights close to street and higher when a building is a distance from the street.
· Encourage street furniture and pocket parks as gathering places.
· Don't replicate the "highway shopping" commercial area of some nearby towns – foster "park and stay" shopping rather than "drive and go."
· Connect parking lots and allow bonus development and / or reduced parking requirements for linked parking lots
· Allow parking only to the rear of buildings for buildings that front on Valley Road.
· Building entrances should face Valley Road.
· Allow closer front setbacks to Valley Road.
· Encourage lot consolidation.
· Encourage in-fill development.
· Encourage major landscaping in planned business zones
· Continue existing lighting policy to cut down on excessive light.
· Consider allowing parking structures below buildings and below grade – were appropriate.
· Encourage architectural standards for both new development and re-development of existing properties that harmonizes with the more recent, attractive buildings in the area. New buildings should conform more to the architectural standards and not to nonconforming area buildings.
The Planning Board extends it gratitude to their colleagues on the Environmental Commission for securing the ANJEC grant which allowed the Township to embark on the rewriting of the Master Plan Element for the Valley Road Business District.
The Board also wishes to express its gratitude to Mayor George Vitureira who started the process of reexamining Valley Road by inviting Rutgers University to study our community and make invaluable suggestions.
This Valley Road Business District Master Plan Element is the product on innumerable hours of time contributed by many, many members of the Long Hill Community. We thank each and every one of them. Without them, this document would not have been possible.
VI. TOWNSHIP COMMITTEE AND BOARD MEMBERS
The Planning Board thanks the many concerned citizens who gave their time, dedication and knowledge to the Valley Road Business District Master Plan process. We also give our thanks to the selfless volunteers who make up the following bodies:
George Vitureira, Mayor
Jerry Aroneo, Deputy Mayor
Mead Briggs III
Richard Albers, Chair
Chris Connor, Vice Chair
Mead Briggs, III, Committeeperson
Thomas Behr, Ph.D.
Marianne Legato, Esq.
Leonard Hamilton, Ph.D.
George Vitureira, Mayor
ZONING BOARD OF ADJUSTMENT
Thomas Behr, Ph.D., Chair
Sandi Raimer, Esq., Vice Chair
Ed Gerecht, Esq.
Joseph Pagano, P.E.
A. CURENT ZONING OF THE VALLEY ROAD BUSINESS DISTRCIT
Email version – graphics not available
· Proposed Zoning Map of Valley Road to be added
· Map showing current uses to be added
In January 2007 Mayor George Vitureira met with faculty from the Rutgers University Bloustein School of Planning and discussed Long Hill Township and in particular Valley Road. The Mayor worked closely with Dr. Clinton Andrews, Instructor Anthony Sblendorio and 16 environmental planning studio graduate students, who accepted the challenge of working with the Township on “regenerating Long Hill Township.”
They studied Valley Road and Long Hill Township, met with residents and officials on January 25, 2007 and April 12, 2007 and gave their final report on May 22, 2007 to the Planning Board. The students focused on several key issues facing Long Hill. Among them were: water management; making Valley Road into Valley Boulevard; ecotourism; connecting neighborhoods and villages; infill development; and signage.
Following their semester long study of the Township, the students drew a number of conclusions, which are reprinted below.
By studying Long Hill Township, we learned a great deal about the Township, its people, and its environment. Using a regenerative design framework, we developed alternatives to enhance Long Hill and to turn potential liabilities, like water and congestion, into assets. We hope that this comprehensive, in-depth approach can become the Long Hill way of thinking when dealing with planning, developing, and preserving Long Hill. Some of the most important concepts that go beyond a single idea or alternative are:
• Build on the incredible resources of Long Hill
As we studied and got to know the Township over the course of the semester, we found an abundance of natural, historical, and social resources in Long Hill. In the spirit of regenerative design, we encourage the identification and appreciation of both past and present resources and the leveraging of these resources to create Long Hill’s future. Examples include the development of ecotourism opportunities like kayaking, the enhancement of educational and recreational opportunities in support of the natural environment, and new management techniques for floodwater and wastewater.
• Consider a phased approach to implementing improvements
Although we have presented many new ideas, they do not all have to be implemented together. A phased approach to introducing these new ideas to the Township can make improvements more financially and politically feasible. Using the regenerative design framework, each phase can build on the previous phase to continue to enhance the community.
• Modify planning documents and ordinances to permit and encourage regenerative principles
In order to encourage and facilitate innovative new ideas and solutions, the Township must update its Master Plan, Zoning Code, and other ordinances to allow and support regenerative principles. For example, Ordinances would need to allow, encourage, or require new wastewater management techniques, sidewalks, or permeable surfaces.
· Establish identity and connectivity throughout Long Hill via community events, signage, and bicycle and pedestrian improvements
Building identity itself can and should be an event that involves every citizen, young and old. This identity must support the four individual villages, highlighting the many assets each has, as well as the greater Township and the values that tie Long Hill together. Signage can use and promote identity throughout the Township while also providing valuable direction for residents and visitors. Also connecting Long Hill should be accessibility improvements in bike routes and sidewalks so that residents of all ages can connect with local businesses, neighbors, and the greater region.
The study quite successfully identified many of the challenges facing Long Hill and has suggested a number of ideas for the Township to consider.
During the same time period that Mayor George Vitureira was discussing Long Hill Township with Rutgers University the chairman of the Township Environmental Commission, Dr. Len Hamilton, was applying for a smart growth grant from the Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions (ANJEC). The Township Environmental Commission approved Resolution 07-105 on 21 March 2007 authorizing the application for a Smart Growth Grant.
The grant was awarded on June 27, 2007 at a kickoff meeting with the grant steering committee, which consisted of: Dr. Hamilton, Environmental Commission Chair and Planning Board member; Mayor George Vitureira, Planning Board member; Chris Connor, Vice Chair of the Planning Board; Walter Carrell, Shade Tree Committee member; and staff members Richard Sheola, Township Administrator; Dawn Wolfe, Planning and Zoning Administrator; Justin Lizza, Township Engineer; and Kevin O'Brien, Township Planner. The kickoff meeting was preceded by a steering committee meeting on June 14, 2007 to review the proposed grant and develop the general plan.
The grant awarded $8,000 to the Township and required Long Hill to provide $5,500 in cash and $4,000 in in-kind contributions. The agreement called for a six-month study of the Valley Road corridor, followed by a six month study of the village of Meyersville.
The Proposal to ANJEC reads as follows:
The Township wishes to redirect significant development in ways that:
· Preserve and sustain our natural resources
· Preserve the traditional character and quality of life in our town
· Revitalize our commercial business areas.
The first portion of this proposal is requesting funds to update two elements of our Master Plan:
· Valley Road Commercial Business District
· Meyersville Village Center
The goal will be to develop a new vision for both of these areas that will include traffic calming, pedestrian friendly circulation, and a streetscape that is more consistent with a traditional village (small- scaled structures, close to street, etc.) rather than mall or strip mall configurations.
The second portion of the proposal seeks assistance in revising the Long Hill Township Land Use Ordinances in support of the revised Master Plan.
The goals of this revision will include:
· Best Management Practices for control of stormwater for every project, not just those that trigger the N.J. Stormwater Regulations. The Valley Road corridor is bounded by wetlands or flood plain areas and Meyersville is immediately adjacent to the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. Both areas, and in fact the entire Township, should have this additional level of protection. Among the topics that would receive special consideration are:
o Reduction in the use of curbing
o Permeable walkways and driveways
o Use of bioretention areas
o Use of rain gardens
· Long Hill Township has slipped into the same mode as most towns in New Jersey, gradually permitting the automobile to guide development. Under our current regulations for both the Valley Road and the Meyersville areas, variance-free applications result in large setbacks from the roadway, large concrete parking lots for each establishment, multiple turning lanes, and so forth. The Planning Board envisions more modem concepts of Smart Growth that create areas with more aesthetic appeal and less environmental destruction. Among the topics that would receive special consideration are:
o Storefronts that are closer to the street
o Shared parking facilities where practical
o Required trees and greenways within parking areas
o Pedestrian-friendly ways to get from one shop to another
o Trails and walkways that link nearby neighborhoods
o Traffic calming
These goals represent a major overhaul of both the Master Plan and the Land Use Ordinances. Most of the expenses will be for services of the professionals that serve the Planning Board and the Township Committee. Long Hill Township has been graced with a deep and talented pool of volunteers on both the Planning Board and the Environmental Commission who will be involved in all aspects of this project.
As the Study proceeded during the summer of 2007, the Steering Committee met on 18 September 2007 and decided that a community conference should be held to discuss the future of Valley Road. Further meetings to plan and discuss the Future Search conference were held on 2 October 2007, 9 October 2007 and 17 October 2007. - A Future Search Conference was held on October 19 – 20, 2007 (see section below).
The Master Plan process has been conducted by the Planning Board as required by the Municipal Land Use Law (MLUL) however, the Environmental Commission continues to administer the grant and report on progress to ANJEC. Full community participation has been a primary goal of both the Planning Board and the Environmental Commission throughout this process.
The Commission has issued quarterly reports to ANJEC on: 15 September 2007; 15 November 2007; 15 February 2008; 15 May 2008 and 15 September 2008.
From 1992-1995, Long Hill Township undertook a massive effort at community involvement as part of the process of writing the 1995 -- 1996 Master Plan. Under the leadership of a non-partisan community group, Friends of Long Hill Township, and in collaboration with the Planning Board, a series of 5 community meetings were held to discuss residents shared vision for Long Hill Township’s future. In addition, at the Planning Board’s request, Friends of Long Hill Township collated and analyzed responses to surveys of residents and local businesses throughout the township, representing over 10% of the population. These results and the findings from Friends’ public meetings were shared with the Planning Board and incorporated into the revised 1995-1996 Master Plan.
The community proudly adopted that Master Plan which remained in effect until the Reexamination of 2003.
As a follow up to that effort, 97 members of the community, the Township Committee and other officials and members of volunteer boards and commissions gathered in 1999 for a 2-day Future Search Conference to discuss how best to implement the goals of the revised Master Plan. In addition to re-confirming the goals and vision of the 1995-1996 Master Plan, they identified a number of action steps such as construction of a new town hall, significantly tightened environmental regulations and protection of natural resources that have been implemented in the following years. The Re-examination Report of 2003 reiterated many of the key principles enunciated in the 1996 Master Plan.
With that background, Long Hill decided to use the Future Search model to create a new vision for Valley Road, which was seen as a critical building block of Long Hill's future. The steering committee, led by Mayor George Vitureira and Dr. Leonard Hamilton, prevailed upon Dr. Thomas Behr to lead the effort, much as he did in 1999.
Volunteers were sought from the community and 68 people signed on. Every applicant was invited to attend the conference. Study materials were distributed and read by the volunteers. The committee and staff prepared Town Hall and the Township Library for the Friday evening and Saturday conference on October 19 and 20, 2007. Dr. Behr and Kevin O'Brien facilitated the conference, which had break out sessions in eight groups.
Spirited discussions took place with consensus reached in some areas, but not in others. Participants reported the following suggestions:
- Create the feel of a tree-lined green space in keeping with the look and feel of the rest of the Township.
- Maximize road safety for all users -- cars, bikes, pedestrians and emergency vehicles.
- Provide connections through the area with sidewalks and jogging and bike paths.
- Encourage economically viable, sustainable commercial uses.
- Create a town center -- a place for people of all ages to gather, shop and stay -- with a mixture of uses.
- Create a mix of recreational activities in the area for residents and visitors of all ages.
- Ensure that environmentally sensitive best practice development is followed throughout the area.
- Change Valley Road from a through way to a gateway to this area.
- Utilize the Passaic River as part of a mixed-use town center.
The facilitator, Dr. Behr, presented the above findings of the Future Search conference to the Planning Board at a hearing on 13 November 2007.
The Planning Board has given careful consideration to the findings of the Future Search Conference (held Friday and Saturday, 19 – 20 October 2007), and has incorporated aspects of the Conference findings into its own recommendations.
1. Encourage appropriate business development that ensures a thriving, sustainable commercial area.
· Area should attract more ratables.
· Encourage a mix of sustainable, complementary shops.
· Allow offices and medical offices.
· Encourage restaurants and entertainment.
2. The Valley Road Business District should be the focus of Long Hill Township’s business and recreation – a place we are proud of – where people feel safe, relaxed, comfortable and welcomed.
· Our goal is to create a community gathering place.
· We should utilize the railroad and its three stations in promoting the Valley Road Business District and to encourage ecotourism.
· We need to make this area the Town Center.
3. Encourage a wide range of active and passive recreation for residents and visitors of all ages.
· Ecotourism should be an important element of the area.
· Encourage cultural activities and venues.
· Pursue more recreation along the Passaic River.
· Encourage bike and pedestrian paths, rollerblading paths.
· Encourage non-motorized boat access to river
4. Enhance a ‘green’ appearance – more trees, plant buffers and natural areas.
· Maintain open space feel.
5. Insist on environmental best practices throughout the area – linked to flood protection and stormwater management.
· Flood remediation very important.
· Encourage ‘green’ buildings.
· No net increase storm water runoff standards.
· Support the Army Corps of Engineers Passaic River flood wall project.
6. Make Valley Road safe for all – cars, bikes, pedestrians and emergency vehicles.
· Traffic should be calmed.
· Valley Road should have a boulevard feel.
· Parking should be available and lots should be interconnected.
· Driveways should be reduced in number, with many interconnections.
· Create sidewalks.
7. Create more attractive architectural appearance.
· Area should be visually friendly.
· Reinforce desirable architectural styles.
PLANNING BOARD HEARINGS
The Township Planning Board held numerous hearings to discuss Valley Road and associated matters, with the first held on 26 June 2007 to hear a report by Walter Carrell of the Township Shade Tree Committee.
Other Planning Board hearings were held:
- On 10 July 2007 the steering committee met with the Planning Board to review the hearing schedule and Master Plan goals.
- On 24 July 2007 the Planning Board discussed the 1996 Master Plan elements on Valley Road. The Board also heard from Ed Croman, owner of the Valley Mall.
- On 14 August 2007 the Board continued their discussion of Valley Road with the public.
- On 11 September 2007 the Board continued their discussion of Valley Road.
- On 25 September 2007 the Board continued their discussion of Valley Road.
- On 9 October 2007 the Board discussed the Future Search conference and the plans for the conference.
- On 23 October 2007 the Board reviewed the preliminary findings from Future Search.
- On 13 November 2007 Dr. Behr presented a full report from the Future Search conference.
- On 12 February 2008 the Board reviewed the Future Search findings and commenced further discussion.
- On 4 March 2008 the Board reviewed the areas of Future Search consensus and discussed them.
- On 11 March 2008 the Board discussed residential uses along Valley Road.
- On 31 March 2008 the Board discussed movement along Valley Road, streetscapes and sidewalks, and bike paths.
- On 8 April 2008 the Board described their individual visions for Valley Road.
- On 22 April 2008 the Board discussed the relationship between property taxes, schoolchildren, and residential density.
- On 13 May 2008 the Board discussed architectural standards, setbacks and streetscapes.
Throughout the 16 public hearings and the two day Future Search conference at which Valley Road was discussed, the public was given an opportunity to be heard. Numerous public comments were given to the Board for consideration. The Planning Board is quite proud of this lengthy, yet thorough, review of Valley Road. Without the help of the concerned members of the public it would not have been able to fully study and consider the numerous proposals and ideas that are part of this Valley Road Business District Master Plan Element.
 “Regenerating Long Hill Township,” Environmental Planning Studio, Spring 2007. Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Rutgers University.