Tri-State and the One Region Funders’ Group assembled Transit-Centered Development Grant Program recipients last month to discuss progress made since the first round of grants to advance TOD were made in 2009.
The value of using philanthropic support to leverage additional investment for transit-oriented development (TOD) is unprecedented. Through two rounds of grant-making in 2009 and 2012, the program awarded $335,000 in funds to 11 municipalities throughout New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. These awards leveraged $135,000 in local contributions, $6.7 million in county and regional funds, $23 million in state grants and loan guarantees, and $4 million in federal funds.
Presentations from the grantees made it clear that these funds are going a long way to undo decades of sprawl. Some notable updates include:
The Flushing-Willets Point-Corona LDC received a $14,000 grant in 2011 and used the funds as part of a larger proposal to revamp the LIRR’s Flushing station. Claire Schulman, former Queens Borough President and head of FWPCLDC, announced that the New York City Department of Housing, Preservation and Development is now poised to transform a 43,200 square foot parking lot into as many as 200 units of affordable senior housing.
The Town of Babylon, NY received a $25,000 grant in 2009 to develop low-impact development guidelines for its Wyandanch Rising plan, which aspires to create a walkable downtown with mixed-use, mixed-income development around the Wyandanch Long Island Rail Road station. Jonathan Keyes, Town Director of Downtown Revitalization, presented the tools identified to promote “Sustainable Urban Site Design Guidelines,” such as green infrastructure to manage stormwater; the preservation of native vegetation and soils to minimize site disturbance; as well as bicycle and pedestrian friendly infrastructure to ensure a safe, walkable community.
The Norwalk Redevelopment Agency was awarded $48,000 in 2011 in support of a neighborhood housing market study of South Norwalk. The study ended up identifying a major market gap: between 2007 and 2012, average home sales decreased by about half while average rents grew by about 13 percent. David McCarthy of Jonathan Rose Companies explained that following the study, the agency conducted a review of design and financing tools aimed at stabilizing and revitalizing the area, focusing on two- to four-family homes within a ¼ and ½ mile radius of the South Norwalk Metro-North station. To support these efforts, the City of Norwalk created a TOD master plan for the neighborhood, which is described as “[inviting] joint public/private sector redevelopment of key, City owned properties” as well as “establishing a framework of new and improved pedestrian and bicycle links – while redirecting commuter parking and traffic to locations and routes that will reduce impacts on the neighborhood.”
The Village of Mamaroneck used a $38,500 grant to update and adopt a new master plan and to conduct a zoning study to analyze any obstacles to redevelopment and to support TOD planning. Richard Slingerland and Bob Galvin, the Village’s Manager and Planner, respectively, explained that by keeping affordable housing at the heart of the new proposed zoning, they have incorporated TOD tools that incentivize affordable housing, green infrastructure, ground floor retail and maintenance of a neighborhood supermarket. A Neighborhood Stabilization Fund was also created to improve properties in the neighborhood with funding from TOD developers. Most recently, the Village submitted draft zoning legislation and predicts adoption by fall 2014.
The Mount Vernon West Vision Plan paves the way for Complete Streets
The City of Mount Vernon, NY received $18,750 to work with the Pace Land Use Law Center to establish an outreach process for creating a Mount Vernon Vision West Plan and update the City’s Comprehensive Plan. William Long, the City’s Planner, announced that the City’s initiative leveraged $35,000 in state funding to perform a market study for economic growth based on TOD opportunities. The Vision West Plan has so far identified options for TOD-supportive rezoning and complete streets improvements around the station area.
The progress presented by the grantees indicates that TOD continues to be of interest to municipalities seeking to leverage their transit assets for economic development and the creation of livable communities. It is also clear that the demand for this type of investment far surpasses the availability of funds. 97 municipalities applied during both rounds of the Tri-State and One Region Funders’ Group grant program, and despite no identified funding for a future round of grants, municipalities continue to inquire.
Each of the states has had varying investment in TOD. New Jersey’s Transit Village program has garnered national acclaim and recognition, but the state’s budget woes and bankrupt Transportation Trust Fund dim the possibility of increasing the program’s $1 million annual budget allocation to meet the strong interest in the program. New York still lacks a dedicated statewide TOD program, though funds from other programs like the Cleaner, Greener Communities Program can fund initiatives such as “low-carbon transportation.” In Connecticut, Governor Malloy recently announced $15 million for the creation of a TOD fund around CTfastrak and New Haven-Hartford-Springfield Rail stations, but a Safe Streets to Transit program similar to New Jersey’s would improve accessibility around the new transit stations sprouting up.
Philanthropic support can provide the catalyst needed for healthy, affordable TOD, but local, state and federal dollars (as well as policies that support equitable TOD) are needed in the long run to ensure sustainable funding and continued progress.