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Good Governance in Land Use

What is a Goal?


A Goal is an ideal future condition that describes how Trenton should be in 2042. Goals are shaped by the Guiding Principles. Together the Goals help the City achieve its community-driven Vision.

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The City will have a zoning ordinance and redevelopment area plans that are clear, easy-to-understand, and enforceable..



Land Development Ordinance and Zoning Map
The City of Trenton’s previous Land Use Plan was written in 1999 and a re-examination report was completed in 2005. In the 2005 re-examination, the City made no significant changes to the goals and objective section. As such, the City has been ostensibly operating with the same land use goals and objectives for the past 25 years.
Trenton’s Land Development Ordinance (LDO) was last updated in 2010. The current zoning follows a Euclidian model: where a premium is placed on separating uses into distinct zones and there is minimal regulation of the form of buildings. Such a code is inconsistent with the actual use of land within Trenton that residents and stakeholders have identified as special. Many neighborhoods typically have a mix of commercial and residential uses and the historic character of neighborhoods is often cited as one of Trenton’s greatest assets.
At the same time, the land use regulations in Trenton are in disarray. There are standards for a Downtown District within the Land Development Ordinance (LDO) but there are no areas which have been mapped as such. Likewise, the Pedestrian Mall zone is identified on the Zoning Map but there are no corresponding standards in the LDO. Although City staff has acknowledged these two districts are the same, such confusion makes the land development more difficult and cumbersome. Moreover, issues such as these send the signal to property owners that they do not have a strong and supportive partner in the City who clearly understand their goals and can quickly move high-quality projects through the development approvals process.
Other issues are less egregious but nonetheless make the development process more cumbersome. For example, the code uses a system in which permitted uses in one zone are built off of the permitted uses in another zone. For example, the Business A principal permitted use section (315-106) states, “Buildings and other structures and uses permitted therein are all those permitted in the Residence and Mixed Use Zone Districts ….” This forces the user of the code to flip back to pervious sections of the code to identify what is permitted in the zone. This not only makes the code more difficult to use but increases the chance that a change in one zone will have unintended “ripple” effects throughout the rest of the code. As a result of this kind of language, Detached single-family dwelling units are a permitted use along State Street in the Downtown, an inappropriate use for that area.
Redevelopment Overview
A discussion of how Redevelopment Area Plans work in New Jersey may be helpful to some users. According to Cox & Koenig, an authority on land use regulation in New Jersey,
“The redevelopment plan, when adopted, supersedes applicable provisions of the development regulations of the municipality or constitutes an overlay zoning district within the redevelopment area. When the redevelopment area plan supersedes any provision of the development regulations, the ordinance adopting the redevelopment area plan shall contain an explicit amendment to the zoning district map included in the zoning ordinance. The zoning district map as amended shall indicate the redevelopment area to which the redevelopment area plan applies.”
This explanation makes clear, there are two types of redevelopment area plans: those which (1) supersede applicable provisions of the zoning code, and those that (2) provide additional regulations to the zoning ordinance. In both cases, the City preserves all redevelopment powers granted to it by the State.
Redevelopment Area Plans
The City has upwards of 40 redevelopment area plans, many dating back to the 1980s (the Grand Street Redevelopment Area Plan was adopted in 1984) while many are much more recent. Redevelopment Area designation is an important tool that the City can leverage to promote its community-driven vision. The designation allows the City to provide 30-year abatements and PILOTs, both of which are powerful incentives for development. At the same time, it allows the City to exercise the power of eminent domain for a greater public purpose and implementation of the community-driven vision. These are critical revitalization tools that the City cannot afford to squander.
Nonetheless, the redevelopment landscape in Trenton is highly confusing. To start, some of the designated redevelopment areas are small, such as the Capital Plaza Redevelopment Area which covers just over 36,000 square feet (.83 acres). Other designated redevelopment areas traverse whole neighborhoods: the Canal Banks Redevelopment Area covers more than 210 acres of land in downtown Trenton.
Neither of these conditions is inherently better than the other, and many cities effectively use redevelopment at a variety of scales. Instead, the issue in Trenton is that the redevelopment process is confusing, largely due to the variety of ways in which Trenton has written its redevelopment area plans. For example, the
  • General District Regulations[1] are remapped in the Redevelopment Area Plan and not updated on the Zoning Map (e.g. Bernard Street and Canal Banks Redevelopment Areas)

  • Zoning districts cover the same area but additional standards or requirements are placed on developers in the redevelopment area (e.g. Coalport Redevelopment Area and Hermitage Avenue)

  • The Redevelopment Area Plan creates hybrid zones that use the General District Regulations in LDO as starting point but then add additional standards (e.g. “Residential 2” district in the Humboldt-Sweets Redevelopment Plan)

  • New zones are created in the redevelopment area plan which are separate and unique to that redevelopment area (see “Commercial/Residential” zone in the Hermitage Avenue Redevelopment Plan)

Complicating this framework, some redevelopment plans point to General District Regulations that do not exist in the ordinance. Examples include the “Commercial/Residential” (C/R) in North Clinton Redevelopment Plan; the “Open Space/Parks” Zone in North Clinton and Center City South Plans; and the “Pubic Use” Zone in the Hermitage Avenue Plan.
Such a complex redevelopment framework makes the process difficult for all those involved. Property owners and developers have difficulty understanding which regulations control their property and what they can legally build. This increases the cost of development and undercuts any confidence they may have that the City as an active partner in the development process. On the other hand, these complicated regulations make it difficult for the City to enforce its regulations, slowing down development process and making it more onerous and cumbersome for its staff. Finally, the current regulatory framework almost assures that residents will not understand what can be built in their City. This leads to distrust of City government and of the development process in general. Most critically, the confusing nature of the Redevelopment Area Plans raises doubt about their legality and the City’s standing to enforce them.
There are two underlying issues that create these problems. First, the City has gone decades without a comprehensive re-evaluation of their redevelopment plans. As a result, changes in the Land Development Ordinance have not been folded in the redevelopment area plans. Second, the City has not established a strong policy for how to write redevelopment area plans so that they remain current, are easy to use, and can be legally enforced. The recommendations in this Report and in the Land Use and Community Form Plan will provide a framework for doing this going forward.
[1]  a.k.a. “zones”. Found in Article XII of the LDO. Examples include RA, RB, RB-1, and MU

Initiatives that support this Goal

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