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  • Writer's pictureJoseph F. Berenato

Streetscape session held

For downtown; led by

Taylor Design Group

THG/Joseph F. Berenato. To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940. Scott Taylor, of Taylor Design Group, stood beside a map of the Neighborhood Preservation Program district at the public feedback session on November 30..

HAMMONTON—A public feedback session regarding the town’s Downtown Streetscape Enhancement Plan was held on November 30 in town hall.

The enhancement plan is part of the five-year Neighborhood Preservation Program (NPP) grant from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs (NJDCA) for which the town applied and was awarded in 2019. The grant program awards $125,000 per year for improvements to a designated NPP district.

The feedback session was presented by town advocate Jim Donio and Scott Taylor of Taylor Design Group, the town’s landscape architect.

Donio explained the purpose of the session to those in attendance, noting that the next block of funding from the grant is for streetscape designing and planning.

“This part is about getting your feedback, as much feedback as possible from the community from people who live here, work here, visit here or intersect in any way with the downtown to try to think about what we have that we like and for different amenities and assets in the downtown, different streetscape pieces—and what we necessarily don’t like and would like to get added,” Donio said.

Some residents were informed of the meeting through posts on Facebook. During the session, Donio said that the meeting was not a requirement of “this part of the grant in particular.”

“It’s just important, and we’d rather do it the right way once. Get a good plan, and then have it evolve over time as our town and society keeps changing,” Donio said.

Taylor described the process behind design work.

“We have stakeholder meetings, we do site analysis and then we come up with recommendations for a long-term vision. That vision is actually established by members of the community, by town council, by staff of what we want to look like for the next several decades,” Taylor said.

Taylor said that they were seeking input from all stakeholders in the district, starting with one-on-one interviews with residents, business owners and organizations that began that day at 2 p.m.

“We sat through four-and-a-half hours of focused stakeholders this afternoon. We’re here to get some additional feedback to help establish that vision. What are the good things that are happening in town that we should do more of? What are some things that the town can do better?” Taylor said.

Taylor also said that the plan will encompass what can be done from a branding and place-making standpoint.

“You guys have a very unique identity, aside from being the Blueberry Capital of the World; just the façade renovations, the history of the community, the renovations that have been done, but in a way that really creates a unique, eclectic mix of businesses, and breweries and distilleries and everything else in the downtown,” Taylor said.

Any suggestions, Taylor said, were welcome. The first to speak was Jeanette DePiero of the Hammonton Arts Center, who inquired about the space behind the center’s building.

“I was wondering if there’d be any type of funding to make that a nicer spot back there.

There’s apartments and a lot of cement. There’s parking, then you have the parking lot adjacent to it, but I think it could be beautified more if there’s funding,” DePiero said.

Taylor said that everything was on the table.

“There are different buckets of money for different types of programs,” Taylor said.

DePiero, who is also a member of the Hammonton Green Committee, referenced the recent Green Day Festival.

“We closed Second Street; that went really well. There was a place for our vendors. A lot of people from the community came and walked to it, maybe took the train or a bus or rode their bicycles,” DePiero said.

DePiero said that she would like to see ways to continue and expand such events in the area, and Taylor replied.

“Sort of event areas, piazzas, things like that; that has been a recurring theme with a lot of the stakeholders: a place where we maybe don’t have to close down a road, but there can be a dedicated area that can be used for public events or having a guitarist or a quartet, a small performance area on a year-round basis,” Taylor said.

Such an area has been a part of the town’s NPP Strategic Implementation Plan since town council adopted it via Resolution No. 050-2020 on April 27, 2020. According to that plan, the fifth year of the grant will include “Central Piazza (Utilizing Complete Streets Best Practices) with Seasonal Ice-skating Rink and Water Feature.”

“A ‘shared street’ or ‘complete street’ design, where many of the traditional separations between roadway and pedestrians are removed (e.g., no crosswalks; sidewalks at virtually the same level as the roadway) and the uses (e.g., automotive, pedestrian, bicycle) are desegregated is a key proposed new feature of the NPP District. This model began in Europe but is gaining popularity in the US. It works particularly well in low-speed, low-volume street environments,” the plan reads.

At their April 25 meeting this year, council passed Resolution No. 060-2022, Approval to submit application for Capital Needs Grant.

According to the language of the resolution, the town of Hammonton “desires to apply for and obtain a grant from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, Community Capital Needs program for an amount not to exceed $250,000 for the Central Piazza project.”

“The town of Hammonton does hereby authorize the application for such a grant; and recognizes and accepts that the Department may offer a lesser or greater amount and therefore, upon receipt of the grant agreement from the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs, does further authorize the execution of any such grant agreement,” the resolution reads.

During the feedback session, Hammonton Environmental Commission chair Dan Bachalis presented a list of suggestions that included more green space, larger tree wells for the Bellevue Avenue street trees, more native plants and more, including LED street lights in the downtown.

“I think that’s the only section of town that hasn’t gotten LED lighting. It should be lighting that complies fully with the International Dark-Sky Association recommendations, including full cut-off fixtures, properly shielded luminaires and a CCT of no more than 3,000K,” Bachalis said.

Bachalis also recommended crosswalk bump-outs, dedicated bicycle lanes and improved road striping.

Taylor noted Bellevue Avenue is part of Route 54, which is a state highway.

“The state has jurisdiction on that. They have a very stringent set of rules under which they operate for allowing things within their right-of-ways and in their roads, so that creates a bit of a struggle for us to try to do things like lane changes and modifications along their roads,” Taylor said.

Rich Rehmann, the president of the Hammonton Revitalization Corporation, asked about funding for façade improvements. Rehmann noted that one typically thinks of the façade as the front of the building, but several buildings in the downtown have improvements on their sides and backs.

“We have murals and different themes. Sometimes cleaning up is a fresh coat of paint or something like that. Is that fundable money?” Rehmann said.

Donio responded, noting that MainStreet Hammonton has the Downtown Renaissance Design Grant—funded by NJM—for such improvements.

“That’s helped in a lot of ways with a lot of smaller projects around town, but—quite frankly—to do some of the bigger ones, it’s not quite enough resources. That’s why we asked the state if we could use some of the NPP money each year—some of these grant dollars from the state—to go toward façade improvements,” Donio said.

Donio said that representatives from the NPP program liked MainStreet Hammonton’s façade program.

“What they said was, ‘Take the program you have now. Slightly tweak it—not much, but very mild tweaks.’ They funded it. They said, ‘We like your program. You run a great program; you just need more resources,’” Donio said.

Donio said that the program has been expanded to include sides and rears of buildings.

“Anything within the parameters of the existing façade program would be covered—within reason, within our budget constraints each year,” Donio said.

Other concerns from other attendees included bicycle racks open meeting spaces, more greenery and better lighting throughout the downtown. Among those in attendance were Greg and Debra White of the Historical Society of Hammonton, MainStreet Executive Director Cassie Iacovelli, Town Planner Stuart Wiser, and Zack Brown from Hammonton Heart and Soul. Attendee Linda Esposito asked Taylor what the process would be after hearing all suggestions.

“What’s the first thing that you would tackle, or is this going to be a multi-pronged approach?” Esposito said.

Taylor said that everyone would have to “wait and see.”

“What we have to do is go back and synthesize all of this. As familiar as I am with the area, we need to take all of this information and the maps, and literally walk it and drive it. Things that are behind buildings that people here brought up tonight, we need to go and look at all of those,” Taylor said.

Of primary importance, Taylor said, would be to determine the vision to be established.

“What is the overall vibe that we want to create? That’s been running in the back of mind. The rest is formulaic: how do we work with the town’s engineers, the county folks, the state folks, to try to make the traffic calming the best it can be under the rules the other entities have for what they allow in their highways and on their roadways?” Taylor said.

Hammonton Green Committee chair Amy Menzel asked how the NPP grant implementation worked, and Donio responded.

“Once you get over the initial hump of getting accepted into this cycle, each year you have to go back in; we had to submit a five-year implementation plan, and then each year they want you to amend it because they know things change. You’re not going to know five years out; the pandemic hit, for example,” Donio said.

Donio said that, currently, the town has submitted a tentative view of what would like to be achieved.

“They’ve tentatively approved it. It will now have to go to council. It will officially come before council; they’ll officially reaffirm, ‘Yeah, we’re on board with this,’” Donio said.

Then, Donio said, the state must award its “seal of approval.”

“We’ve been earmarked another $125,000, but once they give that final seal, then they’ll unlock it for us and then transfer 90 percent of it to the town, and then the remaining 10 percent’s done once we close out our grant year,” Donio said.

Donio said that the potential exists for the town to be re-upped for an additional five years.

“That’s a new change to the law that they did because they saw districts that were doing well, like us, that are really making an impact. They want to encourage it,” Donio said.

Menzel asked Taylor about the proposed plans.

“Is that for the remaining three years, or does it go beyond that?” Menzel said.

Taylor replied.

“Our scope right now is for an overall vision plan, with some concepts of some key areas to establish and relay that vision with some support graphics. Then, if you all like it, hopefully we’ll get a chance to work on some of those future grants and some of that implementation—likely with the township planner and engineer, if you’ll have us back,” Taylor said.

Green Committee and Hammonton Heart and Soul member Dudley Prince asked about the next phases of the plan.

“Is it going to be published, like on a website? Like, Phase One is finished, Phase Two and so forth and so on? Is that the way you plan to go?” Prince said.

Donio answered in the affirmative.

“What we do will be public, for sure. If we are proposing things, it will be public,” Donio said.

Donio said that the process will be similar to that which has taken place with the grant-funded improvements to Hammonton Lake Park.

“Once there was some renderings and some background information, we put that up online.

We’ll do the same thing, probably, through this process, I would imagine, once we get a little further along with it. Then, hopefully, that’ll keep the community engaged and interested,” Donio said.


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