It was in 1995 that the Burlington County freeholders initiated an unprecedented effort to develop a strategic plan for revitalizing 12 communities along Route 130 and the Delaware River. About three years later, the municipalities and the county completed a plan that established the framework and course of action for that rebirth.
One of the key recommendations was to bring back passenger rail service along the corridor, connecting the county with Camden, Trenton and points beyond. The goals were to improve mobility for residents and workers, provide a transportation option available to everyone, increase pedestrian traffic in and to the communities, attract new residents and businesses, and encourage the redevelopment of dilapidated and obsolete buildings. All of this would add up to economic development that would help revitalize the corridor.
Fast-forward to this month, about 1 1/2 years after the River Line's inaugural run, and much has happened. An investment of about three-quarters-of-a-billion dollars is being made along the corridor. Clearly this is the result of renewed interest in the area, which can be attributed to the implementation of the strategic plan - including rethinking and marketing the corridor - and a robust economy.
This investment comprises about 3,000 new housing units and more than seven million square feet of commercial and industrial space that will provide several thousand jobs. That's just the beginning; much more is to come. Certainly, the River Line figures into this equation of success.
Housing developments, most of which will be built in a neo-traditional fashion, are either on the drawing board or springing up. In the East Riverton section of Cinnaminson Township, a 900-unit development with a mix of housing is under construction opposite the light-rail station. The sales ads for this project highlight easy access to the River Line. Construction of the final phases of the age-restricted Newton's Landing project near the Delanco station is moving forward. And because a prominent South Jersey builder believed so strongly in the River Line and the corridor communities it serves, J.S. Hovnanian & Sons purchased the defunct Taubels Mills building in Riverside. This former industrial site is to be transformed into high-end condominiums.
Several communities are planning for new housing and mixed-use projects near River Line stations. Riverside has designated a developer of the Golden Triangle, a mixed-use housing and commercial project in the heart of the community. Burlington City is working with a developer to replace deteriorated industrial buildings with townhouses and flats on Tatham Street and along the Assiscunk Creek.
Burlington City also completed two brainstorming sessions that explored the development potential for its waterfront at High and Pearl Streets and in its industrial park, known as Commerce Square. Beverly conducted a visioning workshop for its waterfront, the results of which recommend a mixed-use housing and commercial development. Many more projects in the corridor are in the planning stages.
Economic activity has improved in many of the River Line communities. For example, just two years ago the average selling price for single-family dwellings in Burlington City was $92,000. Recent sales fetched nearly $180,000 on average, an increase of almost 100 percent. In the last 18 months, 27 businesses have opened or expanded in downtown Burlington, creating 100 jobs. Restaurants along the River Line indicate that their lunch and dinner trade has increased significantly since it began operation.
Industrial development has benefited from the River Line, as well. The growing industrial complex covering more than 1,000 acres in Burlington and Florence Townships, consisting of the Haines Industrial Center and other facilities, employs several thousand workers who reside in the region from Camden to Trenton. Relying on public transportation, many use the River Line and the BurLink shuttle, which is operated by the freeholders, to get to their jobs at the complex.
The introduction of light-rail passenger service to Burlington County was always viewed as an invaluable tool for encouraging economic development and revitalization of the corridor. The evidence of such revitalization is beginning to accrue, signaling a very encouraging future for the corridor, Burlington County, and the region served by the River Line.
Mark A. Remsa is director of the Burlington County Department of Economic Development and Regional Planning.