IN THE REGION/New Jersey
In Preservation, Room for Growth
by Antoinette Martin
This southern New Jersey community of about 6,000 people is classic American pastoral, a place where horses gambol in the morning mist and open fields converge seamlessly with the sky, save for the occasional silo, or giant oak. To see it is to understand the motivations of local officials in seeking to preserve as much of the farmland as possible.
Back in 2000 when the administration of former Gov. James E. McGreevey began pushing smart-growth planning techniques, in which growth is concentrated in certain areas so that others can remain open space, a plan for Chesterfield began to take shape.
Today, through a state-sponsored "transfer of development rights" program, many of its pristine fields in historic Crosswicks town center remain untouched and are guaranteed to remain so, even as major new housing development called Old York Village is under way on 560 acres just south of Crosswicks.
"The planning concept is extremely simple", Said Carlos Rodriques, who heads the New Jersey branch of an independent research and consulting group called the Regional Planning Association.
"Rights for a certain part of your town are transferred to another part of town," he said, explaining that in the case of farmland the town wants to protect, "the development rights for it are retired and transferred to property already zoned for more intense development."
The new Old York Village has been designed with preservation in mind too - preservation of turn-of-the-century neighborhood features. It has varied types of housing, none higher then three stories; set-back garages; lanes behind the houses; walking paths; and small parks here and there.
Five different developers are at work on the village, and close to half the houses have been built, with about half of those occupied, according to one developer, Matzel & Mumford.
So far, 313 homes have closed at four developments within Old York: 130 at Toll Brothers', Chesterfield Green; 100 at K. Hovnanian's Cross Creek; 71 at Matzel & Mumford's Chesterfield Downs; and 12 town homes at Heritage of Chesterfield by American Properties Realty.
Each developer brings its own design styles to the project, noted Glenn Ward, vice president for sales and marketing at Matzel, but each had to choose to work within a very detailed set of requirements established by the town and its planners, Clarke Caton Hintz of Trenton.
The design requirements were meant to reflect the village of Crosswicks, according to Rodriques, who had no part in devising them but kept a close eye on the project. He called the old village, with its Quaker meeting house and green, collection of civic buildings and compact downtown, "a jewel - magical, beautiful and perfect, without being perfect."
Mr. Rodriques says he does not think Old York Village comes anywhere close to meeting that standard and suggested the the developers have failed to seize on a vision for something more than "just another suburban subdivision."
But the developers point to the open, airy interiors of the houses; the parks and playgrounds built into the project; the extra-wide sidewalks; the hiking-biking trail; the shades trees planted on every lawn, and say they are creating homes that people want, working within the confines of the towns rules.
"We started selling in May," said Randy Csik, president of American Properties, adding that in addition to 12 town homes that have closed, 8 more are under contract. "Given the rest of the marketplace today, this is selling very well. Things have slowed, of course like everywhere, but this is one of the better-selling products."
The Heritage of Chesterfield town homes, offering about 2,200 square feet each, began selling in the high $300,000s and now are fetching prices in the low $400,000s, he said.
At the Toll Brothers and K. Hovnanian developments, the price range is similar for single-family homes, rising into the $500,000s for the largest.
At Matzel's Chesterfield Downs, two styles of house - Village Homes, with 2,600 to 2,880 square feet and Estate Homes, offering 3,250 to 3,800 square feet - are being marked at prices in the upper $400,000s and low to middle $500,000s, respectively. Also, 33 town homes, from 2,085 to 2,265 square feet are priced in the lower $400,000s.
The buyers are primarily younger families with children, the developers said. "We even have three families that have bought multiple residences," Mr. Ward said. "Parents and their children bought in the same neighborhood. I can't ever remember that happening three times in one place before."
An issue looming large at Old York Village is schooling. A referendum on construction of an extra school to accommodate children at the complex is up for a town wide vote on Dec. 11, and has generated intense local debate.
"It was the town fathers' decision to preserve its farmland by channeling development into one particular area, " Mr. Rodriques said. "Now the townspeople have to decide whether to fund the plan as it stands, and build another school."
It turns out that Washington Township, the first New Jersey community to adopt the "traditional neighborhood design" approach that Chesterfield has embraced at Old York Village, has lately faced problems related to its own success including over crowded schools.
"The idea here in Chesterfield is to make sure everything comes together in a timely fashion", Mr. Ward said, "and hopefully that is about to happen.