Mayor proclaims township ‘must act now’ during speech

By VASHTI HARRIS
Staff Writer

EAST BRUNSWICK — Articulating on the good, the bad and the things that need improvement, Mayor Brad Cohen delivered his State of the Township address, going into detail about his vision for East Brunswick and the changes he plans to enforce.

Cohen started off his speech on Jan. 23 by emphasizing that what makes a great community is not just what it does during hard times, but the vision it has going forward.

We have slowly emerged from the Great Recession, and it is another one of those times when leaders are called upon to remodel and recreate the best aspects of our township and give birth to a new East Brunswick: one that keeps all the things that are great, repackages those aspects that can be reworked and retires those that do not work [anymore],” Cohen said. “[It] is my vision of this new East Brunswick that I would like to speak to you about tonight.”

Cohen first talked about the various accomplishments the township’s municipal departments made this past year.

The Department of Planning and Engineering continued its Pavement Management Program and repaved 3.3 miles of township roads. Where possible, we try to capture money from other sources — an example being the improvements on Church Lane which cost $500,000 — $300,000 of which came from [Transportation Trust Fund] money,” Cohen said. 

“The Department of Planning processed 44 applications this year, the most significant being the Park Chateau [at] the site of the former East Brunswick Chateau. This project is expected to be completed on time and will be open for business next month. We are very excited to welcome the Park Chateau to our community, and I am pleased to announce that they have already booked over 300 events through 2018.” 

Cohen continued to highlight the accomplishments of the township’s other departments and institutions including: the East Brunswick Public Library, EBTV, East Brunswick Police Department, Public Works Department, Parks and Recreation Department, Senior Center and East Brunswick School District.

“Our Parks and Recreation Department had a record-breaking year, taking in $2.8 million in revenues. Crystal Springs had the highest attendance on record with 82,000 patrons. There were 400 programs and 20 special events during the year,” Cohen said. “[Residents] have every reason to be proud of our public schools as recent polls by Niche.com place them as the seventh best public schools in New Jersey and 67th best in the nation.” 

Then, Cohen began to discuss the areas of the township that he felt needed the most improvement and explained how focusing on the needs of millennials will help the township’s economy.

“If we are to see ourselves out of this death spiral, we must act now and make some very important decisions. The decisions we make today must conform to the new reality we face as the post-recession economy is resetting right before our eyes, and it is drastically different than the suburban sprawl that defined the generation before us. All of the changes we must make revolve around the new economy defined, in large part by the needs of millennials,” Cohen said.

Cohen continued his speech by making four points, emphasizing the need for the township to stop its dependence on residential property taxes, redevelop large parts of the commercial corridors to attract millennials, re-engage small businesses and continue to support its schools.

Redevelop large parts of the commercial corridors to attract millennials. This means experienced-based shopping where there are walkable, mixed residential communities with outdoor, non-chain restaurants, music, art [and] culture. These communities must be close to the transit center and must feature easy access to major roadways,” Cohen said. “We need to re-energize our small businesses that we still have, so that they can be active participants helping to drive and support the redevelopment changes we propose.” 

After explaining the changes he felt that needed to take place, Cohen elaborated on what he and his administration are already doing to establish change.

To address the township’s dependence on residential property taxes, Cohen pointed out that the township had already begun the process to get the Shop East Brunswick ordinance passed, which he believes will help the township’s overall economy while providing residents with some property tax relief.

Cohen also announced that he plans on hiring an economic development officer (EDO) to act as an account manager, a liaison between the business community and the township, and as a recruiter to attract high-end businesses to East Brunswick.

“I am going to be hiring an EDO. This person will be responsible for rebranding East Brunswick and seeking out high-end merchants to consider East Brunswick again,” Cohen said. “The EDO will act as an account manager, walking each new merchant/business through the planning, engineering, construction process. He [or] she will also administer the Shop East Brunswick Program, help re-ignite the East Brunswick Business Alliance/Chamber of Commerce and serve as a liaison between the business community and the [township].”

He then stated that the township’s redevelopment committee will be making plans to redevelop the northern sections of East Brunswick.

“We need to put redevelopment on the fast track. This will involve the areas designated in need of redevelopment with emphasis on the northern sections. The redevelopment committee will be looking to have plans ready for view by this summer,” Cohen said. 

“[We] must begin to see the commercial and industrial ratables increase as that is the only way to sustain a reasonable residential property structure. Residential property taxes must be controlled so that we can continue to attract the same type of residents that were drawn to our township for decades.”

To make the township more customer service-oriented to ultimately attract new businesses and merchants to East Brunswick, Cohen emphasized the township needs to upgrade and incorporate available technology, although some would involve training and reorganization.

He ended his speech by focusing on the need to continue to provide the services residents already enjoy.

We must continue to be the close-knit community we have always been. While we may be more diverse, while we may have different needs and while we are still trying to decide what we will look like when we grow up, we are all charged with one goal. And that goal is to provide for the next generation a legacy and a story,” Cohen said. 

“And that story will be a story about how a community came together to reinvent itself and prove that, together, we were able to hand our children an East Brunswick distinctly better than the way we found it.” 

Contact Vashti Harris at vharris@gmnews.com.