Helping Byram, NJ turn its Village Center vision into reality

An architect’s rendering of proposed changes to Byram, NJ’s main boulevard. Photo via New Jersey Highlands Council.

Byram is a bucolic township of 9,000 people located amidst the lakes and hills of northern New Jersey 50 miles from New York City and 25 miles from the Pennsylvania border. Having embraced the land preservation goals of New Jersey Highlands Regional Master Plan, Byram has now set its sites on creating its first-ever Village Center on a 60-acre property – and some adjacent parcels – along New Jersey Highway 206, the town’s “Main Street.”

Byram’s vision for a Village Center has won wide acclaim, including a smart growth award from New Jersey Future, the state’s leading smart growth group and a coalition partner of Smart Growth America. But how to transform a vision into a reality – especially in a down economy and a slow real estate market?

Last week, Smart Growth America led a two-day workshop to help civic and community leaders in Byram grapple with this question. Participants included Mayor James Oscovitch, Town Manager Joseph Sabatini, other members of the Town Council and the Town Planning Board, business owners, property owners, and many interested Byram residents.

Turning a vision into an on-the-ground reality requires community leaders to work through some tough issues, and during last week’s workshop Byram’s leaders identified several important issues they’ll need to tackle to make this vision a success, including:

  • Dealing with constraints to growth in the Village Center created by access to water lines and sewer capacity;
  • Linking the Village Center to Byram’s great system of trails and, through the trails, to the area’s lakes, outdoor recreation areas, and heritage sites such as the Waterloo Village canal town;
  • Creating the right mix of commercial, retail, affordable housing, and other housing options in the Village Center;
  • Linking to regional economic development efforts, such as redeveloping the nearby International Trade Center business park.

Each of these issues represents not just a constraint but an opportunity. Water and sewer capacity limits the amount of development in the Village Center but also ensures that new development will be of the appropriate scale. The trail system is a great connector throughout the entire township and linking it to the Village Center would create new commercial opportunities. And workshop participants agreed that a successful business park, providing local jobs, will help create the demand for housing, retail, and commercial services in the Village Center.

With Smart Growth America’s help Byram now has a roadmap for how to move forward to make the long-awaited Village Center a reality.

Free technical assistance
This workshop was part of Smart Growth America’s free technical assistance program. A new round of workshops will be awarded later this year: if you know someone who would be interested in our workshops send them a link to join our mailing list and they’ll be among the first to learn about the next opportunity.

Workshop Materials:

Technical assistance