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EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ-New Jersey’s quality of life is at stake, and “we are committed to a strong and expanding economy,” was the message delivered by Gov. Jon Corzine at a public policy symposium sponsored here yesterday by the New Jersey Chapter of NAIOP. Discussing issues ranging from tax reform to eminent domain, Corzine tied success to “improving the climate of what people think of government.”

Corzine pointed out that his administration has reduced corporate taxes to the tune of $368 million, citing the traffic “on the bridges across the Delaware River to Pennsylvania” at quitting time as the impetus, simultaneously reflecting on the state’s need “to be competitive.” At the same time, he emphasized that his administration wants to continue in the “smart growth” vein, prioritizing redevelopment as the focus for ongoing economic growth.

“I have to say we have a lot of work to do” in terms of putting the state’s financial house in order, Corzine told attendees. “A lot of good things are going on and a lot is on the drawing board.”

Redevelopment, the state’s financial health and a range of other issues was addressed by a symposium panel made up of public and private sector officials. “Simply put, a lot of the state is off-limits to development, and redevelopment is the key,” attorney Ted Zangari of the Newark-based law firm Sills Cummis and panel moderator, told attendees. The realities of economic growth involve urban cores, train stations and brownfields, coupled with the challenges of high costs, taxes, soft markets. The latter factors could force “a tipping point of redevelopment,” Zangari told attendees.

Government’s role in the process was an issue on the table, with Joseph Taylor, president and CEO of Matrix Development Group, explaining that from a development standpoint, “at the end of the day, the process has to be predictable. That’s an area this industry has to focus on.”

John McKeon, mayor of West Orange, and also a member of the state assembly, said his administration had “learned a lot from developers,” adding that the redevelopment process should involve “give and take between developers and the community.” Susan Bass Levin, the state’s commissioner of community affairs, added, “it’s a question of balance, of building a local consensus as early on in the process as possible. It’s important for a mayor and a community to set out what they want, and be realistic.”

Dianne Brake, president of the Regional Planning Partnership, said “It’s important to have a stronger planning process, early in the process, so [local officials] can work with a consensus.”

And because eminent domain and condemnation often come into play in redevelopment, that was a topic on the table as well. “There are some great examples in New Jersey of redevelopment projects that wouldn’t have happened without eminent domain,” Bass Levin said. She conceded that “there have been some abuses,” but added, “with our land restrictions, we can’t do much without some form of condemnation. But we have to look at how we compensate fairly.”

All things considered, “we need to grow,” Taylor concluded. “But the political situation, and the capital situation related to the state budget, are working diametrically against that. We have ‘here and now’ issues that have to be addressed.”

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