Friday, September 29, 2006

Living Neat

Our ongoing Spring Cleaning efforts have evolved into a Fall Cleaning Crusade, so we were re-inspired into action by Bloomfielder Ariane Benefit's terrific website.and blog.
From her homepage:

Why get organized?

Because getting organized improves your physical and mental health and your emotional well being!

You don't have to be perfect. Just being reasonably organized enhances your self-confidence, self-respect, and overall well being. It lowers stress and helps you find more time and energy to do the things that matter most to you, like spending time with family, pursuing creative hobbies, eating healthy, and exercising.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

MIT Designs "Invisible" Floating Wind Turbines

An MIT researcher has a vision: Four hundred huge offshore wind turbines are providing onshore customers with enough electricity to power several hundred thousand homes, and nobody standing onshore can see them. The trick? The wind turbines are floating on platforms a hundred miles out to sea, where the winds are strong and steady. Since the wind turbines are not permanently attached to the ocean floor, they are a movable asset. If a company with 400 wind turbines serving the Boston area needs more power for New York City, it can unhook some of the floating turbines and tow them south.

Today's offshore wind turbines usually stand on towers driven deep into the ocean floor. But that arrangement works only in water depths of about 15 meters or less. Proposed installations are therefore typically close enough to shore to arouse strong public opposition.

Paul D. Sclavounos, a professor of mechanical engineering and naval architecture, has spent decades designing and analyzing large floating structures for deep-sea oil and gas exploration. Observing the wind-farm controversies, he thought, "Wait a minute. Why can't we simply take those windmills and put them on floaters and move them farther offshore, where there's plenty of space and lots of wind?"

Monday, September 25, 2006

Fun Time for Buyers

NEW YORK ( -- Home sales slowed and a key measure of prices fell for the first time in 11 years last month, spurred by the biggest glut of new homes on the market in more than a decade, an industry group said Monday.

The National Association of Realtors report on existing home sales showed that the median home price in August was $225,000, down 1.7 percent from a year earlier. It was the first year-over-year decline in median prices since April 1995, when that measure slipped only 0.1 percent. And it was the biggest year-over-year drop since the record 2.1 percent decline recorded in November 1990, when the nation was in recession.

While month-over-month declines in prices are not uncommon, year-over-year decreases in prices are a more serious sign of a slumping housing market. Even in other recessions, home prices generally have risen year-over-year on a national basis. The median price is the point at which half the homes sell for more and half sell for less....

The downward pressure on prices came from the record inventory of homes on the market in August. The group said there were 3.9 million homes on the market, up 38 percent from a year earlier. That gave the market a 7.5-month supply of homes, also up sharply from the 4.7-month supply available in August 2005, and the average 4.3-month supply throughout 2004.

The last time the group estimated a 7.5 month supply was April 1993.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Woody Bites the Buzz Saw

BOILING SPRING LAKES, N.C.,) -- Over the past six months, landowners here have been clear-cutting thousands of trees to keep them from becoming homes for the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker.
The red-cockaded woodpecker was once abundant in the vast longleaf pine forests that stretched from New Jersey to Florida, but now numbers as few as 15,000. Continue reading from AOL news(Click on headline):

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Blowin' In the Wind

From the Star Ledger

Windy Acres: Of bobolinks and lawsuits

Say "Windy Acres" to a certain set of people -- land-use planners, environmentalists, builders and the like -- and it doesn't only conjure an image of 292 undeveloped acres of rolling Hunterdon County farmland close to Route 78. It's become much more than that.

Jeff Tittel of the New Jersey Sierra Club calls Windy Acres "the poster child for suburban sprawl."

Mike Disler, president of the Metro New York/New Jersey Division of Pulte Homes, which owns the property and would like to turn it into a mix of senior and low-cost housing, calls it "the poster child for why there is an affordability crisis in housing in this state."

And so it goes in a saga that began in 1985 and has become one of the longest-running development disputes in the state. It's a conflict between developers and environmentalists; between municipalities and the requirements mandated by state's Council on Affordable Housing; and, above all else, the conflict in this crowded state over what has long been our most limited resource: open land.
The Cliff's Notes version of the dispute goes like this: In 1985, Windy Acres owner Irving Hilsenroth proposed building an office park there. In 1987, the Clinton Township Planning Board rejected the proposal and rezoned Windy Acres residential, deciding it was an ideal site to help fulfill the town's affordable housing quota as required under the state Supreme Court's landmark Mount Laurel ruling.

In 1995, Hilsenroth returned, proposing a 1,140-unit mix of single-family homes, townhomes and low-cost units. In 1997, he partnered with Pulte Homes, a Michigan-based developer that, with nearly $15 billion in revenue last year, is the nation's largest home builder.
By 1999, Pulte -- which eventually bought the property from Hilsenroth for $13.6 million -- had gained general approval for building 1,019 units, scaling down the size slightly to give some of the protected species on the land -- like the turtles -- enough buffer zone.

But soon Pulte had a lot more than a few turtles to worry about. The town was beginning to mobilize politically against Windy Acres, which was projected to increase the number of households in town by 30 percent.

Let the Sun Shine In!

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Passaic Co. Greenways, Present and Future

Earlier this year we ran a greenway-centric map of Essex County that generated much interest. It was an intriging site utilized by planners and dreamers. Garden State Greenways is still offering of it's large format pdf county maps. Here's one of Passaic County that dramatically distinguishes north from south.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Falling oil prices bring down mortgage rates

From Inman News:

Long-term interest rates are sitting on a six-month low, the 10-year T-note at 4.75 percent and low-fee 30-year mortgages at 6.5 percent. The reasons that these rates are so low are not the widely advertised pre-recession or housing collapse.

Aside from improving the inflation outlook, the big drop in energy costs will relieve household budgets. As is, consumption has not faltered much: August retail sales were forecast to decline and instead rose.

Housing is slowing, no question, its past stimulus fading to nil, but housing trouble will not exert drag unless waves of foreclosures result in a price spiral. The newest foreclosure and loan-delinquency data do not support the scare headlines, and there is widespread misunderstanding about the process of a housing slowdown.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Due Diligence on Potential Environmental Issues

As a result of our recent adventures with NJ's Sunshine Law, we've been looking into some interesting legal sites dealing with NJ issues. One of the more interesting ones is which recently posted a followup to the Day Care/mercury scare:

"Raymond Papperman, Chair of the Environmental Law Group, was featured in Don't Buy an Eco-liability Nightmare in the August 28 issue of NJBIZ magazine. It discusses the recent discovery of New Jersey day care center that had been unknowingly operating on the site of a former thermometer factory. The day care had to close after high levels of mercury were found in the air and the water.

Papperman said, "The biggest thing you can do is due diligence. If DEP is satisfied you've done all you can do, you are protected from future claims." The article goes on to discuss steps businesses need to take to find out about a property's past and the possibilities of environmental contamination."

Thursday, September 14, 2006

First suburbs' are finding strength in numbers

Coalition initiative aims to focus public and government attention on their problems

They are described as the "first suburbs," towns that sprang up along the borders of New Jersey's cities in the past century and a half.

They include Bloomfield, Glen Ridge, Montclair, West Orange, East Orange, Maplewood, Rahway, Franklin, Parsippany and over 90 others. Half of the state's population lives in these towns or in the neighboring cities.

Most are fully developed and tax-stressed. Their school systems are financially strained, their housing, roads and sewers are aging, their business districts fading and their population is becoming increasingly diverse racially and economically.

What they do not have, in the view of people who want to see these towns prosper, is one voice. A voice that can shout for the attention of the state and federal government and business.

continue reading from the Star Ledger:

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

You CAN Tape City Hall

Martin O'Shea

We were always under the impression that members of the public are entitled to videotape public meetings but last night yours truly was stopped mid-frame by Bloomfield Planning Board Chairman, Alan LaQuaglia. Board attorney Michael Rubin gave no legal basis for his ruling so we wondered if there were any precedents. Is it ever possible with or without prior permission?
We queried Martin O'Shea, New Jersey's Guru on Sunshine laws, and received a fast response:
"Bottom line: We all have an absolute right to videotape every public meeting in the state. The source of the information in the attached is the New Jersey Press Association. I think your problem can be fixed with a simple letter to the planning board lawyer."

stay tuned...

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Lemon Aid

Most home owners expect to make a reasonable profit on their original investment. Most of their appreciation potential is dictated by market economics, but many discover to late that other unanticipated factors have turned their property into a 'Lemon."

"Brokers say apartments with tenants living in them, particularly messy tenants, are hard to sell, as are those owned by divorcing couples when one spouse is not in favor of moving and attempts to sabotage everything from showings (like canceling them at the last minute or loitering on the premises) to appraisals (pointing out the apartment’s every fault).

Overly customized apartments (“I’ve seen stuff like bathroom tiles bearing the faces of the owner’s kids,” Mr. Miller said) or overly improved apartments (a glorious renovation in a rundown building) do not fare well...."
Continued from Sunday's NY Times on When Deals Go Sour.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Dead Enders

Since their introduction in the 1920's cul de sacs have been synonymous with suburban planning. Finally the pushback has begun.

"Homeowners found that the cul-de-sac limited traffic, creating a sense of privacy, while encouraging ties among neighbors, who could hardly avoid one another. Developers liked the cul-de-sac because it made it possible to build on land unsuited to a grid street pattern and because home buyers were willing to pay a premium to live on one.

Now the cul-de-sac is excoriated in certain quarters, especially by New Urbanists, as a detriment to security, community and efficient transportation."

From The NY Times comes: Why Some Towns Place Roadblocks on Cul-de-Sacs
By Carla Baranuckus