Officials hope a massive redevelopment plan attracts younger residents to the township after seeing the population of 25- to 34-year-olds decrease dramatically.
Town Planner John Szabo introduced the plan last week.
Several areas of the township would be rezoned if the plan goes through. Multi-family dwellings and commercial real estate could be constructed on the Wayne Hills Mall property, in the new transit center proposed for the Mountainview section of town, and up and down Route 23, including on the former State Farm property.
Wayne has largely built its tax base on single-bedroom homes where both parents work and have more than one child. But that has changed dramatically in the past 10 years.
“Young professionals, those who are 25 to 34, they are the people who are supporting us and they’re not here," Szabo said. "They spend money and they’re not here.”
The shift in population is one of the reasons officials are considering putting the plan into action.
The plan places an emphasis on mixed-use properties. Retail spaces with apartments or condominiums above them is one idea Szabo and Assistant Town Planner Linda Lutz are embracing.
“We’re not trying to separate land uses anymore. We want synergy between them,” Szabo said.
Between 2000 and 2010, U.S. Census data shows the number of residents 25 to 34, those who are most likely to have young children in the school system and own a house, has decreased.
In 2000, there were 5,600 residents 25 to 34 years old, which was about 10 percent of the population. Ten years later the population dropped 18 percent to 4,600.
“We’ve got to get them back here,” Szabo said. “They don’t want to live in single-family homes.”
The number of 35- to 44-year-olds dropped even more in the same 10-year period: from 9,300 in 2000 to 7,000 in 2010, a 25 percent decrease.
“It’s not a single-thread issue and that’s why it’s a comprehensive plan,” Lutz said. “The people in those demographics that have decreased, those are the people who support businesses and services.”
Szabo said that some people have expressed concern that increasing the number of young professionals in town would also increase the number of students attending Wayne schools. This would have the opposite effect of raising taxes rather than stabilizing or lowering them as officials hope the plan would help facilitate.
About 8,500 students attended Wayne public schools last year, a less than 1 percent decrease from the previous year. Student population has decreased six of the last seven school years, the exception being the 2009-10 school year.
District officials project that student population will decrease annually until the 2017-18 academic year when the population could be slightly less than 7,800.
Superintendent Ray Gonzalez did not respond to requests for comment.
Nearly 8,900 students attended Wayne public schools in the 2006-07 school year, a 14-year high.
“We will never approach the peak based on current demographic trends,” Szabo said. “The trend towards smaller family size, waiting to have children, and the expression of a different lifestyle type by millenials is not going away.”