Hopewell's Proposed Fair-Share Settlement
On June 22nd, during a regular meeting, the Hopewell Township Planning Board debated and voted on various issues, ranging from an additional lighted sign for the Capital Health medical offices to the major issue of approving areas on the east and west side of Scotch Road as areas that need redevelopment.
At the meeting, Mayor Kevin Kuchinski and Planning Board member Marylou Ferrara were absent, so alternate Milind Khare took a spot. Before opening any business, the Planning Board announced that out of seven townships, Hopewell Valley was the winner of the Sustainability Jersey Solar Challenge, due to the 125 participants in the town that went through the process of converting to solar energy. As a result the township won $10,000 in prize money.
On the first order of business, the members of the board unanimously voted 8-0 to approve Frank Banisch, AICP/PP, as their planner for the issues to be discussed for the next six months, including redevelopment. Then, the minutes from the regular meeting on December 8, 2016 meeting were approved.
The board then heard the query of a representative of Capital Health, who was pitching on behalf of the company to add an additional sign, one that would be on the top-left of the medical office, facing Route 95, lit from the interior using LED lights, and 190 sq. feet in size. The board voted 7-0 in favor of allowing this additional sign; Khare had recused himself from both this piece of business as well as the discussion of redevelopment afterwards due to his work with Princeton Health Care, a competitor of Capital Health in some fields.
Then came the discussion of redevelopment, on the lands owned by CF Hopewell CC&L LLC, Hopewell Township, and Capital Health Systems, Inc, at which point Julie Blake recused herself. From the get-go, the Planning Board attorney Frank Linnus answered any qualms about the possible abuse of the intended use of the Area of Need in Redevelopment. “The Planning Board is tasked (by the Township Committee) to decide if the properties in question will become areas in development based on the criteria. This will be the first step, second step will be based on the governing body. This has nothing to do with the abuse of the property,” Linnus said.
From there, the Planning Board went through the report compiled by Banisch, discussing the various criteria for a land to be in need of redevelopment, as laid out by NJSA 40A:12A-5 and the various subsections. During the discussion, Board member Lawrence Clarke commented often on the possible bias of the report as it included it’s own conclusion. “Frank, shouldn’t you be giving us the facts. But, right in the beginning of the third paragraph, you’ve made a recommendation or conclusion. Everything seems to have such a bias,” Clarke said, disagreeing with Russell Swanson and Jack Belmont.
While attempting to stay on task, the Board also questioned the possible intentions of the previous owner of certain parts of the land in question, banking company Merrill Lynch, in dividing up the land. “I think we should remind ourselves that the current owner (CF Hopewell) was not involved in the negotiation of the GDP (General Development Plan). The owner divided it up and sold it, and they believe there is a more profitable way to develop it,” Clarke said.
As the meeting went on, the Board began to discuss more of the core issue at hand, which had brought much of the public to the meeting: should the west side of Scotch Road be developed. Planning Board member Rex Parker mentioned that “I think it’s a stretch to say that the west applies for smart growth planning principles (subsection H),” which received applause from the audience.
After the Board had gone through all the criteria for the parcels of land in question, the floor was opened up to cross-examination of Banisch by the public. Among other members of the public, Michael Warren, a resident of 120 Mine Road, inquired as to whether the Board was planning to designate farmland as areas of redevelopment, to which the Board and the attorney responded that the designation was based on the criteria given to them.
After cross-examination, the Board opened up the floor to any public comments, at which point various audience members voiced their concerns regarding the redevelopment of the west side of Scotch Road.
Michael L. Pisauro Jr., resident of 31 Titus Mill Road, commented on the nature of the meeting. “Not letting the public talk first does make it seem like it was a done deal. The report Mr. Banish created wasn’t even available on the website until recently, which doesn’t seem right,” Pisauro said.
Pisauro also commented on the agricultural roots and pride of Hopewell, citing Hopewell’s status as the #1 township in Mercer and #9 in New Jersey overall agriculturally. “Most area on west of Scotch Road and even some on the east side is agricultural land, and calling those lands unproductive is not right,” he said.
Paul McCoy, resident of 31 Dublin Road, also commented. “I strongly object to the concept of a million square feet not being developed, because the owner of the property has not done due diligence to the property. We’re being hoodwinked in that case.”
Former mayor Harvey Lester, resident of Continental Lane in Titusville, read from his prepared remarks. “I have reached the inescapable conclusion that there is nothing I, or anyone else for that matter, can say that will change the mindset of this Board from being the obedient servant of the Township Committee.”
“Anyone with common sense could simply look at the fields on the west side of Scotch Road and instantly conclude that qualifying the west side for redevelopment is insane. But this Board has its marching orders and finding against redevelopment is not in the cards tonight, because meeting criteria is in the eye of the beholder,” Lester added.
Before voting, members of the committee gave their last remarks on the issue.
Parker commented on the main issue of public interest and referred to the redevelopment of the east side of Scotch Road, stating that “ultimately, the west side is linked to the east. We don’t like that fact, but it’s something that we have to deal with.”
Swanson used his experience in architecture as the background to his viewpoint. “I’m a retired architect, I’ve worked on numbers of projects that have to do with redevelopment. Going the redevelopment process would be the better way.”
Board chairman Karen Murphy concluded with the objectives of the Planning Board. “This Board has always tried to preserve land, but our job is not to preserve, but it is to plan. We try to preserve, but we stand for growth, smart growth. Doing it the right way. We are not opposed to growth in the township.”
Overall, the Board voted 6-1, with Clarke voting against, to confirm to the Township Committee that the areas in question qualified for redevelopment based on the criteria, along with many corrections and qualifications from the Board.
As the clock was near 10 p.m. by the time voting had concluded, the Board decided to discuss the “Old Business” of Redevelopment in regards to the Klockner Tract at the next regular meeting, held on July 27th, 2017.
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