Without a local debate this year, MercerMe asked questions of candidates running for Hopewell Township Committee based on ongoing community issues in the vicinity. The answers in this article have been provided by Republican John Hart, who is seeking reelection to Hopewell Township Committee.
What do you view as the most important issue facing the Township for 2016?
There are any number of vitally important public issues that will dramatically impact the future of Hopewell Township. We must STOP the PennEast Pipeline, and STOP the mega-development on Scotch Road. The pipeline undeniably creates the risk of deadly gas leak-related explosions and unhealthy contaminations; if the Scotch Road mega-development proceeds as the Democrats plan, our open space will be covered in concrete.
Todd and I are vehemently opposed to this rampant urban sprawl, which would overrun farmland, and threaten environmental sustainability.
I strongly caution you that if only one additional Democrat is elected to the Township Committee, you will have elected a veto-proof 4 to 1 supermajority. A simple explanation of a 3-2 majority, versus a 4-1 supermajority, is that a veto proof supermajority can permanently change Hopewell Zoning Laws. With a veto-proof supermajority, Democrats would fast track the potential 6,000 unit mega-development on Scotch Road, permanently altering Hopewell’s character.
The rapid population expansion would:
1) Require increased service spending;
2) Create gridlock on an already traffic jammed Route 31;
3) Necessitate the construction of a second High School, and
4) Inevitably decrease property values while increasing property taxes.
We must never allow financially driven outside interests to destroy the intentions and welfare of our community. We must never allow unwanted intrusion into Hopewell to occur without a very tough fight against it. Together, we must make a fierce, concerted effort to stop this outrageous wiping away of the principles and open space that our community holds dear.
What do you view as special about Hopewell Township?
Hopewell has a rich history that can be traced back to the original colonies, the Revolutionary War, and the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Today, the destiny and integrity of our Valley lies in our citizens VOTING to prevent out of state developers and their “political minions” from lining their greedy pockets at the expense and repression of the community’s future.
I strongly caution you that if only one additional Democrat is elected to the Township Committee, you will have elected a Veto-proof 4 to 1 supermajority, thereby allowing the Democrats to permanently change Hopewell’s Zoning laws.
While politicians may fade, the people they appoint will stay. The laws, regulations, and many of the financial disasters the Democrats create will remain for others, like yourself, to clean up and pay for by raising taxes. As an example, with a veto-proof supermajority, the Democrats can fast track the 6000-unit Scotch Road mega-development, and support any number of crackpot ideas that will pave the way for a sprawling population, further enticing unwanted business development within our quiet community.
Todd and I stand firmly against overdevelopment. These changes will decrease Hopewell property values, necessitate the building of a new High School and Middle School, create huge traffic gridlock on Route 31, and significantly raise property taxes.
Our forefathers fought for the will of the people, not for the financially driven “outsiders” who would callously destroy with their money what our community has tirelessly built and protected for more than 250 years. The citizens of Hopewell must understand that the future of their quiet community deserves a voice to be heard, but it will be chillingly silenced if you elect a veto-proof supermajority by voting for even one more Democrat to the Township Committee. I urge you to vote for BOTH Republicans, John Hart and Todd Brant, and we will zealously protect our past accomplishments, and our future endeavors.
How does your personal and professional background make you uniquely qualified to serve as a Committee member?
Hopewell is a bucolic valley dotted with farms and hiking trails. With over 3,500 acres of preserved Open Space and farmland, including the Sourland Mountain Preserve and the Stony Brook Millstone Watershed, Hopewell’s rich history, and natural beauty is on display.
My family has lived in Hopewell for more than 250 years. My great, great, great grandfather, after whom I was named, was a signatory in 1776 to the Declaration of Independence. I am the father of three children and have four grandchildren, all of whom have attended the Hopewell Valley Schools, playing varsity sports for the Bulldogs. I am a local business owner of Rosedale Mills Country Store, established in 1950 by my late father. I am a 10th generation farmer and the owner of John Hart Farms & Stables. John Hart Farms was the 1st farm in the state of New Jersey to sign on to the Farm Preservation Act, which ensures by law that the land will be permanently used only for agricultural purposes. By agreeing and being a vocal advocate of the Act, I have ensured open space for the future generations to enjoy.
I have been a member of the Hopewell Township Committee and the Hopewell Planning Board for a most of the past 22 years. I served on the Township Committee from 1996-2000 and was elected Mayor in 1997 and 1998. I ran another successful election in 2013 with Todd Brant as my running mate.
I take seriously my role as an advocate for the community.
Hopewell’s quiet integrity, and that of our families and children, deserves to be respected and protected from overpopulation and unconscionable influence. It is the residents’ priorities that should shape the destiny of Hopewell Township; not out of state developers and their legion of lobbyists.
If only one additional Democrat is elected to the Committee, they will attain a veto Proof supermajority – one party, one rule, no checks and balances. Democrat politicians will come and go, but the people they appoint, and the laws and regulations they create, will always remain.
The residents of Hopewell Township deserve a voice. You deserve balance. It is of critical importance to the future of Hopewell, that you vote to re-elect BOTH Todd Brant and I, on Tuesday, November 8th.
What is your plan to increase community engagement with the issues before the Committee?
It is critical, that as elected officials, that we are sensitive to the wishes of our residents who have a vested interest preserving the proud traditions of Hopewell Valley.
We must heed the warnings of Hopewell’s many citizen advocacy groups, such as the Neighbors Against Overdevelopment at Scotch Road, Citizens Against the PennEast Pipeline and Concerned Citizens Against CVS. We must further recognize that their concerns about greedy “out of state” corporations and their legions of unscrupulous government affairs lobbyists are very real and justified.
When Republicans held the majority, we arranged multiple Township-wide meetings so that the public would have input regarding the PennEast Pipeline. We also created the Titusville Traffic Study Group, comprised of a dozen residents who studied the feasibility of reopening River Drive.
We should never callously dismiss the opinions of those residents who have invested countless hours examining issues which directly affect our community as a whole. Instead, we should collaborate directly with these organizations and give them meaningful representation.
What is your thought about the future plans for a senior center and/or community center?
The seniors and veterans of Hopewell Township deserve a new facility of their own, not just a room in a back corner of a building. However, it should not be located in the traffic snarled area surrounding the Pennington Circle. Neither should it be on the outskirts of the Township, requiring a 30 minute commute, both of which our Democrat opponents are proposing.
Each election cycle, the Democrats pay lip service to our seniors, promising for the past decade that a center will be their top priority. But their actions reveal their lack of intention. The current Democrat majority under Mayor Kuchinski has budgeted zero dollars for this vital project.
The senior and veteran’s center must be centrally located, ADA compatible, and provide a wide array of services, classes, and trips. There should be literature available for our military men and women and a visiting Veteran’s Affairs official.
In order to build a center that caters to our ever growing senior population, we must also examine the facility’s location from a financial perspective. Mercer County has pledged $1.5 million in matching grant money, but it will only be available if we enter into a shared services agreement with Hopewell Borough and Pennington Borough. This additional funding would enable the Township to build a community center our seniors deserve; without the matching funds from the adjacent Boroughs, the money will be forfeited.
Regarding our opponents proposal of an aquatics center, this is the typical enticement offered right in time for the election, with a blissful disregard to the costs. The average construction cost of an aquatic center is between $10-15 million. A similar facility was built in 2015 in St. Cloud to the tune of $25 million; there is no amount of grant money large enough to absorb this building cost. The other element that our opponents have not taken into consideration is that pools are traditionally loss leaders, costing the community hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in insurance, maintenance fees and equipment charges. Hopewell residents will see their taxes will skyrocket. The reality is that we currently have 4 pools in Brandon farms, another at Hopewell Golf Club, the Province Line Swim Club, the Penn Brook Swim Club, Hopewell Valley Swim Center, the Quarry Swim Club, and the list goes on.
As a former mayor and current committeeman, I believe we need action, not doubletalk. Hopewell’s seniors and veterans deserve a facility that is easily accessible and central to all.
Aside from continuing to advocate for lower affordable housing numbers, what is your solution for satisfying Hopewell Township’s affordable housing obligation? Where would you advocate for the development to be centered?
As a sitting member of the Hopewell Township Committee, I am constrained in my response to these questions due to two pending affordable housing lawsuits involving the Township. In one, the Township has submitted to the jurisdiction of the court to determine our affordable housing obligation. In the other, Kooltronic has sued the Township in an effort to resurrect the Pennytown-Kooltronic affordable housing development. Although our Planning Board has submitted an affordable housing plan to the court in compliance with our Master Plan, it would be inappropriate for me at this time to speak with specifics on this issue and potentially compromise the Township’s legal position.
How could Hopewell Township be made more affordable for its residents?
As a member of the Hopewell Township Committee and Hopewell Planning Board for a most of the past 20 years, I have seen firsthand how the Township spends money. The Democrats have racked up $55 million in total debt and $444,000 in monthly debt service charges. The Democrat controlled Township Committee has raised taxes up to 8%.
It was the Democrats who were responsible for the unfettered spending of taxpayer’s hard earned money that resulted in the purchases of multiple grossly overpriced properties and over payment on equipment.
The Democrat led Committee purchased Pennytown near the peak of the real estate bubble for $6.3 million, millions more than its value. Seven years later, it continues to sit vacant, a millstone around the neck of the taxpayers in the form of debt on which we must continue to pay interest. The Democrat led Committee also purchased two farms which the Township was forced to sell at auction, at a total loss of $1.5 million.
It is the Democrats who budgeted Zero for bulky waster pickup this year.
When Todd and I took office we pledged to address Hopewell’s debt, and in the one and only year that the Republicans were in majority, we lowered debt by $6 million. We accomplished this, in part, by hold 14 budget meetings in order to properly analyze each line of the budget and incorporate recommendations from the public.
While fastidiously reviewing the budget, Committeeman Todd Brant astutely noted that the Democrat led Committee had been bonding equipment for longer than its life expectancy. Equipment with a life expectancy of a few short years was bonded for 20 years. This equipment will be scrapped long before it is paid off. It could have been paid off in the proper period, but once again, because of the Democrats, the taxpayers of Hopewell are left holding the bag in the form of increased interest payments on the debt.
Also of note, that when a fire in 2015 damaged the Public Works Building, destroying many of our trucks, the Republicans still allocated money into the budget for bulky waste pickup on the chance that we could share a truck with a neighboring municipality.
If the Democrats were to gain a supermajority, there would be no checks and balances. Their costly financial mistakes of the past will be repeated in the future, to the detriment of Hopewell Township taxpayers. This is why it is critical to re-elect both Todd and I to the Hopewell Township Committee.
What solutions would you suggest for managing traffic through Hopewell Township, in particular on Route 31?
Route 31 is a state highway, and I have conscientiously registered my concern about the NJ Department of Transportation’s (NJDOT) installation of two metered lights on the north and south bound sides of the circle. Metered lights are meant to regulate traffic, ideally interrupting its flow to permit motorists driving around the circle to complete their route safely. Instead, the lights have caused extensive backups, traffic jams, and frequent accidents.
I have requested that the NJDOT install more definitive signage at the circle that would clearly indicate which lane a motorist needs to be in when they travel Northbound. The designated lanes are not marked properly or visibly. There should be no trucks in the left hand lane, as there is no divider. I would also recommend eliminating one of the lights in order to improve traffic flow and ease rush hour congestion.
The State’s redesign has caused a traffic nightmare with daily collisions and near misses. This is unacceptable. I have requested a formal traffic study from the NJDOT as I am deeply concerned for the safety and welfare of our residents.
What is your position on the PennEast Pipeline and what is your suggestion for combatting its impact on Hopewell Township?
Todd Brant and I have stood passionately opposed to the PennEast Pipeline.
I attended the very first PennEast presentation at Hopewell High School with over 400 residents. I listened carefully to PennEast’s words, but I truly understood and sympathized with the serious alarm and fear of my friends and neighbors.
When Democrat County Executive, Brian Hughes, announced that he was welcoming PennEast’s army of surveyors onto County owned property throughout Hopewell, Todd and I fought the decision without hesitation.
I was the first and only elected official to appear in front of the Freeholder Board to voice my vehement opposition. The Republican led Hopewell Committee voted with resolve to ban PennEast from all Township property.
The Pipeline undeniably creates the risk of deadly gas leak-related explosions and unhealthy contaminations. But let us not be financially naïve. The Pipeline may cause a drastic drop in property values, while simultaneously burdening residents with increased taxes and insurance costs.
The Pipeline will cross and destroy organic farms, rip through fragile conservation lands, and pollute the Delaware River. Many residents rely upon wells for their primary sources of drinking water. PennEast has failed to quantify the possible potential poisoning and contamination that might be caused by polluted wells from a pipeline leak.
We cannot permit PennEast to steamroll our open space for personal profit.
When Todd Brant and I voted NO to PennEast, we meant NO. “We The People” of this beautiful hamlet -you and I- must protect our thriving community with the same determination and courage that our forefather’s secured for our land generations ago.