Owners of 64 East Broad Street in Hopewell Borough appeared before the planning board last night with an application for site plan approvals and variances/waivers to demolish the existing building and erect a single-story, five subdivided retail use building. In attendance was a fairly large contingent of local residents and business owners.
The property is locally known as the former Amy Karyn building (Block 23, Lots 13 and 14) with commercial neighbors on either side along East Broad, and residential properties, which face Lafayette Street, to the north. The site was once considered for the future location of the Hopewell Public Library.
In addition to the construction of 9,828 square feet of retail space, modifications would include lighting, landscaping, grading, walkways, and driveways. While the property is zoned for commercial use, the owners are asking for the following specific variances:
- front yard setback: 15’ is required, applicant requests 13.5’;
- side yard setback: 10’ is required, applicant requests 8.7’;
- lot coverage: 40% is maximum permissible, applicant requests 70.8%;
- parking space: 50 is required, applicant proposes 35;
- maximum store size: 2000 square feet is the limit, the applicant requests 2 units to be 2500, with the remaining 3 at less than 1600 square feet;
- signage: 3 facade signs are allowed and applicant requests 5, 50 square feet of signage is permitted for facade signage and applicant proposes 105.19 square feet; applicant requests the same increase from 3 to 5 on the rear and to increase the sign sizes for these; variance for front facing monument size; and
- parking lot stall sizes: 9’x20’ is required, applicant requests stalls to be 9’x18’
From a historic aesthetic standpoint, the applicant has already presented plans and renderings to the Hopewell Borough Historic Preservation Commission (HPC) and made a variety of design changes based on recommendations. Ultimately, the design currently before the planning board was approved by the HPC, albeit “with reservation” according to HPC chairperson Alison Baxter.
“We have met several times with HPC and, from the historic standpoint, she is satisfied aesthetically,” stated applicants’ attorney Eric Goldberg from Stark & Stark.
“This is an important gateway building to the town — one of the first things you will see after Borough Hall — it is the start of the retail district and will inform what happens across the street,” said Baxter. “When we first looked at this, we thought it was huge.”
According to Baxter, the original proposed appearance looked like a suburban strip-mall and did not match the aesthetic in town, which she described as “brick, quiet, monolithic, not a lot of materials.” Baxter explained that the design form has been simplified significantly since the original design. “We asked them to look at existing commercial buildings in Hopewell and provided samples of one-story retail buildings. It is more like a brick facade than previously,” she said.
In agreement, planning board chairwoman Jacqueline Perri said, “I fear that it looks like a strip mall,” to which Baxter responded, “In some ways, a strip mall is better because it isn’t trying hard.” Ultimately, the design before the planning board was approved by the HPC “with reservation.”
The first of the applicant’s three professionals, Robert Freud, a civil engineer from Dynamic Engineer based out of Lake Como, NJ, testified to the project overview, parking, and stormwater management.
“East Broad is walking area. The plan helps balance the ability to walk to the stores and it reduces the need for parking,” said Freud. “With the frontage on Broad Street, there is pedestrian access along Broad and there are doors and entries on the north side of the buildings and along the sides.” Freud also indicated that the owner would be wiling to provide sidewalk and curbing along Maple Street, the street directly to the west of the property which currently has no sidewalk or curbing.
With regard to stormwater management, Freud presented short testimony indicating that this is a “minor project” and, even with the requested increased impervious coverage, the solution would be adequate for 2 and 10 year storms. Freud also suggested that some properties in the Borough and surrounding areas exceed 40% impervious coverage.
However, during public comment at the meeting, many residents expressed concern about stormwater management even without the additional paving.
“Speaking on behalf of the Watershed Association,” said Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association executive director Jim Waltman, who is also a Hopewell Borough resident, “Our job is to try to keep central NJ clean safe and health and, unfortunately despite being in existence with that mission for 35 years, the water is anything but that. Much of the reason is not the old reasons, like factories, but now the problem is all of us — polluted run off, stormwater run-off, etc. And we’re wresting with that issue.”
“To meet the water quality standards, we need significant reductions in polluted runoff. The Watershed has received a DEP grant to work with municipalities in this region and (I am ahead of myself) but we look forward to working with the town to reduce the impact on impervious surfaces on the Borough. The big picture comment is that we’re not meeting our water quality standards and the only way we are going to get there is that anytime there is an old development, with a proposal for a new development, that is a chance to improve the situation. The Borough’s master plan speaks to managing the scale and character of the downtown. I request that the board consider it carefully and I ask it reject the request for the impervious coverage change. You cannot put 10 pounds of sugar in a 5 pound.”
“My general opinion is that it is a lot of coverage,” said Hopewell Borough engineer Dennis O’Neal as he advised the board. “They might be able to handle it with their system but it is a lot of coverage.”
Architect, John Montoro, from the Montoro Architectural Group in Saddle River, presented the design considerations including column placement and material choices. Montoro indicated that the end-unit at the corner of East Broad and Maple would be a restaurant and the other units would be other retail units but that the specific businesses have yet to be identified.
“Historic places need to be authentic with sense of place,” said one resident during public comment. “And I am very concerned about franchises — I don’t want it to look like Celebration in Florida. Sole proprietors make this place a place that people want to come, live, rent, buy things…” The resident also suggested native plantings and sizable trees be included in the landscaping plan.
The applicant is seeking a variance to increase both the number of signs, as well as the total square footage, in excess of the signage restrictions. “I generally determine signage based on what looks best for the building, not on the signage requirements,” Montoro explained about his design process. “The signs would be hinting at the days of yesteryear. We actually reduced the size of the signage because there is perimeter around the lettering. The signs are larger so that people can read the signs.”
During the public comment portion of the meeting, one resident said, with regard to whether signs are visible to drivers, “If you are going too fast, you’re going too fast. It is 30mph and we want it to be 25mph.”
The applicant also provided a Traffic Impact Study, completed by Nick Verderese, who also provided expert testimony at the hearing. According to Verderese, the proposed shopping center would generate 14 entering trips and 16 exiting trips during the evening peak hour and 62 entering trips and 57 exiting trips during the Saturday peak hour that are ‘new’ to the adjacent roadway network. Access to the parking lot utilize the two existing full-movement driveways along Maple Street.
Planning board chair, Perri, asked whether Verderese looked at the accident data in the area noting the number of serious accidents have occurred near that intersection recently. Verderese said he had not but, in his expert opinion, there are good sight-lines and the building is set back far enough but said that he could discuss with issue with the Borough engineer.
The project would require 50 parking spaces however the applicant is proposing 35 — a 30% reduction from the requirement. “While it is not as walkable as some communities, it is more walkable than most communities,” said Verderese. “Some percentage of traffic to the site will be from walking and biking and reduces the need for parking on the site.”
During the public comment section of the meeting, many residents and business owners expressed concerns, primarily about traffic and parking.
One commenter, based on his observation as the front-end manager of Antimo’s, said that he finds that Borough parking needs and peak parking hours can radically differ depending on the type of business that occupies a space. He noted that convenience stores attract trailers and trucks that would not fit in a parking spot.
“They are asking for a lot of variances — they want to cram a lot of stuff into a small space,” said another resident. “We all know that something will go into that site — it is a question of what but my first impression is that this is too much. Whatever happens on this site will probably have an impact on what happens in other parts of town.”
“We moved here for the walkability of the town and more walkable is better,” said one Borough resident. “When you ask for variances, you are diverting from the philosophy of the municipality and the long-term plan. There are a lot of exceptions being asked for and, if we’re going to make this part of town, we can’t be cavalier in allowing variances considering that the the point of the initial plan was to direct the use and appearance of this part of town.”
During deliberations, the planning board members each offered their particular concerns, most of which were overlapping.
“I am in favor of developing the property in a way that enhances ratables, walkability, quality of life, and convenience,” said planning board member Robert Donaldson. “But the scale of the project is a little large for the location considering the condition of the parking situation, the traffic impact, and how it affects the neighbors. I’m also not thrilled about the signage whatsoever (13 signs that I can remember) and it would help with impervious coverage if we scale this thing down a little bit.”
“I agree and am concerned about parking and where the employees will park, as well as issues with traffic, drainage, and safety. In the master plan, we talk about keeping things in smaller scale and historic nature and I don’t think this does that,” said planning board member Brad Lyon. “I have a bigger concern bout the property across the street and not wanting to plan by variance. I am not likely to approve something whenever the variance is related to size of store and these are not special circumstances.”
Peter says if you make the building smaller these problems go away
Donaldson says that the Historic group says they approved with reservation — I don’t want approval with reservation I want it to be approved with a stamp!
Because of the apparent concerns of the planning board, the applicant asked to carry the application to make changes. “Although we appreciate the fact that you put a lot of work into this, it is new and it is always hard dealing with ‘new.’ Our guidance to you is to scale the whole thing down and simplify it.”
The application will continue at the August 3 planning board meeting at 7:30pm at Hopewell Borough Municipal Building at 88 East Broad Street.