The future of the Bristol Myers Squibb campus, just outside of Pennington, in Hopewell Township, is yet unclear after the company released a statement in December indicating that it intends to close its primary facility on Pennington-Rocky Hill Road, along with the facility on Carter Road.
At the Hopewell Township Committee meeting this week, Committeewoman Vanessa Sandom presented a statement that she read of her “own views and are not the views of the committee,” she stated.
On December 13, 2016, Bristol Myers Squibb (“BMS”) issued a press release informing Hopewell Township and the state that it intends to “initiate a phased permanent closure of the entire Hopewell, New Jersey site by mid-2020. This includes its primary facility on Pennington-Rocky Hill Rd (the previous Exxon/Mobil facility) and the facility on Carter Rd (the previous Lexicon/ATT building). There are currently 1,259 BMS employees at the Hopewell and Carter Road sites. Many of these roles at the sites will be transitioning to other central New Jersey sites and Massachusetts.”
BMS representatives have advised the Township that the company intends to put both campuses on the market, said Sandom, however specific discussions about the sites’ futures have not yet been held.
According to Sandom, the Pennington-Rocky Hill Road facility comprises 1-million square feet, and the general development plan (“GDP”) permits it to expand to a total of approximately 2.819-million square feet. This GDP will remain in effect until 2025, and any company purchasing the site will have all the rights and restrictions of the GDP until 2025. The property has public water, an on-site sewer plant and access to the Stony Brook Regional Sewerage Authority for wastewater treatment.
Hopewell Township collects approximately 6% of its annual tax revenue (about $6 million) from BMS’s facilities, making it one of the top 10 taxpayers in the Township. If the sites are successfully sold, the Township would continue to collect tax revenues from the new tenant, Sandom said.
“That said, some of the fundamental financial issues facing the township are: will BMS be able to sell their properties, when and to whom, and will BMS appeal their properties’ tax rates as they vacate these properties (as they have the right to do) so that their assessments and the Township’s tax revenue could drop,” questioned Sandom.
In light of the recent Supreme Court ruling regarding the 16-year gap period for affordable housing, municipalities will be required to honor affordable housing obligations from the period between 1999-2015.
“What this decision exactly means for the Township’s affordable housing obligation is still being analyzed by all parties involved, including our attorneys,” said Sandom. “However, it appears to our professionals that our affordable housing obligation will most likely fall somewhere between the original 503 unit obligation the Township stipulated to late last year and the almost double Fair Share number. It is also important to remember that Hopewell Township has already taken steps towards meeting its prospective Third Round obligations, so we should have 227 credits towards whatever our ultimate obligation turns out to be.”
The Township Planning Board has been updating its Master Plan and, last year, created a plan for affordable housing in the Township, submitted to the Mercer County Superior Court for litigation in determining the Township’s affordable housing obligation amount, at the request of Judge Jacobson. The affordable housing plan is one that identifies where a municipality will permit or locate development for affordable housing.
“After much public deliberation, the Planning Board submitted a plan to Judge Jacobson for 500, 750 and 1,000 new units of affordable housing all of which are planned to be located in the south-eastern portion of the Township,” said Sandom. “This plan, which is on line at hopewelltwp.org, shows specifically where the Planning Board thinks those units might be built. And I stress the word might, because no decisions have been made about where these units should ultimately be built. Like every other municipality in Mercer County, Hopewell Township is waiting for their ‘final number’ before deciding where the units should go.”
“Over the years that I have served on the Township Committee and the Planning Board, I have been on record stating repeatedly that I do not believe all affordable housing should be constructed or planned for in the southern portion of the Township,” continued Sandom. “I have heard many residents also state repeatedly at public meetings that they also believe affordable housing should be distributed throughout the Township, so that every portion of the Township shares in this obligation.”
“I am requesting that the Township Committee add a work session to tonight’s agenda, or to an agenda in February, to discuss where we believe affordable housing should be built in the Township. I would like to include the BMS sites in that discussion,” said Sandom.
The Courts and State have placed many restrictions on suitability for construction of affordable housing locations, including a requirement that public water and sewer be available on the properties. The BMS Pennington-Rocky Hill Road property has public water, an on-site sewer plant and access to the Stony Brook Regional Sewerage Authority for wastewater treatment. The facility sits on 433-acres of developed and preserved land and could have room for some housing while keeping existing open space, suggested Sandom.
“I am not recommending that all our future affordable housing obligation be placed there. However, in my view, we should discuss adding it to the possible mix of sites which meet the court’s requirements for affordable housing so that more than one segment of the Township share in the Township’s affordable housing obligation,” she stated.
“There are obviously many issues that need to be addressed in considering where and how affordable housing should be constructed. But we are at a pivotal point in our Township’s history, for all the reasons I’ve articulated tonight,” said Sandom. “I, for one, believe we are in a unique position to rethink our assumptions of where affordable housing could and should be built. It is our responsibility to do so, and our constituents expect and deserve nothing less.”
“I’d like to add it to a future meeting because this is the first time I’m hearing about it and I’d like to learn a little bit more about this idea, what it would look like and if it is even possible,” said Deputy Mayor Julie Blake.
“Just before she read that letter, Deputy Mayor Blake and I were just discussing about the same situation,” said Committeeman John Hart. “But I don’t think we have enough information — if you bring this many homes, you’re looking at a tremendous amount of housing and students into our schools… I, for one, am still fighting these numbers… I agree but I’d like more information from BMS.”
“Committeeman Hart and I both live on Titus Mill Road, so this is our next door neighbor and it will certainly affect our neighborhood” said Committeewoman Kristin McLaughlin. “But that said, we weren’t just elected by our neighbors, we were elected by the entire Township, and I spent a lot of time knocking on doors in the southern-tier of the Township and I heard those voices loud and clear as well. So, I think that looking at every available option is our responsibility and our duty as elected officials. We have to look at the lemons that were handed to us… whatever the number that comes out, there will be more houses in the Township and if there is way to mitigate some of the traffic affects and kids in school affects so we don’t burden one part of the Township, we should look at it. I would strongly urge us not to talk about it tonight because we don’t have enough information.”
Hopewell Township Mayor Kevin Kuchinski said, “There are two sides to this: one is the ongoing question about the right number for Hopewell Township Township and a number of us up here have been fighting for what we believe is reasonable and consistent with the rural character of the Valley; and I think there is the second question that Ms. Sandom has raised that is worthy of a work session.”
The Township will be meeting with BMS in early February to further discuss the plans for the facilities and the Committee agreed discuss the future of the Pennington-Rocky Hill Road facility as a potential site for affordable housing on February 27, 2017 Committee meeting at 7:00 PM at the Township Municipal Building.