We’re here live at the Hopewell Township planning board meeting as the planning board holds meeting #3 of the 3 public hearings it will conduct regarding the master plan revisions for what is referred to as the “Scotch Rd” area, in the vicinity of the Merrill Lynch campus in Hopewell Township. Keep refreshing the page for up-to-the-minute coverage.
There are 8 members of the planning board in attendance tonight, one of whom who did not review the proceedings from last meeting. There is a quorum.
“Because of the limited number of the members here, I feel that the conversation should be continued but will not be voted on tonight,” said Karen Murphy.
Harvey Lester said, “We should cut through the suspense about whether we are voting to amend the master plan. I propose we decide we will not because 1) we do not have enough information; and 2) we do not have enough planning board members to give the public a vote that reflects the mindset of the planning board.” Lester continued to share his dissatisfaction with the the attendance and thinks that the plan to vote needs to change and moved that the board not vote tonight to amend the plan and continue the discussion into next year.
<Applause from the public.> Motion was seconded by Paul Kiss. Now roll call vote – all “yes” but Russell Swanson. Public comment WILL happen tonight.
Paul Kiss: “This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about. To tell you where I am coming from, I am familiar with places built from former fields — lives on a block that was a cul du sac and was made a thru-street. If anyone doesn’t like more development in the southern part of town, it’s me. But we have to look at this objectively. Scotch Road is being characterized as a rural farm field but it is not — it is office space and near a highway and lined with privately owned property that is developable. There is no preserved land in that area right now. All that land that is not constrained is developable. Hopewell Township has a legal and moral obligation for affordable housing that can be forced on us if we do not plan for this.” Referred to what Drew S spoke about (in a prior planning board meeting) regarding builder’s remedies and the statements from Jennifer Curtis in the prior meeting … “It is easy to say ‘not in my backyard,’ but this issue has been studied for many years. We have an affordable housing plan that was nearly certified so we need to look to places for development that has minimal impact on the Township. And it is a good idea to work with a developer who is cooperative rather than not to solve Township’s issues. There is access to major highway and railway in the Scotch Road area…. sewer service…” Spoke about how the current developer is working toward actually preserving the land which is not preserved not. Talked about the specificity in the report. We all understand no one wants new development in their backyard but it is important to be constructive. He is interested in knowing where the affordable housing could go in the Township if not there. But feels that the board can’t vote because they don’t know what the exact amount of affordable housing…. “That doesn’t mean we stop talking about this project. I have come to believe there is room for development on the east side of Scotch Road…” Talked about facts and figures, tax appeals, school impacts, and said he would like to see an actual comparison to Brandon Farms — # of units/# of acres. Would also like to consider traffic info. And would like larger scale maps. And also talked about the view effects and where the development would be placed with regard to the crest of the hill.
Karen Murphy: Thinks it is important to get the COAH numbers but doesn’t think the Township should wait for the numbers. Would be willing to adaptively use the model to applied to the east side first and then vote separately for the west side. Doesn’t think anyone on the board thinks that they can do nothing because there are lawsuits being filed everyday. It isn’t just a theory – it is really out there. We need to continue to show progress.
Larry Clarke: Outside of doing this grand master plan amendment, are there amendments that can be made that would be a more appropriate way to make a change.
Ron Morgan (attorney): the GDP could be amend and the settlement agreement would have to be done in court.
Swanson: We still have to talk about this even without the COAH numbers b/c there are not affordable units allowed to the Merrill Lynch area. The real important thing is to at some point settle down on the master plan because it is ordinance that will determine how many units it really will be.
Rex Parker: There is a fine balance between creating a master plan amendment and the granuarlity of the zoning that will follow it. The document has been plagued by the desire to make it fine toothed but also keep it broad. The chopping didn’t necessarily make the document more clear on the intent. Spoke about the letter from Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space – he said his understanding about the sewer service map talks about provision for other projects including an animal care facility. The orange square is not about more high density development and retail. This is not well-described. There is a need on the part of the board to make an broad conceptual document but make sure there are no gaps. It is for these reasons we need to delay this. It is a work in progress. If I return to the board, I am very happy to do that.
Clarke: Going back to the beginning of this, we were asked by the landowner to give feedback about what the Township wants on the west side — which (Murphy says that the area became a study area which is what they did all year… and then they started talking about affordable housing… then zoning etc.) and at this point says that he would have been happy to vote on this, to put it to bed and kill it tonight. I voted to not vote because not everyone is here. In the absence of COAH, this is a bad idea. All of us agree that we don’t know our COAH number and that the number it might be is absurd. The developer asked for guidance and they heard a lot of it. Says that if the developer came before the planning board with a project, they probably know what the board likes and doesn’t and can consider a particular project. Thinks they have given a lot of feedback… <Applause.>
Murphy: From a board standpoint it would be easier to review an application, but if they did that it would not be in compliance with the current master plan.
Discussion here about application admissibility — procedural information — would not permit an application because it is a non-permitted use. Have to amend the GDP (general development plan).
Ron Morgan (planning board attorney): COAH on January 6th on court TV. This is the challenge and overturning of the 3rd round growth share rules. Center for Fair Share Housing.
More procedural discussion. Typically, the master plan changed by planning board then zoning changes approved by committee and GDP changes by application. Talked about how builder’s remedies do not need to comply with a master plan.
Kiss: One of the things about the report is that it has so much detail that it isn’t like a master plan. All these details and concerns get addressed at the next step.
Parker: There are some important details we have to address like the exact boundaries of the buffer.
Kiss: Talking about mix of units, types of units, etc.
Murphy: Thinks the initial report had too many details that have been struck because the document should be general and the basis for zoning, it isn’t zoning. Need to be specific enough so the ideas and concepts can’t be misapplied but the attentions should be clear. It is a balancing act.
Lester: Wants to focus on the east side in whatever manner that could be done. Wants a focused approach because Merrill Lynch exists and the buildings exist. There is already development on the east side and wants to focus on the east side and simply evaluate the east side now but the west side later on.
Clarke: Agrees. And wants to leave the sewer service untouched to disrupt as little as possible.
Schoenholtz: Wants to know if Clarke is proposing independent assessment of the east side from the west side. (Clarke says yes. Don’t amend the west side.) Thinks that things should be looked at holistically. It is like when duplexes have 2 types of siding — you need to look at the whole area.
Belmont: Questions about phasing. Concerned about builder’s remedy and losing total control of the area. (Ron says the existing of the settlement agreement is an impediment.)
Murphy: Doesn’t want to look at only one side. This should be looked at holistically. The master plan should set forth the vision for the area.
Kiss: Wants to see the 170 acres along Washintong Crossing Road preserved and wants that in the master plan.
Parker: Supports returning emphasis on the east side with broad strokes on the west side. This is where the subcommittee started — looking at ways to totally preserve the west side but we never got to the full board b/c it was not perceived as viable for developers therefore they wouldn’t bite that apple, not a lot of interest in that idea. We’re back to the future here.
Murphy: There’s not room for everything. Clarke: There’s room for what there’s room for.
Murphy: Talked about ratables for the Township and supporting the existing ratables. (Clarke doesn’t buy it. And doesn’t think the west side supports the Merrill Lynch.)
Frank Banisch (planner): Just should listen to the public.
Elton Clark: If the master plan says something can be zoned this way, can a developer force the zoning?
Ron Morgan says that the master plan is the planning board’s vision but the zoning ordiance for a particular property… The governing body makes the decision. So if the governing body only rezones one side, they can do what they want. They can phase it. The planning board is advisory. Whether the developer can force is a tricky question. Plus there are affordable housing issues. In this case, it requires court approval and discretion of the governing body. / Murphy spokes of the Shop Rite project that hasn’t happened.
Jim Waltman, Executive Director of Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association: Thanks the board for delaying the vote. “I am really encouraged by the latest twist of the debate which is something the Watershed Association thought about from the beginning — putting everything on the east side. I think it was dismissed too quickly. This was the inspiration behind the series of questions the Watershed has been asking. This comes down to math. What is allowed under the current GDP? About 1.3 million square feet of office currently allowable under the GDP. The document has a lot to celebrate — the idea of clustering development and preserving the open space around it. This is a good thing. We’ve asked how much land would be consumed by the current allowable GDP. It is a hard question to answer and wasn’t directly answered so the Watershed did some GIS work. What they’ve developed and are allowed are roughly equal — 88 acres of land was consumed in a continuous manner. If you start with the premise that there are economic, societal and environmental interests can be focused on… If you assume the current approvals would consumed in 88 acres, the question is whether all this other stuff can be done on 88 acres or less.” Talked about very dense development in Princeton. There’s 200 acres of still developable land on the east side… If what is currently approved takes up 90 acres… there is ample land on the east side to do everything. “As much as I agree with Lester and Clarke, I want you to be careful about bifurcating. There may be an opportunity right now that makes everything on the east side and preserve everything on the west side. That would be one heck of an accomplishment.” <Applause.>
Swanson: Is the Watershed opposed to housing on the Merrill Lynch sites? Walkman: We are not.
Paul Pogorzelski: Went back and spent time after hearing James Taylor’s report. Paul summarized the information — characterized the developed and developable areas. Will put this on the Township website. Settlement agreement allows for additional amount of development on the east side. And then at the hospital, there is yet to occur is 144 bed tower, etc…. look at the report. The reason why I did this activity was to calculate trip generation. On the east side, there are 71.2 acres developed and 97.2 acres developable — 1/2 on Merrill Lynch and 1/2 on Capital Health. There are also constrained areas, stream corridors, wetland buffers and utilities. Compared with the west side.
Talked about traffic trip studies. Has a study that will be put on the Township website tonight or tomorrow. Studies today’s trips and compares to one possible scenario of expansion including already approved uses.
Debbie Bird: Wanted to know who on the board who is not there. Wants to know if the board could not change. Said that she would not be objecting if the property was being used for what it is zoned for — doesn’t object to office parks being build. (Kiss says that there is property not protected that they want to include to protect to create a bigger buffer between Nursery Road and the area.) Says that it looks like the planning board is simply complying with a developer. Said the Township people should not bear the burden of having an animal shelter.
Swanson: Whether this is an animal shelter or a community facility, you need sewer service.
Melanie Phillips: Concerns about traffic and did independent traffic assessments. Compared this development to another and sited the numbers from that property’s study. (Paul P says that the traffic now is more than it would be in the future?) Talked about Robbinsville schools and the costly expansion of the schools and the potential impact of this proposed project on the schools. Talked about how the development she is comparing doesn’t have association fees and the cost to the tax payers is very high. And said that the costs on Robbinsville to live in the town center is high and does
Mike Petris: The Merrill Lynch and Capital Health is a huge amount of non-permeable and the areas surrounding it are suffering the run-off. He is worried about where the run-off will go — to the river, to neighbor’s basements. Concerns that the water saturation will get worse and this wasn’t the case before the current development.
Murphy: It is not an option between building and not building. It is an option between building this or building that. Unless we own the land, we cannot tell the property owner they cannot build on it.
Swanson: There is an agreement already to build on the west side. Unless both parties agree on something else, we are bound. It is either this or that. There isn’t nothing.
Paul: As far as water run off, there are cracks and fissures in the rocks to redirect water to holding ponds. There is no rational nexus from a topographic and geological standpoint between the areas. Says he is happy to go over this with anyone. There has also been a change experiencing from Hurricane Irene, that has created new conditions and talked about climate change.There is not a pipe system anywhere in the Township to contain that influx. Needs to integrate climate change into the design parameters. There’s no scientific connection between the Dublin Road area and this.
Elise McCoy: Would like to thank the board for sidewalks in Dublin Road. 1) Back when Merrill Lynch came in, the sewer didn’t go through for the area but then there was a promise that the area would be day-use only –> would like to see an environmental impact statement; 2) Employment: wants to know where the jobs are that people would be moving to the area; 3) COAH numbers are unclear and applauds the board for being proactive but wants to know whether Hopewell Township could take the lead in solving the problem and come up with novel solutions…
James Taylor: Talked about the report prepared by Township planner Frank Banisch. Wants to move cautiously and slowly. The COAH obligations are housing obligations not retail. What about new urbanism? Taylor says that “new urbanism” requires 1) urban regeneration like Parkway in Ewing; and 2) access to public transit which is lacking on the Scotch Road site. Taylor calls this an urban center — which is the same as Robbinsville. Compares Robbinsville and this proposed area and talked about the rate of tax increases in Robbinsville — if you build urban centers, your taxes increase. Opposes the development with a retail base and says that this area will hurt the people that COAH obligations want to help. This doesn’t solve social justice issues. “I have never spoken at these meetings against development. I’ve spoken about OVER development…. Hopewell is the jewel in the crown of Mercer County.”
Nigel Newton: (professional engineer in NJ) heavily involved in a central Trenton project looking into new urbanism projects — there were so many things missing from this project including non-roadway transportation (public transportation); says that the railway extension will not happen so the transportation is road-based; says that the number of units will not support bistros and all the other retail — it won’t be big enough to attract people –> thinks it will be a desolation; It is hard to put on paper something that will grow organically. You cannot design a town center unless there is a connect to transit. The developer is just looking to increase the value of the property they already knew the constraints of. “It is your vision that should be governing here, your vision within the constraints you are given but please do not be forced into someone else’s vision.”
Irene Goldman: Talked about the diversion of 95. Said that the tail is wagging the dog. Wants COAH to be solved in a different way and doesn’t want to the fear of COAH destroy what is exquisite in Hopewell Township. Cautioned not to overdo it.
Bob Kecskes: (environmental consultant) Thinks that what is being proposed is very extreme. Doesn’t think what is being proposed by the developer is consistent with the Mt Laurel goals — thinks that it never considered speeding up development toward buildout. Talked about how taxes will go up.
June Dennis: Talked about water-problems. Talked about how there is a need for animal shelters locally.
Jeff Christensen: (trained as an economist) Commends the planning board for work they’ve done. There are optimistic projections about what the project will yield. Wants the planning board to consider what will happen in the very near term about the economic projections — “This is getting the town into real estate speculation to some extent. What draws people to this meeting is the scale of the plan — this is a huge social engineering plan that reengineers the whole town. In order to preserve the rural town, we attract people from a clustered area to a rural area where we are going to cluster them.” Some recession is coming again sooner than later. Thinks that the COAH problem will be increased if we attract more people to the town. Proposed to create apartments from the existing home stock. Wants the Township to lobby the COAH situation.
Kathie Zann: Taught in Robbinsville and saw the expansion and the accompanying inaccurate demographic projections
Julian Gorelli: his parents are in the picture on the Save Scotch Road website; getting their mail is dangerous; 1) traffic: the traffic is noticeably worse and this would be a big mistake requiring development further down Scotch Road; 2) taxes: read that there is a concern about a erosion of ratable base particularly b/c of tax appeals but thinks this is not the case; and there is no question that this will increase the taxes and the impact in schools; 3) millenials: if we want to attract millennials is to keep things the way they are now – community, open space, great schools; 4) COAH: reason against the development because the COAH formula is also unclear – what if this development creates more obligations than already exists? Talked about the invalidation of growth share. Read quotes from Supreme Court cautioning against “bad planning” and “development for development’s sake.”
Ed Cashmere: Wants the planning board to solve the whole area; also wants the planning board to look at other plans/solutions spreading the affordable housing throughout the township; wants the planning board to look at different models; Wants the Township to fight against the obligations;
Carol Hager: Agrees with the comments that there are creative solutions; talked about traffic concerns. Looked at traffic studies too.
(Didn’t get name): concerned about traffic and says the he is concerned about the tax payers having to pay to make the roads safe is there is increased volume; also talked about sewer/service. Wants a referendum (Ron Morgan says that it is not permitted to have a referendum for zoning.)
Lauren Marchesani: talked about how good the school are and concerns about run-off problems
Aaron Mitchell: Loves the affordable, rural character with great schools
James Taylor — reading the NJ Sierra Club: (And then speaking for himself says there should be citations in Banisch’s report and there should be negatives not just positives.)
Elton Clark: talked about how many issues there are in the area — traffic, the extra taxes to cover the development and the run-off.
Murphy: People haven’t been here all the meetings and haven’t been listening to all this data. It isn’t that lay people are doing better research than our professionals. They have done an outstanding job. And the other thing to keep in mind, just because you hear someone from the public say something, doesn’t mean it is true. Even the documents that aren’t included in this report, all the documents and expert reports are online.
Delaying the vote. The board will reorganize in the new year and then the new planning board members need to familiarize themselves with the recent proceedings.
Frank Banisch spoke about the parcels on the east side that do not create the critical mass for a development. Thinks they should revisit this possibility.
Murphy thinks that even if some of it, if not all of it, should be on the east side, should be explored.