On Thursday May 20, the Hopewell Township Planning Board heard a report from a subcommittee set up to evaluate the possible rezoning of portions of the area surrounding Scotch Road (pictured above). The site is currently developed with the 1.3 million square foot Merrill Lynch/Bank of America campus and Capital Health’s Hopewell hospital to the east, with undeveloped land to the west of Scotch Road. Current zoning allows (under a 1998 General Development Plan) up to 4 million square feet of office and related space to be built between several tracts in that portion of the Township. The review and possible changes were prompted by one of the property owners requesting permission to construct a 700 unit gated retirement community on the west side of Scotch Road, instead of the 1 million feet of office currently permitted for that section.
Sold by Bank of America in 2012, the existing corporate campus has been split up among several owners while Merrill Lynch has scaled back its operations. According to the Township’s planner Frank Banisch, the type of large scale office construction initially contemplated by the current general development plan is neither viable in today’s market nor desirable for the Township. (The current GDP was a result of a settlement of a court challenge to the then zoning standards – the full history can be reviewed in NJ Future’s excellent case study of the factors that lead to the existing development, including the considerable public funding).
Instead, the Board’s subcommittee and Mr. Banisch began looking at more holistic approaches to the property owner’s request to rezone for large scale residential development to better address the needs of the Township, surrounding property owners and to create a true sense of “place” in that portion of the municipality through a mixed use development, potentially accommodating future NJ TRANSIT transportation options on the adjacent West Trenton railroad line. The initial exploration was meant to set out the potential options that the Township has for shaping future development at the site beyond what was requested and what (another 2.7 million of office space) can currently be built “as of right.”
Comments from the nearly 30 residents who came to hear the presentation were largely positive and, while cautious of the potential for additional development in Hopewell Valley, generally appreciative for the Board’s decision to include the public in the process. After opening up to the public for additions to the board’s “wish list” of items in a possible future development, commenters focused on traffic impact, the effect on the environment, school children, tax revenue, the possible location of a community/civic center and space for a gallery for the Hopewell Valley Arts Council. Most commenters seemed to agree that a well-planned, mixed-use development would be preferable to some of the alternatives, voicing approval for a “town center” type project – though also pointing out that the term “town center” may need to also go back to the drawing board, considering that the location of the project site is so far from the center of the Township, geographically.
The process for potentially moving forward with a revision to the Township’s master plan or a zoning change will continue at future Planning Board meetings in June, ultimately requiring approval by the Township Committee in one form or the other.
The Township has placed a recording of the meeting online, along with a PDF of the planning presentation. Coverage of the possible zoning changes will continue here at MercerMe, and additional coverage of the meeting is also being provided by the Trenton Times and the Hopewell Valley News. For a full history of the Merrill Lynch development, New Jersey Future’s case study is an excellent resource. Update: additional information on other West Trenton Rail Line upgrades and alterantives studied in connection with Ewing’s GM redevelopment project can be reviewed here, including a possible multi-modal station strateling 95 in the Southeast corner of Capital Health’s property (“Rail alternative 3”).