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With traffic patterns changing and volume increasing on Route 31, Hopewell Township underwent several discussions this past month to address the issues along with requesting public feedback.

Pennington Circle Public Information Meeting

In response to ongoing comments and concerns regarding the newly constructed circulation changes to the Route 31 Pennington Circle, Hopewell Township hosted a public information meeting on Tuesday March 22 to gather comments from the public to provide to New Jersey Department of Transportation (“NJDOT”).

The meeting focused on receiving comments regarding Route 31 south of Pennington, roadways tributary to this segment of Route 31 and the Pennington Circle.

Click here for the link to the Route 31 Circulation Meeting Comments

In general, commenters approved of the present configuration with some caveats. Signage and traffic delays were foremost of the concerns. One Ingleside Avenue resident said that motorists are now using Ingleside to avoid traffic backed up from the metering signal on the southbound side of Route 31. A resident on Wellington Drive in Hopewell Grant similarly noted increased cut-through traffic through the community noting that traffic has been exceeding the speed limit and suggested speed humps. Other suggestions, relating to remediation of traffic confusion, included traffic arrows and additional signage.

Route 31 Design Study Discussion

At the March 24 Hopewell Township planning board meeting, the board reviewed the Township’s Route 31 Design Study, originally prepared in 2002, to determine whether there were any sections that the planning board wanted to focus on as the board assessed “if there is any area that need[s] to [be] update[d] or [we need] do some more work on,” inquired planning board chair, Karen Murphy.

“The document is 15 years old and a lot of it is irrelevant. The circle has just been improved — in quotes — and I don’t think they will ‘improve’ it again,” said Kiss.

In order to begin the discussion, the board sought input from some of the more long-standing members of the board who are still serving.

Marylou Ferrara spoke about, for planning purposes, that the northern part of Route 31 had been identified as the “gateway to the Valley.” She also also indicated that the residential properties on Route 31 had been identified as solid affordable housing that should not be removed from the larger planning picture.

However, as a counterpoint, Township planner Frank Banisch offered, “All the driveways is the reason why Route 31 is hazardous — trying to retain the pattern of those small lots. It is nice to say it is affordable housing but, in the long run, it is an inefficient way to get some not-so-great affordable housing. Preventing wall-to-wall sprawl has always been a core value. As we look forward, we need to think about how we envision how this evolves.”

The board also talked about challenges resulting from potential increased affordable housing development around the Pennington Circle Shop Rite but are not able to immediately properly plan for this, “We do not know the challenges to come until we know our numbers,” said Township administrator and engineer Paul Pogorzelski.

The question about preserving open space to create a buffer in commercial zones was brought up by planning board member Rex Parker and addressed by Pogorzelski who said that south of Pennytown/Marshall’s Corner would likely not be appropriate because the zoning specifically allows for commercial in that vicinity.

For more on the future of Pennytown, see Goodbye Pennytown, Hopewell Township Removes Potential Affordable Housing Site

With regard to the future of the Pennytown property, Pogorzelski reminded the planning board that the Township has asked not to put the property in the housing plan and that the committee intends to sell the property.

“If you don’t change the zoning, there is an array of uses that could be permitted there,” said Pogorzelski.

And planner Banisch agreed, “If you leave the zoning that is in place on Pennytown, you will get the kind of development that is permitted in the shopping center zone and it might turn out to what this study said you don’t want to proliferate.”

“In looking at he page for the concept… ‘to protect the existing rural character and views along the roadside. Any further development would be concentrated around existing commercial centers at Pennytown and the corner of Route 518. Any further widening of the road is unnecessary and should be discouraged,'” read Murphy into the record from the design study. She noted, “I don’t see much change that is necessary other than to rename some things and include new pictures. I think the recommendation is probably still valid.”

The planning board also engaged in a discussion about their vision for the Pennytown property however the ultimate plan for the property is in the hands of the Township committee and it is unclear whether the committee is seeking input from the planning board.

“I don’t think it hurts to consider the impact on the neighborhood — that is an important consideration as well as the resale value of the property,” said Township committee person Julie Blake who encouraged the planning board to voice opinions about the future of Pennytown.

“Of course you want to get your money back, so long as it is not detrimental to the neighborhood,” said Ferrara.

“They don’t want anything there,” said Bruce Gunther. “I think what is sad in terms of if you are going to go through with the sale, it is to recoup major money. There are so many variables that I don’t want to get into a discussion with what to do with Pennytown for 4th or 5th time when something else will happen down the road. We have already spent so much time on this.”

“I don’t want the planning board to be the straw man for this project. We are setting ourselves up for hearings that mean nothing,” said planning board member Russ Swanson.

Ultimately, the board agreed that engaging in a detailed discussion for one particular property was not something within their charge at this time.

 

“We’re talking about a master plan discussion but I’ve never heard of a master plan discussion that focuses on one particular property. Right now the property has a particular zone that the Township has already approved and the Township should identify that the sale is based on whatever the zone permits,” said Pogorzelsk. “And I want to make sure we are not treading on spot-zoning.”

“This is a discussion about Route 31, in general, and now we’re talking about the entrance to the town. We brought up Pennytown by name because that area would be the place where the gate way would be from open country to where things are happening,” said Murphy.

“The governing body should said whether they want the planning board to dig deep,” said Banisch. “I would hate for everyone to think there is a wide-range of options and discussion before the Township committee identifies whether there is a conversation happening.”

For all of MercerMe’s coverage on the Pennington Circle, check out these articles:

For lots of coverage on Pennytown, check out this link.

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