Hopewell Township has been undergoing the redevelopment investigation regarding a Township-owned property, commonly known as “Pennytown,” at the intersection of Route 31 and Pennington-Hopewell Road. At the Township Planning Board’s last meeting, it approved the Pennytown Redevelopment Plan with suggested changes, landing the decision-making for the future of the “gateway to Hopewell Valley” back in the hands the Township Committee.
Previously, the Pennytown property, owned by Hopewell Township, was identified as a potential future site for affordable housing in partial satisfaction of the Township’s constitutionally-mandated affordable housing obligation. While the property was purchased for that purpose (with funds from the Township’s affordable housing trust fund), the Committee has since taken that off the table.
“The Pennytown Redevelopment Plan has been crafted for an area designated as ‘in need of redevelopment’ previously, with a different planning approach that was outlined,” said Township Planner Frank Banisch to the Planning Board. “The upshot of the review previously was there was no significant infrastructure so we are back to drawing board with a paired down approach for economic and appropriate uses for this property for the town.”
Procedurally, the chart below outlines the redevelopment process. In July, the Township Committee had the first reading of an ordinance, adopting a redevelopment plan for the Pennytown “area in need of redevelopment” (for the full text of the ordinance, see this link) and the Planning Board began its review of the plan, to advise the Committee on whether the plan conforms with the Township master plan.
The redevelopment process is one that seeks “to rebuild or restore an area in a measurable state of decline, disinvestment, or abandonment. Redevelopment may be publicly or privately initiated, but it is commonly recognized as the process governed by the Local Redevelopment and Housing Law and undertaken in accordance with a redevelopment plan adopted by the municipality. If used correctly, it can transform an underutilized or distressed area into an economically viable and productive part of the community,” according to the Redevelopment Handbook, A Guide to Rebuilding New Jersey’s Communities.
Overall, at the August meeting, the Planning Board indicated that it supports the redevelopment plan, presented by the Committee, however suggested some modifications which will be considered by the Township Committee in the final decision-making, most notably:
- Prohibiting that no sewer may be be extended to the property and the property would have to rely on on-site treatment of wastewater;
- No longer exclusively non residential;
- Criteria for “motor fueling station” was modified to specify a required minimum distance between motor fueling stations and/or convenience stores. “For those to occur, the two existing uses [in Marshall’s Corner] would have to not be there — neither of them,” explained Banisch, who suggested that maybe even an owner of one of the neighboring existing businesses might be interested in developing the whole property; and
- The full development of the site, with the permitted uses, should have a negligible impact on peak hour traffic on Route 31.
Other concerns included in the recommendations pertain to green infrastructure and modification to maps to include all streams and waterways. With these and some other changes, the Planning Board approved the Pennytown Redevelopment Plan, which will be before the Township Committee.
“I want to thank the Planning Board for all the thoughtful input,” said Hopewell Township Mayor Kevin Kuchinski, as he abstained from voting with the Planning Board regarding the approval and notifications. “I want to put on the record all the thoughtful work that has gone into this and I looks forward to more dialogue.”
At the Township Committee meeting on September 26, 2016, Township attorney Steve Goodell explained to the Committee, “Now your obligation is to review and determine whether or not those suggested changes should be incorporated into the plan — this is your plan not the Planning Board’s plan.”
However, the Committee decided to defer discussion and voting. “I just saw this tonight and I’m not happy with the recommendations,” said Committee member John Hart. “We are trying to get ratables in this town. What they [the Planning Board] are asking for is a little more than I was hoping to get as a recommendation.”
The Pennytown Redevelopment Plan will been the agenda at the Township Committee meeting on October 24 at 7pm at the Hopewell Township Municipal Building.