Bike lanes, business signs topics of Hopewell Borough Council October meeting

The Hopewell Borough Council meeting took place on Thursday, October 7 and began with Committee member Deb Stuhler reading a letter of appreciation to Stephanie Carey, who recently retired from of the Montgomery Township Health Department, which covers Hopewell Borough as well. The Borough expressed their appreciation for all her work throughout the years including the “Vote and Vax” clinic she initiated, along with a whole host of other contributions she has made to Hopewell Borough, its residents, and businesses. Carey was very appreciative and was happy to promote an upcoming “Vote and Vax” clinic on Nov. 2, and a pet rabies clinic on Nov. 13. The Council wished her well in her upcoming retirement scheduled for the end of October.

Mayor Paul Anzano expressed his appreciation, “never have I met a more dedicated public official, keeping us current, and would never have been able to do it without you.” As Carey offered her thanks, Anzano continued, “Don’t thank us, thank you!” Stuhler added that “it was an honor to work with you.”

The public comment portion was kicked off with Melissa Cookman, of E. Broad St. and owner of Twine, asking if there was a plan for the business signs that were put in place by the Hopewell Business Association (HBA) at some of the Borough’s main intersections. Borough Administrator Michele Hovan responded that with the HBA now being defunct, it was on the public works list to remove the signs. Cookman noted that “for stores and restaurants not on Broad Street, these signs are very helpful, can we not look into keeping them?” Council member Ryan Kennedy responded that “this would be a good agenda item for the next HGC meeting.”

Bike lanes were the next topic for discussion, with Committee member David Mackie presenting a draft concept plan that was prepared by the Mercer County traffic engineers. Mackie noted that bike lanes require 32-feet of total road width by code (11 for each car lane, and 5 for each bike lane), and Broad Street more than meets this criterion. The draft plan, however,reduces the number of parking spaces on Broad Street from 152, down to 47, representing a 69% reduction. This reduction in parking spaces understandably became the main point of contention throughout the rest of the discussions.

Hovan referred to the Mercer County Master Plan, and that a team of engineers and planners had worked on producing this draft. She also noted that the main issue comes down to bike lanes vs. parking spaces. She noted there had been discussions with the County for a 4-way no turn on red policy at the Broad/Greenwood intersection. Regarding timelines, Hovan stated that the new surfacing on Broad Street is not due to take place until 2023 at the earliest, and likely to be in 2024. Decisions on markings such as for bike lanes are of no great urgency but should be decided upon and approved to closely follow the resurfacing work. It was agreed that 2023 is the required deadline for approving a plan. 

Anzano stated that, with the current plan “you are pushing the parking back into the neighborhoods” since the Borough does not have plans or room for a dedicated parking lot. Council member Sky Morehouse added that “the loss of parking is extremely problematic.” Ryan Kennedy, said that while he was glad the County is willing to invest in the Borough, asked if the plan was “this way or nothing?” Mackie replied that this was a very preliminary draft/concept, and it is very much up for discussion and change proposals. Mackie also noted that while the County deemed the arrangement as safer than the current roadway, it is very much dependent on “people following the rules, and it requires enforcement.” Hovan stated “we have only asked about a bike lane plan, not traffic calming measures” thus far. She also noted an ancillary benefit that, when cars do park on side streets, pedestrians tend to then automatically cross at intersections in order to cross Broad Street. Additionally, she noted the County has already denied bump-outs or speed-bumps on Broad Street.

Public comment was initiated as James Hamje of N. Greenwood commented that “the plan looks good to me.” He did not like the idea of a previously discussed mixed use (pedestrians and bikes) concept as he felt electric bicycles were becoming too fast to make this a safe option. Mr. Hamje also commented on the need for bicycle infrastructure such as racks and raised the idea of timed parking in the center of town for better utilization.

Meanwhile, Cookman commented that “losing 105 parking spaces will kill every small business in Hopewell” and felt that timed regulations and parking would “hurt our town.” She continued that Hopewell “is just a cut through for most drivers on their way to somewhere, and most residents are aware” referring to prior comments made by Anzano that people have to be more responsible for themselves and more aware of traffic situations, having cited recent personal observations of pedestrian behavior.

Anne Hayton of Spring Hollow Drive thanked the board for approaching the County on this concern, while noting that there has been quite an increase in pedestrians and bicyclists over the years and this has become an issue in need of addressing. Gregg Barcan of W. Broad St. questioned the method of applying the gross reduction of parking spaces as a metric, as he felt many of the spaces in question were seldom utilized, suggesting maybe “in use parking would be a better metric.” This concluded the bike lane public comment portion of the meeting.

Item #5 on the agenda was up next regarding the “Request to Name Developer/Tax Abatement” for the proposed lumber yard redevelopment at 24 Model Avenue. (For past articles regarding this property, please see this link.) The owner, Hank Wittman of Ringoes Drive, had submitted a letter to the Borough to be named as the developer for the project but was also looking for a tax abatement for the initial purchasers of the properties. Hovan noted that, while it was likely agreeable that the Borough grant a change in the named developer, the tax abatement issue was an entirely separate scenario and posed the question “is the Council open to a tax abatement?” Wittman cited increased costs to build the proposed units since the original proposal, and the reduction in profits due to the inclusion of two affordable housing units as a driver for his request.

Many numbers were thrown around by the applicant in the discussions including costs of construction that ranged from $150-$200/sq.ft., the $500,000 per unit selling price for the 11 units, and the $90,000 stormwater abatement cost as recommended by The Watershed.  Anzano asked: “why should the Borough subsidize your project?” Stuhler chimed in, “a tax break to make housing more expensive in this community is not desirable.” Anzano then continued “I’m not predisposed to have the Borough underwrite the costs of this project, and I don’t want to go down this same road with similar projects in the Borough.”

It was also unclear as to the exact tax abatement the applicant was requesting, although a five-year term was mentioned in the discussions. Kennedy noted that more information was required as to the exact numbers involved and how they represent plusses and minuses to the Borough. He was firm that this study/analysis should not be at the Borough’s expense however. Anzano suggested the applicant had some homework to do and should re-engage the Council when hard numbers were ready to be presented.

The public works and water report elicited no comments, and the minutes from the prior meeting were approved in short order.

A reading of an ordinance for the formation of a Hopewell Borough Pedestrian and Advisory Committee commenced with Morehouse commenting: “I have trouble understanding that what started as an informal group has become a formal advisory committee.” Anzano suggested this should mirror the Shade Tree Committee, but this all remained questionable as to what authority the committee should hold.

The next Hopewell Borough meeting is scheduled for the first Thursday of the month at 7pm.

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