Court rejects neighbors’ appeal to stop senior housing development

A State appellate court has rejected an effort by Nursery Road homeowners to stop a senior housing development that includes affordable units, as well as a hotel, restaurant, and a gas station on Scotch Road, near the I-295 interchange.

A three-judge panel dismissed every argument made by the Nursery Road residents, saying their case “relied on incorrect legal standards and otherwise lacked merit.”

The decision affirms a ruling by Superior Court Judge Mary Jacobson two years ago that upheld an ordinance adopted by the Hopewell Township Committee. Jacobson, in her ruling, said that the ordinance properly balanced the goal of affordable housing with a plan to preserve the Township’s rural character.

“We conclude the court’s factual and credibility findings and conclusions of law were sound,” the Appellate Court said in its written opinion.

The Appellate Court supported Jacobson’s finding that the Townships’s position was “by far and away the better one,” and that the Plaintiffs’ testimony “did not provide evidence necessary to show that … the ordinance is arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable.”

The ruling clears the way for the development project to begin.

The Township Committee is “gratified to see this decision, … (which) ends several years of litigation,” Committee member Kevin Kuchinski said. 

James Burd, a Nursery Road resident who led the homeowners group, Concerned Citizens of Hopewell and Ewing, said that while the Court decided that rezoning natural conservation lands was legally legitimate, it opens the door to urban sprawl.

“The consequences we believe will be regrettable to all who care about the environment and character of our Hopewell and Ewing communities,” said Burd.

The development at issue is separate from the Hopewell Parc residential project on Scotch Road and involves a parcel of land where Nursery Road meets Scotch Road, directly across from the entrance to Capitol Health Medical Center – Hopewell.

The project “will help address the Township’s affordable housing obligation while also bringing new age-restricted 55+ housing options to Hopewell Valley,” Kuchinski said. “Importantly, this ordinance also establishes enhanced environmental protections and will help bring new commercial ratables to the Township, supporting Capital Health and companies at the former Merrill Lynch campus.”

The development is aligned with an ordinance approved three years ago by the Township Committee, which rezoned the land from primarily agricultural use to an Inclusionary Multi-Family Commercial Zone (IMF-C Zone).

It was part of a “Global Settlement Agreement” with four developers who had intervened in a court-supervised effort to determine how the Township would meet its Constitutional mandate to develop  affordable housing.

The ordinance opened the door to development of a 213-acre tract owned by Deer Valley Realty and CF Hopewell. It allows a maximum of 625 age-restricted residential units, with 20% set aside for affordable housing. Deer Valley also agreed to “use its best efforts” to develop a hotel, conference center, and restaurant.”

The hotel and conference center can be built only in conjunction with development of the inclusionary housing project, according to the agreement. In addition, “accessory structures,” such as gas stations, are permissible in conjunction with residential or commercial uses. Any gas station, however, would not permit use by large trucks.

The ordinance was immediately challenged in court by the group Concerned Citizens of Hopewell and Ewing, led by Burd.

The ruling by Jacobson on that challenge noted the Township required commercial development “to be done in a cooperative, integrated way,” in conjunction with affordable housing development. 

Moreover, the ruling said, the roads in the redevelopment zone could handle mostly “pass-by traffic,” meaning “people working at the hospital, living in the area, working at the offices, as . . . mentioned, pharmacy, convenience stores, that kind of thing.” 

Concerned Citizens appealed that ruling last year. The appellate court decision October. 3 rejected that appeal and affirmed Jacobson’s ruling.

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