The owner of a majority of the undeveloped land off of Scotch Road in Hopewell Township appeared before the Hopewell Township Planning Board last week in an informal presentation known as a “conceptual review,” asking for guidance from the Planning Board as to whether the Board would consider permitting an assisting living/continuum care use in the area located at Block 91, Lot 3.191 (Southfields Drive) in Hopewell Township. The matter was not formally before the Board and did not represent an official application, but instead was a very narrow non-binding question about a specific possible permissible use of on specific parcels between Merrill Lynch and Capital Health Hospital on the east side of Scotch Road.
Dozens of Hopewell Valley senior citizens attended to find out what is proposed for the property which surrounds the long-promised future location of the Hopewell Valley Senior Center off of Scotch Road.
In partnership with Capital Health Hospital, which owns some of the acres in question, the concept is an assisted living continuing care facility ranging from independent senior living to nursing care and hospice.
“This is at a high level,” explained the attorney for CF Hopewell. “We are not ready to talk about specific site plan issues.”
“We would love to collaborate with CF Hopewell in co-joining our priorities for the purpose of marketing and developing ourselves or through a 3rd party (yet to be designated or found) a system of housing that starts from independent living, to assisted living, to nursing home/skilled nursing facility and memory care unit and hospice unit,” said Dennis Dooley, Vice President, Communications and Government Affairs at Capital Health Hospital. “We believe having that on one site creates a continuum of care from ‘cradle to grave.’ Capital Health would not be the owner but we would be involved in the clinical care aspects of the care of the housing put on that site.”
By way of background, the Scotch Road area has been an ongoing and major component of satisfying the Township’s potential affordable housing. There was some discussion about how this use would contribute to the affordable housing numbers but, without specific site plans, the number was not calculable.
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“This is something we were hoping for this general area. It seems like something that is a benefit for the community and allow senior citizens the opportunity to remain close to home as long as possible,” said Planning Board member Jack Belmont.
While the use itself was something that the Planning Board agreed could be desirable, the discussion trended toward a need for a holistic development approach on both sides of Scotch Road.
“It is hard to argue that it doesn’t make sense for the community but the impact on the area is beyond these lots,” said Planning Board member Larry Clarke. “I don’t want to over-burden this use and then, a year or so later, move onto planning the other side of the road. We want a holistic approach for the discussions about the area in general and the ultimate impact to the roadway and community. I don’t want to start cramming in things to every acre piecemeal.”
The area also has a deep history regarding the “hut” property, involving promises, from a series of previous owners, that the property would be transformed into a senior center for Hopewell Valley Seniors. The project has yet to have any movement despite ongoing determined efforts from the Senior Advisory members.
“We’ve been united to trying to improve things for seniors in the area,” said Hopewell Township Senior Advisory Board President, Larry Mansier. “We lost communication for a long time [with CF Hopewell] — back in Fall 2013 — and since then the communication has not been that good. I want to know when we would have a senior center. I think the project is a great idea but you have to sign off on the senior center to Hopewell Township.”
Mansier also explained that the current senior center in Pennington, beyond being inadequate for the seniors’ needs, is in need of major repair. Other seniors spoke to the poor condition of the existing building and discussed whether the existing building should be rebuilt.
“Hopewell Valley is the only community in the entire county without the ‘real’ senior center,” said Mansier’s wife Madeleine at the meeting. “My husband has been the chair for 10 years. They had three goals and the first two were reached but the senior center hasn’t happened. My husband is 86 and the chance of having a senior center in his lifetime are nil.”
Kim Johnson, the President of the Hopewell Valley Senior Foundation, which exists to raise money for programs not in the municipal budget, explained, “The building being used as a senior center is not adequate — it is a one 2200-square foot room and we cannot have more than one thing happening at once. All the programs are in place and we are waiting for a place to live. There’s no space for anything to go on there.”
“If we don’t have a senior center or a place where the programs can be coordinated, these programs are going to go away and the Senior Foundation is not going to have programs to give the money to. And the Senior Advisory Board will have nothing to advise. Eighteen months is how long it would take to rebuild a brand new place so, for 18 months, they would have nothing — 18 months in a senior’s life is everything.”
Chip Erickson from CF Hopewell, said that he sees this project as a a jump-start with a domino effect. “The process would allow us to legally define the parcels and split the road. We see this as very symbiotic,” said Erickson.
Those in attendance were firm in wanting to see action. Former Pennington Councilman Weed Tucker said, “I don’t see much forward movement happening with this. Please let us know whether you are not to going to move forward and we can plan for that. We want to know the timeframe.”
CF Hopewell representatives indicated that they did not see the senior center property as a stumbling block to the overall project but would need to designate one or two roads from private to public for the property’s use. Also, the area is not a single parcel so it would need to be subdivided, deeding just the potion that the hut sits to the Township. All parties agreed that, as early as this month, the Township Committee may address the public road portion, while the subdivision element would be before the Planning Board.
Hopewell Township Mayor Kevin Kuchinski agreed, “There is a lot we like about this but we want a transfer of the hut and build the senior center. I think you’ve heard a passionate group,” said Kuchinski to the applicant and the Planning Board. “I think we should move forward with the senior center portion, with this good faith effort to expedite things to the greatest extent possible.”