HB Planning Board approves lumberyard townhomes

Model Ave lumberyard

At its July meeting, the Hopewell Borough Planning Board Committee voted to conditionally approve the redevelopment of the lumberyard on Model Avenue to town homes. Conditions include satisfying all outstanding items, cooperating with the redevelopment plan agreement, and copying the Board on the homeowner association agreement.

Several conditions relate directly to the two townhomes that will be designated as affordable housing units. The Board required that the the two affordable units, which will include one low income and one moderate income home, will not be separated from the rest of the development.

Also, garbage pick-up for the townhomes has been a point of concern at previous. Hank Wittman, the applicant, had worked out a contract with the current sanitation company servicing Hopewell Borough for pick-up of cans inside of the development’s drive. However, because the Borough contract for sanitation can change, this arrangement became a point of concern.

Michele Hovan, Borough Administrator, pointed out that residents of the townhomes at Eaton Court bring their cans to the curb, and it would be unusual for Borough contractors to pick up on private property. The applicant agreed that, as a condition of approval, townhomes residents will bring garbage cans to the curb instead of having trucks drive into the complex. A Board member pointed out that this may require the construction of a small bypass to make it possible for some residents to be able to bring cans to the curb.

Wittman worked with the Hopewell Borough Historic Preservation Commission to make the structures fit better with the aesthetic of the town. The HPC found that the height of the front doors on the units was inconsistent with the architecture of other homes in the community. The applicant agreed to change the doors, which required restructuring the landscaping to move a wall and add a walkway to the construction design. Alison Baxter, President of the HPC, said she was pleased with the modifications that have been made. Due to the changes, another condition of approval is that the applicant will address all grading issues so that stormwater management and impervious coverage adhere to local ordinances.

Peter Mehltretter, a Borough resident, commented during a public session: “The applicant did a good job working with the town.”

“Let’s get these things built, so that when I’m old enough to move in, I can move in. Congratulations,” said Peter Macholdt, Chair of the Planning Board Committee.

In other Board business, Marylou Ferrara, a current member, was nominated and unanimously voted in as Vice President of the Planning Board.

The Boardmembers then continued their discussion about changes in ordinances as a part of the greater master plan revision. Joanna Slagle, Borough Planner, drafted a memo of changes pertaining to the ordinance that limits new or expanded businesses within the Borough to 2,000 square feet.

“I’m expecting a lot of people to say, this isn’t exactly what we talked about,” said Slagle.

“It’s not, but it’s better,” responded Macholdt.

Slagle said that she looked at the square footage of variance ordinances issued over the past fifteen years to estimate what was appropriate for existing structures. She said there was quite a range from just over 2,000 to 6,000 square feet.

She said the current variance penalizes existing businesses that want to expand when the original intent of the ordinance was probably to prohibit large franchises from opening in the Borough.

“The retail chains we wouldn’t want are one-story,” said Boardmember David Mackie.

Macholdt pointed out that stores would still have to meet the lot coverage in place.

Several members wanted the variance to be a conditional variance. Mackie expressed concern that allowing this type of expansion could turn into a “trojan horse” situation.

Boardmember Ryan Kennedy said that at the end of the day, nothing is solved by having a conditional variance instead of a D variance. Slagle agreed that it would be best suited as a D3 variance. Slagle said the variance change would lessen the burden more on businesses as a bulk variance and the Board would retain oversight.

Ferrara said that her inclination was that 3,000 square feet establishments might impact the character of the small town and that anything beyond that should have to come before the Board for approval. She suggested that both sides had pros and cons and that the Board should continue to discuss it before deciding.

Macholdt said it was a good introduction, but he was not expecting a vote at this meeting. He said that the Board would circle back around to the variance in September. He asked that each Board member email Slagle separately to discuss the potential ways to update the variance.

The Board announced that the August 3 meeting is canceled, and ended the session.

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