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Hollystone FAQ

by Deborah Howlett

Neighbors and other Hopewell Township residents have posed many questions about the “use variance” application filed with the Zoning Board to convert the former Hollystone Manor into “The Hopewell”, a boutique hotel.

Questions, concerns, and issues were raised by scores of people who attended the two Zoning Board hearings, each of which ran three hours or more. The following FAQ attempts to collate and condense responses to the most frequently asked questions during the hearings. The next hearing scheduled for 7pm on January 18 and is expected to be conducted remotely. The Board plans to review findings from traffic, water and other experts at that time. 

Who is the owner? The property was purchased last year by Margot Stern, a Philadelphia resident with a professional background in the hospitality industry.

Where is the property? The address is 29 Fiddler’s Creek Road. It’s a 24-acre site just off Route 29 near the entrance to Baldpate mountain. It includes 10 acres where the current home exists and 14 acres of surrounding land under a conservation easement held by Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space.

Is it zoned for commercial use? No.That’s why the owner has applied for a use variance. The parcel is in the Mountain Resource Conservation district, which limits the use of properties to one unit on a minimum of 14 acres. It currently is composed of six units, including the house, three rental cottages, and two apartments in the barn. The three rental cottages on the property and two apartments in the barn are pre-existing, non-conforming uses, meaning that their existence pre-dates current zoning requirements.

What is a “boutique” hotel? The proposal calls for converting and renovating the existing property into a 27-room hotel that caters to “eco-tourists”.

Is this an increase in the footprint of the buildings? The Hollystone historic farmstead is currently composed of five buildings; the house, three rental cottages, and a barn. Stern says no new structures or expansions are planned.

What about the restaurant? The proposal includes converting the kitchen and dining room areas into a 30-seat restaurant for hotel guests, plus an outdoor terrace where a patio currently exists to accommodate another 30 diners. 

Is it just for guests, though? Stern says that when the hotel is not full and the restaurant has capacity, a limited number of non-guests would be able to book reservations at the restaurant.

Will the hotel include a gym and spa with membership? The plan calls for workout space, a yoga room, and two small massage therapy rooms on one floor of the barn. Stern says it is an amenity for guests and not a fitness club. She said she is considering offering limited memberships for local residents if there is capacity.

Why isn’t there a site plan in the application? Stern submitted the use variance as step one in a bifurcated application to make sure the Zoning Board would permit the use before bringing architects and engineers to develop a specific plan for the site.

Won’t this strain well water capacity on other properties? Stern hired a professional firm to conduct well water tests on the property and some neighboring properties. Those tests indicate the existing water table can support the proposed hotel.

What about the septic system? The current site has three septic systems to handle 26 existing bedrooms and the State  already has certified the septic capacity for a  27-room hotel. 

Will there be loud parties or wedding receptions? Stern says her business model does not include large parties, especially wedding receptions, which would go against the atmosphere she wants to create at the hotel. She says there will be no amplified sound or speakers outside.

Won’t the lighting be an issue? The plans call for using the least lighting required by ordinance, including in the parking lot. Stern says she will focus on minimizing lighting as part of her business plan to appeal to tourists who seek a remote, environmentally friendly experience.

Won’t this create a lot of traffic? This is one of the greatest concerns for neighbors. Stern has hired traffic engineers to conduct studies and those findings will be presented to the Zoning Board. She insists that the traffic studies show no major increases in traffic, especially on Fiddler’s Creek Road past the entrance to Bald Pate, which is about a half mile from Route 29.

(Photo courtesy of Zillow.com)

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