At a Hopewell Borough Council special meeting on Tuesday night, Council passed a resolution revising and modifying the direction previously given to the Borough Planning Board in its determination of whether certain areas within the Borough meet the criteria for an “area in need of redevelopment.” Council now advises that the process shall be an investigation into a “non-condemnation area of need in redevelopment,” as opposed to the most recent condemnation area in need. The resolution also adds an additional section of the Borough to the study area to be considered for redevelopment potential
By way of background, in August 2015, the Hopewell Borough Council started the investigation process by instructing the Planning Board, by resolution, to undertake a preliminary investigation and consider two specific parts of town would be possible redevelopment areas: “Area A” is in the northeast part of town, situated on the southern side of the railroad tracks on Railroad Place and Somerset Street and includes the large “Hopewell 57” building and surrounding lots; and “Area B” is comprised of three parcels with common ownership that includes the “Castoro” Shell gas station at 71 East Broad Street, with frontage on East Broad Street, Maple Street and Columbia Avenue.
The redevelopment process is one that seeks “to rebuild or restore an area in a measurable state of decline, disinvestment, or abandonment. Redevelopment may be publicly or privately initiated, but it is commonly recognized as the process governed by the Local Redevelopment and Housing Law and undertaken in accordance with a redevelopment plan adopted by the municipality. If used correctly, it can transform an underutilized or distressed area into an economically viable and productive part of the community,” according to the Redevelopment Handbook, A Guide to Rebuilding New Jersey’s Communities.
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In October 2015, the Borough Council adopted another resolution specifying that the study area was to be investigated as a non-condemnation area in need of redevelopment.
However in May 2016, in an open letter from the Hopewell Borough Mayor, Paul Anzano, and Council, the Borough retracted its position indicating that it would now retain condemnation power. “Over time, and after considerable discussion, we realized that surrendering the power of eminent domain might not ultimately serve the public’s best interests, especially if condemnation of an area or a portion thereof is necessary for infrastructure or other public needs. After careful consideration and debate (and with much concern about the potential for confusion or misinterpretation of our intentions), we reversed that stance on May 5, 2016 (Resolution No.2016-59),” stated the letter.
Under the State Constitution, the government may only take property by eminent domain for a “public purpose” which traditionally is clear — streets, sewer lines, schools, train stations. However, under the “Blighted Areas” clause of New Jersey’s 1947 Constitution, if a town finds that a property is “in need of redevelopment” (which had been also referred to as “blight”), acquisition to turn over property to a redeveloper is allowed to be considered a public purpose and the property can be taken even without the owner’s consent.
On June 1, 2016, the Planning Board began its public hearings on whether the study area should be designated as a condemnation area in need of redevelopment. At that time, many members of the public came to address their concerns about the ramifications of designating an area as “in need of redevelopment,” especially when there is a potential for condemnation.
Council held a closed session meeting on July 7, 2106 to discuss its instructions however was not able to make any progress that it was able to share with the public at its Council meeting that same evening. The author of this article spoke during public comment and inquired whether the Council had or would be taking action prior to next month’s planning board meeting and was informed that, at this time, there would be no further redirection given to the planning board.
On July 12, 2016, Council held another closed session meeting to discuss “acquisition of property” and then came out in a pubic meeting to pass a resolution declaring the process to be now non-condemnation.
The resolution also identifies an addition segment in the Borough as part of the study area, at the request of the property owner. Council now instructions the Planning Board to expand the study area to include Van Doren Lumber, located at 24 Model Avenue.
The next Hopewell Borough Planning Board meeting will be August 3, 2016 at 7:30 at Hopewell Borough Hall.