Hopewell Borough Council continues work on safety, cannabis, and water

The Hopewell Borough Council was busy at its regular monthly meeting in October touching on topics from pedestrian safety, to cannabis, to water and sewage issues

Pedestrian, Bicycle and Safety Advisory Committee (PBSAC).

Krista Weaver, PBSAC Chairperson, asked the Council to consider passing a resolution adopting a Vision Zero Policy, which is a commitment to accept nothing less than zero pedestrian deaths. Other municipalities, like Hoboken, have successfully adopted the policy, she said.

Weaver explained that one change that worked well in Hoboken was a pedestrian interval at traffic lights with crosswalks in which all traffic stops while pedestrians cross the street. Downtown Pennington also has a pedestrian interval light at the intersection of Delaware and Main streets.

The resolution was passed.

Borough water supply

Mayor Paul Anzano, Borough Administrator Michele Hovan, Councilmember David Mackie, and Council President Sky Morehouse met with New Jersey American Water recently about the possibility that the larger utility will purchase the Hopewell utility. Anzano stressed that talks are very preliminary and will be formally addressed later next year.

A portion of Hopewell Borough’s water is currently being purchased from New Jersey American Water at an emergency rate that has increased the overall cost of water for Borough residents. Mackie said Council was doing the responsible thing by looking at all the options to lower rates. The Borough continues to explore well options for locally sourced water. Mackie said that engineering estimates are currently underway for a potential new well site.

Brick Farm Tavern tie in to Borough sewage system

Brick Farm Tavern had approached the Council to inquire about the possibility of connecting to the Borough’s sewage system that runs close to the restaurant’s property. Mackie said that he worries it will set a precedent in which other properties outside of the service area will ask to connect to the sewage system, and in the future, the needs of the town may require the entire capacity.

The tavern is in Hopewell Township, which opted out of investing in the system, and therefore the asset of the sewage plant belongs solely to the Borough and its taxpayers.

Mackie said allowing the tavern to use the system would be, “a departure from policy without basis.”

Morehouse agreed the Council should keep and protect the capacity of the plant for the Borough. The Council decided not to permit the tavern to connect to their sewage system at this time, but may revisit the issue if the need becomes urgent.

Replacement of storm chamber

Council approved a bond ordinance for the replacement of a storm chamber on Maple Street that had been damaged during Hurricane Ida. Hovan said that 99% of the cost of the new storm drain would be reimbursed.

Mackie praised Hovan for the “massive amount of work with FEMA to get this done.”

Limiting footprint of new constructions and expansions of HB businesses

The Council then discussed revising the Master Plan by a new ordinance limiting businesses in town to a space of no more than 2,000 square feet, applying only to new construction and expansions. The ordinance would not apply to existing structures.

“We’ve been talking about this a long time at the Planning Board,” said Hovan.

Ryan Kennedy, councilmember, said that a C-variance was hard to get and a D-variance was even harder to get. He said changing the variance from D- to a C-variance would eliminate an unnecessary expense while still requiring the approval of the full Planning Board. It simplifies a process that has been under considerable debate by store owners. The Council agreed and adopted the changes.

Cannabis

The Council then discussed the application process for the one cannabis retail permit available. The applicant would have to disclose information about any business affiliates and describe why the property where they plan to open is appropriate. The Council discussed ways to ask the applicant about ties to Hopewell Borough.

Morehouse questioned the importance of the latter question, calling it arbitrary. “If I was lawyering up looking for a business why would this be pertinent?”

Joanna Slagle, Borough Planner, said how the information was used mattered.

Morehouse said there was a difference in what the Council wanted and what was constitutionally allowed.

“This is what you asked for in the absence of first come, first serve,” said Hovan, referring to a questionnaire and ranked system as opposed to giving the local license to the first applicant who could obtain a state license.

Anzano said it was just one ranking factor, and that if an applicant received no points for that question, but 15 or 20 points for everything else, then the applicant could still get the endorsement.

Slagle suggested rephrasing the question to, “what connections are you willing to build [in Hopewell Borough].”

Morehouse asked what would happen if a “Ma and Pa” organization qualified for the ordinance, but then sold the business to a national retail chain.

Mackie asked if a change in ownership would require the process to start again and if disclosure of ownership could be a part of the annual review.

Hovan said, only one permit is available. Applicants must be approved by the State, then the Planning Board, before they are allowed to operate.

Slagle said, “Whatever name they apply in, it has to be in that name. We do have a requirement.”

Slagle said the applicant screening process would find a business owner connected and invested in the community by asking about ties to the community, a commitment to the community, and a plan to hire local residents.

“Is there nothing to restrict ownership changes five years from now?” asked Morehouse.

Slagle answered “no,” but explained that they were taking measures to ensure the person that they are looking at during the application process will be the person opening the business in town. The process prevents a bait-and-switch scenario in which a corporate entity would open instead of a small business owner.

Explaining that the State process also contains protections from such underhandedness,  Anzano said that a bank in town was fined for red-lining and was now under new ownership from a new corporate entity and that most did not know. “Regulatory issues cannot be micromanaged,” he said.

The Council agreed it hopes to open the application process soon for a six week window of accepting potential applicants.

Committee Reports

Councilmember Ryan Kennedy:

  • Cruise Night was a success.
  • He is researching ways to reduce the use of leaf blowers.
  • Important updates had been made to the Borough website to make it more user-friendly.
  • The PBSAC hopes to finish their reports on all County roads with the backing of lots of data from digital speed signs. When Railroad Place is repaved the committee would like to add a crosswalk that extends from Blackwell Avenue to the park.  Hovan said, however, that a crosswalk cannot be built to a curb. Unfortunately, there is nothing the crosswalk can connect to on the park side of the road.

Councilmember Debra Stuhler

  • Recreation committee had met and the Halloween Parade was scheduled for October 30.
  • A Monkeypox vaccination clinic was scheduled for October.
  • The tree committee is meeting soon.
  • She agreed with Kennedy that an ordinance to curb noise and pollution from gas-powered lawn equipment was in order.

Councilmember David Mackie

  • The last PFOS was within the normal range after having the first reading in two and a half years that was high, and the next level is due in November.

The next Council meeting is scheduled for November 3 at 7pm

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