Home » Hopewell Borough Council Deliberates Controversial Hopewell 57 Redevelopment

Hopewell Borough Council Deliberates Controversial Hopewell 57 Redevelopment

by Aaron Twitchell

In what can only be described as a marathon, the Hopewell Borough Council meeting approached the five-hour mark on Monday, July 1 at Borough Hall. Moved to this date on account of Independence Day, the meeting focused on the controversial redevelopment plan at the old Kooltronics site, a plan known officially as Hopewell 57. Despite the heat, Borough Hall was packed with residents and neighbors, while dozens more joined via Zoom, all eager to engage in discussions about the significant planning proposal that could reshape this community.

Council also discussed the water system sale process and voted on the parking ordinance near the Baptist Meetinghouse. For more details on the water system and parking topics, a link will be provided shortly.

Hopewell 57 Redevelopment Plan

Following the Planning Board’s determination that the proposal was not inconsistent with the Master Plan, decision-making power shifted back to the Borough Council. On this hot Monday night, the Council considered whether to approve the site’s designation as an “area in need of redevelopment” including the construction of multifamily housing units, at a rate of 30 units per acre. For more details on the Planning Board’s review, please see HB Planning Board commences Master Plan reexamination and New Hopewell Inn Moves Forward, Planning Board Updates redevelopment Strategy.

Borough Planner Joanna Slagle gave an informative presentation on the redevelopment plan reviewing the ins and outs of the technical designation. Slagle then explained the specifics of a redevelopment plan, which she said aims to “renew sites, bring vitality back to communities, construct new housing, construct new buildings, and… bring [neighborhoods] back to [their] full potential.”  

Slagle touted several benefits of redevelopment in her presentation including: the remediation of contaminated brownfield sites; satisfying affordable housing obligations; diversifying housing stock; and qualification for the PILOT program, which would result in the Borough receiving up to 95% of the payment.

A Brief History of Hopewell 57

Slagle also reminded the audience that in 2015, the Council directed the Planning Board by resolution to review 57 Hamilton (the street address of the Hopewell 57 project). Later in 2016, the Planning Board recommended to Council that the site did meet the criteria for an area in “need of redevelopment,” a designation that Council agreed with, voting to adopt the designation in November of 2016.

Subsequently, Council directed the Planning Board to prepare a redevelopment plan which is now under review and up for approval at this meeting. For MercerMe coverage of the 2016 determination, please see Hopewell Borough finds three areas in need of redevelopment, tasks planning board with crafting plan.

Redevelopment Criteria

Several of the criteria apply to the Borough’s proposed redevelopment. Among them, notable ones include:

  • Proposed land uses;
  • Relationship to the Borough Master Plan (Planning Board already determined that the redevelopment Plan is “not inconsistent” with the Master Plan), and to the plans of the State and “adjoining municipalities;” and
  • Relationship to development regulations of the Borough.

The debate surrounding the redevelopment’s compliance with these criteria has ignited considerable controversy among residents and policymakers.

Redevelopment Goals

Slagle outlined the goals of the redevelopment plan. The degree to which the redevelopment achieves these objectives, and their alignment with the views and values of Borough residents, emerged as another contentious issue during the public comment period. 

The stated goals are:

  • To redevelop the property as an architecturally sensitive multi-family residential development;
  • Complete environmental remediation;
  • To provide new housing and diverse opportunities;
  • To address Hopewell’s affordable housing obligations
  • To create desirable and marketable housing units;
  • To support walkability and reduce traffic impacts;
  • To enhance tax revenue for the Borough;
  • To establish site high-quality building design standards; and
  • To integrate efficient and environmentally sustainable building design “where possible”

Site-Specific Challenges

Following Slagle’s presentation, Council member David Mackie presented a history of the site and reviewed the many challenges facing any kind of redevelopment of the complicated infrastructure.  

The building is the largest structure in Hopewell Borough, clocking in at 1.48 acres or 64,500 square feet although, in his 32 years of living in the Borough, it has never been full, Mackie quipped. 

The remainder of Mackie’s 40-minute presentation focused on the environmental issues facing the site and the ways in which redevelopment would address them.  Mackie explained that the site has been flooded at least twice in recent times during Tropical Storms Henri and Ida although flooding has been an issue there for decades. He concluded with a slide that illustrated the key relationships involved in the redevelopment plan.

Public Response

Public comment was largely, though not exclusively, along geographic lines. A few residents of the wider Borough expressed optimism—if not outright support—for the benefits of a higher-density multifamily residential development, citing everything from the moral rectitude of affordable housing to more diversity. However, comments expressing concern outpaced those in support at a rate that resembled the level of humidity suffered through by New Jerseyans as of late.

For nearly two hours, the public comment period continued into the night. Residents who live nearest the site sought to assuage any fears that they are against affordable housing in concept, but on the question of whether such a development belongs on their street they answered resoundingly in the negative. One person remarked that “everyone is for affordable housing unless it’s on their street.” Whether or not Lafayette Street. residents would agree with such an assertion, they maintained their opposition to “the scale” of the redevelopment. One individual called to mind the new apartment complex near the Princeton Shopping Center which, she pointed out, is less dense than the 130 units in Hopewell 57 proposal. 

Other concerns dominating discussion included 1) the math of the PILOT program and whether or not it shakes out for the Borough and its schools; 2) the scale of the environmental issues, and, 3) arguably the strongest concern of the evening – traffic. 

Inquiring about traffic, Hart Avenue resident Andrew Lloyd suggested a traffic study be done and communicated to Borough residents. Another commenter suggested connecting Somerset Street with Kings Path, a musing that represented the lengths to which folks might be willing to go to avoid what residents fear will be an insurmountable increase in traffic.

Mayor Kennedy’s recusal raised at least one pair of eyebrows as a woman asked why he was not in attendance. As she had been leading the proceedings of that particular agenda item, Councilmember Krista Weaver reiterated that Mayor Kennedy was only absent for the Hopewell 57 Redevelopment Plan discussion and vote, citing “professional conflicts.”

After more than 2 ½ hours, public discussion was closed and the resolution moved to a vote. With four members of Council voting in favor, the redevelopment plan was approved. Only Heidi Wilenius, who serves on the Economic Development Committee, expressed continued concerns and, saying she “just isn’t there yet,” voted no.

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