Hopewell Borough Planning Board talks long about redevelopment of lumber yard

Model Ave lumberyard

The Hopewell Borough Planning Board resumed in-person meetings on April 6 for the first time since the pandemic began. The Board started their meeting by approving several vouchers, before opening the discussion to public comment. 

The Board then approved the demolition of an historic barn from the 1880’s in the rear lot of 31 Columbia Avenue, because it was beyond repair and a potential hazard. The Board also approved the addition of a garage and mudroom that matches the home at 70 East Prospect Avenue, and the demolition of a garage and installation of dormers, siding, and windows at 2 Voorhees. 

A proposal to demolish a one-car garage and side carport to be replaced with a larger garage and carport at 8 Ege Avenue was brought before the Board for a third time. The homeowner revised the plans for siding and carriage doors, and the plan was approved this time contingent on the applicant securing the appropriate zoning approval. 

The Board began hearing plans to redevelop the lumberyard at 24 Model Avenue to townhomes. Applicant Henry “Hank” Wittman III testified that he purchased the property with plans to make custom homes sixteen years ago, but the real estate market deteriorated. Instead, his son began running the lumberyard, and turned it into a successful business venture. Now he hopes to redevelop the site into three-bedroom homes with an open-concept interior and a first floor master bedroom. 

George Folk, engineer, testified that the site will have a driveway that snakes around five units on the right side, four on the left side, with rain gardens in front that bring mpervious coverage down to 50%. The design meets all stormwater and groundwater requirements. 

“Half of the property will be green. It’s a net gain for local area landscaping,” said Folk. 

The development will have LED lights with shields designed so that each lens reflects light away, which is modeled after the lighting at the nearby park. The lighting will have no impact on neighbors. Several Board members questioned whether a proposed 48” X 30” sign reading “The Yard” in the development would be appropriate in Hopewell Borough. 

Gary Dean, Traffic Engineer, testified that the redevelopment was a “Golden Unicorn” in that it transforms a busy and noisy lumberyard into residential units that fit better in the neighborhood while cutting traffic by half. 

Dean testified that the proposed development provided more than the spaces required, “We have 41 parking spaces on site, plus six on-street, so functionally, we have 47 parking spaces.”

Dean testified that the development had walkability and all apartments had easy access to the sidewalk on Model Avenue. The design of the entry and large driveways leaves plenty of room for garbage and delivery trucks to navigate entering and exiting the area.

Steve Tuorto, Director of Science and Stewardship at The Watershed, testified, “This is a ‘Golden Unicorn’ for us as well….This is a huge win for us.”

Tuorto has been working with Rutgers and the applicant, designing the most optimal landscaping for the project. Even at the capacity of a two-year storm, the proposed landscaping has overperformed. The amount of trees, shrubbery, and grass are going to be increased with the landscaping of the development as it replaces the lumberyard.  

Sang-Yee K. Rummler, architect with Minno and Wasko, testified about the design of the development. All homes will face Model Avenue, and will include townhomes running in size from 2,600 to 3,000 square feet in size. Two affordable housing units will be located in the back that are 1,400 square feet each. 

Rummler said the design “drew inspiration from the Borough’s beautiful, traditional home’s porches, stoops, shutters, and bay windows.”

Rummler said the homes are two and a half stories tall, and are an elegant proportion within the street and courtyard. The development is high-end, and the construction gives the sense of belonging to the neighborhood. 

Allison Baxter, chair of the Hopewell Borough Historic Preservation Commission, said the commission had two major concerns. She said this type of project is not one that is typical in the Borough, and it does not have the uniform design of other townhomes. The townhome structures have differing coverings or roof styles. The townhomes will be a mixture of stucco, siding, and brick, and the roofs will be shingled or metal. 

Baxter said her second issue was that each front door is 11 feet high. She said it has a very odd look with the sloped yards, which gives it a much more urban appearance. 

Witten disputed that the door height was unusual for the Borough, and he submitted several photographs that he had taken within the Borough of similar door heights on homes and businesses in town. 

“We need HVC to review it again,” said Baxter, “It’s a little more fancy than the simple structures on Model.” 

The Board opened the meeting up to public comment as it was nearing 10pm. 

Beth Miko, 27 Model Ave, said, “I live directly across the street from the lumberyard. Looking at a tower of a building, it’s a little stressful-feeling to me. Will the front door be level to the second storey of my house?”

“Yes,” Rummler responded.

“I think that is a little weird,” said Miko. 

Peter Mehltretter, a local architect on Center Street, asked, “Are you using 3D modeling software? Could you bring a model view of the southwest corner unit so the Board can see the high door is not such a good idea?” 

Mehltretter then inquired about the plans to reduce the water runoff onto adjacent properties, and about the close proximity of the affordable units to the tracks. 

The applicant’s team answered that the project was going to collect a large percentage more rainwater, even in two-year and ten-year floods. As for the affordable units, they are actually the same distance from the tracks as units for sale. 

Tom Sandford of 34 Model Avenue said that the way that the property is graded caused considerable drainage to his property to the west of the lumberyard, and he wanted to know how the construction would prevent water from draining off a new two and a half story structure and onto his property. 

The team responded that the landscaping and drainage would prevent that, and even in times when the system is overwhelmed, the system will compensate for the excess water. 

Boris Kaplan of 15 Model Avenue asked, “what is the width of the road going in? And how will large UPS trucks turn around if driveways are full?”

The team responded that even in the unusual event that every driveway was full, a box truck could still have room to turn around in the development. 

Kaplan then asked if the units would have basements, if the basements would be equipped with sump pumps, and if so, where the water from sump pumps would drain. 

The team has not decided if the units will have basements, but if they do, they will be equipped with sump pumps that drain into the properties drainage system. 

The Board closed public comment and closed the meeting with a consent to return on May 4 to continue hearing the redevelopment plans for the lumberyard property on Model. 

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