Hopewell Borough Council is deliberating the next steps in designating certain areas in Borough limits as “in need of redevelopment.” Yet another milestone was been achieved earlier this month when the Planning Board passed a resolution determining that all properties in the three areas referred by the governing body meet the statutory criteria.
The investigation encompasses three segments in the Borough:
- “Area A” 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,” the former Kooltronic site;
- “Area B” 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;
- “Area C” comprised of the Van Doren Lumber site, located at 24 Model Avenue, which was added at the request of the property owner.
Over the course of this year, the Planning Board held public hearings at the Council’s direction to investigate whether the three areas should be considered “in need of redevelopment.” Designation of an area as “in need of redevelopment” is a legal land-use term that is essentially like rezoning, explained Hopewell Borough Planning Board attorney, Christopher H. DeGrezia at the August hearing. 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.
Procedurally, the following flow chart redevelopment planning.
Currently, Hopewell Borough is between steps 4 and 5 on this chart with the Planning Board having completed its hearings and made its recommendation. The “governing body” is the Hopewell Borough Council which began its discussions of the findings last Thursday, at the October 6, 2016 Borough Council meeting.
“The final report by the Planning Board concludes that the areas in the A, B, and C properties all meet the statutory criteria that would allow us to use the state redevelopment law should we choose to,” explained Councilman David Mackie, who is also the Council representative who sits on the Planning Board. “The Council has an option to act on all, part, or none of these recommendations. After some discussion, we should decide the extent of which area we want a redevelopment plan developed.”
“There is a sense that we are targeting properties for a wrecking ball,” Mackie continued. “However, it is really an alternative to rezoning… This is a longer-term comprehensive approach and you can make redevelopment as precribtive or as flexible as you want it to be — it allows you to have more direct discussions with property owners during this process an about what people want to see. This only works if there is a framework that is reasonable and functional… It is important that you are not overly prescriptive that precludes opportunities beneficial to the Borough. The most important benefit is to foster a protracted conversation with a lot of input.”
Being in the “redevelopment” area does not mean that the area is immediately slated for development. Even if a property is in the plan, the current use can continue onward without interference. And the process can take a couple of years with many opportunities to participate through public meetings, Mackie explained. Beyond having more control over what kinds of development can occur in particular areas of the Borough, the benefit also includes tax benefits for the Borough and land owners.
With Borough Mayor Paul Anzano not being present at this Council meeting, the Council decided to discuss the matter but not act. Councilman Sky Morehouse asked about projected costs and costs-to-date for the redevelopment process and, according to Michele Hovan, Borough Municipal Clerk, it has cost $12,000 so far.
The next step is for the Council to either accept in whole or part, or reject the Planning Board’s recommendations by resolution and then task the planning board to develop a redevelopment plan for all or some (or none) of the areas. Hovan also explained that the Council can also specifically asked for a plan for one particular area at a time if that is desired. Under NJSA 40A:12A-5, the decision would be approved by resolution and, at a later stage when and if a redevelopment plan is developed, that would require approval by ordinance.
The Borough Council intends to continue the discussion at the next Council meeting with Borough Planner Frank Banisch present to again review the process in more detail. The next meeting is Thursday November 3 at 7pm at the Hopewell Borough Town Hall.