At his month’s two Hopewell Township Committee meetings, Committee member John Hart forwarded a plan to the Committee to put senior and community centers on the land and buildings recently left vacant by the Hopewell Valley Golf Club.
Hart’s plan would turn the golf club’s former clubhouse into a senior center, with either the maintenance building or the eighteenth fairway turned into a community center that can utilize the facility’s pools, tennis courts, and paddleball courts. According to Hart, funds reserved for a senior center from both Hopewell and Pennington Boroughs, as well as an agreement with the Watershed Institute to purchase part of the property, could make the renovations possible without taxpayer dollars.
Currently, the Township plans to build its senior center on the Zaitz property located behind ShopRite off of the Pennington Circle Hart argued that the Zaitz area is currently a “blank lot” compared to the golf club’s pre-existing facilities and that the golf club property could also be leased to provide a revenue stream to the Township.
“If we can get that without using any tax dollars, because I don’t like using tax dollars for something, we could possibly renovate that into a senior center/community center,” Hart said.
“[Township CFO Elaine Borges] gave me some numbers and it can be done without any tax dollars.”
Hart estimated that $30,000 to $50,000 for a new well, $150,000 for irrigation repairs and $100,00 for a new bridge would be needed. According to Hart, each of the contributing boros has $500,000 to contribute.
“We have enough [money] plus extra,” Hart said.
Other members of the Committee were more speculative of Hart’s plan, raising concerns about the location and the amount of money needed.
Community development director Mark Katrinyiak raised numerous concerns about the amount of work needed and space provided by the clubhouse, with current senior services split between a 900-square foot senior center and the municipal building, which offers a 1400-square foot auditorium and a courtroom that is roughly half the size of the auditorium. In comparison, the clubhouse would offer a 1470-square foot space albeit with multiple levels and a working elevator.
Hart argued that the elevator would open up the additional levels of the clubhouse to seniors and that the current senior center has “no atmosphere to it.”
“It’s like a senior home, not a senior center,” Hart said. “If you fix it up and put some paint on it, it’s still going to be a small little house.”
Katrinyiak raised other concerns, such as the current parking lot, which he described as “in pretty rough shape,” not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and 350 feet away from the clubhouse. Additionally, Katrinyiak noted that the clubhouse currently uses a septic tank system for waste disposal, while a more frequently used facility like a senior center may require a sewer system.
According to Katrinyiak, the site would require approximately 12,000 feet of sewer which could cost between four to six million dollars, if the current septic system was deemed inadequate. The Zaitz tract, on the other hand, would have sewer access supplied by Lennar Homes and result in little to no cost to the Township.
Other Committee members expressed concerns about buying a golf club which has seen multiple owners and failed to turn a profit over the last few years.
“The facts are, what we are debating, is if the Township should buy a failed business,” said Deputy Mayor Michael Ruger.
Ruger described Hart’s plan as having “a lot of ‘if’ statements,” such as “if the Watershed will purchase it’s part and if both Boroughs agree to contribute.”
“If all these ‘ifs’ really occur, is there really a revenue stream we can count on?” Ruger said. “The last thing I want to do is set up here and have Pennytown 2019.”
Hart, however, said that the Township is “not in the golf club business” and that the property would be leased to another company who would be responsible for it.
Members of the public weighed-in on Hart’s proposal, offering both positive and negative reactions to it.
Township resident Cathy Kavanaugh supported Hart’s idea, who conducted a local Facebook poll which found that out of 278 respondents, 92% supported the idea of using the golf club.
“I haven’t spoken to one resident in support of building a senior center in the most dangerous area of roadway in the three municipalities,” Kavanaugh said. “No one wants to see a beautiful property bulldozed down and made into houses.”
Township resident Mike Kiernan felt otherwise though, referencing the Township’s purchase of Pennytown as a predictor for the golf club’s future.
“Pump the brakes a little bit on the golf course,” Kiernan said.
While the Committee did not agree on purchasing the golf club and reusing it, they did agree that the golf club should be preserved in some way. Mayor Kristin McLaughlin explained the two issues present: preserving the golf club’s land and getting a new senior center, and that the two could perhaps be solved separately.
“I’m not sure that moving the senior center [to the golf club] is the right thing to do to accomplish the second part of [the issue], which is preserving it,” McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin did note that the Committee had more time to explore all options, with no formal action taken on Hart’s plan and further research to be conducted.