Hopewell Township Committee Expands BMS Land Use Ordinance

Packed house at Township Committee meeting (photo credit: Laurie Cleveland)

The Hopewell Township Committee, at its meeting Monday night, passed an amendment to the land use ordinance pertaining to the Bristol-Meyers Squibb (BMS) property located on Pennington Rocky Hill Road, in anticipation of BMS’s departure from the facility in 2020. The ordinance now allows for production of “medicine, pharmacology, and biologics” as well as to permit multiple owners to subdivide the parcel.

The original amendment, which permitted “chemical, physics, and engineering production at the site,” was changed after public comments. The amendment, although deemed “technically inconsistent” with the Township’s master plan by the planning board at their June 12 meeting, was passed the Board and sent to the Township Committee for further approval.
Mayor Kristin McLaughlin, who addressed a full room of local residents including doctors, environmentalists, and long-time Hopewell citizens, said that the amendment makes “good business sense,” helping fill the upcoming six percent tax void left by BMS’s departure, and asserted that the environmental risks were negligible.

“It’s the neighbor to my neighborhood,” McLaughlin said of the BMS site. “These changes do not jeopardize the health or safety of my family or others.”

Community Development Director Mark Katrinyiak, echoing McLaughlin’s sentiments, said that the remoteness of the site is “self limiting” and the site “[doesn’t] have the infrastructure here that’ll support a large scale operation.”

Members of the public disagreed however, criticizing the lack of environmental impact studies, the anticipated increase in traffic and trucks brought in by a potential manufacturer, and a lack of notice to the community.

Jim Waltman, executive director of the Watershed Institute, criticized the broad language in the original amendment, saying that it “could authorize any number of unintended activities that could bring unintended consequences.”

“What could not be allowed on this site under this language?” Waltman said.

Waltman continued, stating that a manufacturing facility could bring in 50 [trips] a day* filled with “who knows what” and that the Committee is assuming a “best case scenario.”

Dr. Jeffery Nau, president and CEO of Oyster Point Pharmaceuticals in Princeton, said that Committee’s education on the topic was “not quite adequate.”

“This Committee needs someone to educate them on the pharmaceutical manufacturing practices,” Nau said.

Nau additionally noted that the current BMS facility is a research and development facility with very little manufacturing while the proposed changes could bring in larger manufacturers with larger risks.

“My company would never manufacture on that site,” Nau said.

Joseph Lawver, mayor of Pennington Borough, criticized the lack of notice, only learning of the proposed ordinance change last Thursday.

“To say you’ve been working collaboratively with your neighbors is not an accurate statement,” Lawver said. “Pause. Seek greater community input on solving this problem.”

Lawver stated additional traffic concerns for Pennington, citing that a truck on Main Street takes a full light cycle to go through and that the potential 50 trucks the site could bring in would cause further issues.

Hopewell Township resident Harvey Lester called the amendment “rushed, sloppy, and thoughtless,” criticizing the Committee’s lack of notice and transparency.

“Every time I think this Committee is less transparent, you go and do something less transparent,” Lester said. “Had the planning board had the benefit of this crowd, I feel we wouldn’t be standing here at this time.”

Lester furthermore criticized the lack of environmental impact studies, stating that there was no environmental, water table, or risk analyses. 

“You have rockstars in their field in this audience, and you’re going to presume to tell them about their fields of expertise,” Lester said. “You don’t know what you’re doing and you don’t know that you don’t know what you’re doing.”

The Committee responded, citing the six percent tax void BMS will leave and the need to find a new developer soon.

“We have to find a way to keep that stable rateable,” Committee member John Hart said. “We need to calm down a little and reword this a little bit.”

Hart additionally stated that he has a “personal crusade” to find a single owner for the property, rather than dividing it among multiple tenants, with a potential biologics company in Oregon interested.

“We need to get something started to get it marketed,” Hart said. “Taxes are going up… we don’t need another hit.”

After a recess, the Committee reconvenied with changes to the amendment, removing the allowance of chemistry, physics, and engineering manufacturing on the site, as well as “related fields.” The current amendment will still allow medicine, pharmacology and biologics to be produced, as well as multiple owners on multiple parcels, although McLaughlin called these restrictions “considerably tighter.”

With the changes to the amendment, the Committee voted universally in favor of the changes to the ordinance.

The Committee’s next meeting is scheduled for July 1.

Edited 6/27/19: The Watershed inadvertently posted information that indicated that the ordinance changes could call for “50 trucks per day” but should be “50 trips per day.”

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