Zoning and potential development in the Scotch Road area has been an ongoing discussion for years in Hopewell Township. Last week, the Hopewell Township planning board continued to discuss possible changes, specifically to the east side of Scotch Road surrounding the Merrill Lynch and Capital Health Hospital campuses.
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Most recently, the Township planning board held three meetings to review changes to the Township’s Master Plan for the east side of Scotch Road, including discussing a potential senior center and also the property’s role in satisfying the Township’s affordable housing obligation.
The owner of a majority of the undeveloped land off of Scotch Road in Hopewell Township appeared before the planning board in August for an informal “conceptual review,” asking for guidance as to whether the board would consider permitting an assisted living/continuum care use, in collaboration with Capital Health. At that meeting, dozens of Hopewell Valley senior citizens attended to find out the future of the property which surrounding the long-promised future location of the Hopewell Valley Senior Center.
Currently, the planning board is considering refining the permissible uses on the east side of Scotch Road through potential amendments to the Township Master Plan for that section of the Township.
“We have investigated the area around Scotch Road over the last 4 or 5 years in varying degrees — in a very macro way and a more micro way,” said Hopewell Township’s planner Frank Banisch at the October 19 planning board meeting. “We came through a process that concluded that we were not going to arrive at changes to the zoning on the west side of Scotch Road that we could all agree on in the near term. And we also found that there was a lot support for changes on the east side of Scotch Road that would reinforce, supplement and make more vital what we already have as the assets on that side. And that we would do it, in part, with uses — residential and non-residential uses — that supplement and support the hospital, the subsidiary uses around the hospital — filling in the blanks to a certain extent.”
“On the east side, … the purpose of this [new proposed Office Park-1/OP-1] zone is to have a walkable, mixed used setting that combines regional office and limited retail and service uses — health care, wellness, multiple family housing and later in life continuum care facilities, forming a synergistic relationship where highway access makes it appropriate for mixed-use center,” explained Banisch.
“We’re really not trying to change the great thing we already have. We are trying to make sure that to the extent that more development happens in and around Merrill Lynch and Capital Health, that it is reinforcing and supportive and permitted by our ordinance,” Banisch continued. “What that requires us to do is add the uses.” Some of these include residential apartments, restaurants, fitness center, hotel, barber and beauty salon, retail not exceeding 15,000 square feet, and independent living units, assisted living units, memory care, skilled nursing beds and related elements in the continuum of later life care, according to the memo prepared by planner Banisch dated October 27, 2016.
Discussion at the October 19 meeting touched on a possible senior center, with Planning Board Chairwoman Karen Murphy inquiring whether the senior center could happen if the board is opening up uses and the currently private roads become public. Mayor Kevin Kuchinski informed the board, at that time, that one of the current owners posed some objection to the roads being public, so the Township is still working on the matter.
The board clarified the lot lines between OP and OP1 on the east side, at a very brief October 27 meeting, and edited some of the descriptive introductary verbiage. At the close of the meeting, the board appeared to come to a vote however the Township has since indicated that the action was “more of a poll than a vote… to see if there was agreement on the final form of the amendment. Notice, as required by law, was not given for the 10/27 meeting so a formal vote could not have occurred” according to a statement given to MercerMe by a Township representative.
At the following meeting, on November 17, in a packed room of concerned residents, board chairwoman Murphy responded to public concern that the board had acted without proper notice or has been acting too quickly, “We are not trying to sneak anything by any member of the pubic. No one was at the last meeting but we expected and hoped people would have been — we encourage public comment. We have been talking about this for over 2 years and this is not something we started talking about last month… We have studied the area and we have a landowner that wants to build assisted living and senior center on the campus. We, as a planning board, have found it a good use for the site.”
“This [issue of amending the master plan] was because the developer heard the conversations and realized the planning board might be in favor of assisted living on this site,” continued Murphy. “There are certain procedures that have to happen for them to do that. The planning board has the responsibility to plan and the planning board cannot prevent development — it just plans for development where we want it.”
“We are not approving additional development but what the approved development can look like,” added board member Paul Kiss.
Several members of the public addressed the potential senior center. “This rezoning hearing is not being driven by the lack of a senior hut,” said Hopewell Township resident and former mayor Harvey Lester. “At the senior advisory board, there was a suggestion that the seniors will be happy because they are one step closer to hut. But it is not true. It is a concept that has been discussed since 2013 but rezoning does not have to occur for the seniors to get the hut.”
Senior Advisory Chair Larry Mansier and his wife Madeline both spoke about their frustration. “I’ve been part of the conservation now since 2002 searching for this thing,” said Larry Mansier.
In response to comments on COAH and whether the Township should wait for a decision on its affordable housing numbers, Chairwoman Murphy said, “Just because don’t know what the obligation is, doesn’t mean we can’t plan… We can plan on our own terms on our own timetable.”
Board member Marylou Ferrara indicated an interest in promoting more development on the east side rather than the west but wants to see a ratio of residential to commercial.
The planning board will continue the hearing at the December 8th planning board meeting and plans to formally vote on whether to adopt the changes to the master plan. If the planning board takes that action, the Township Committee would then have the option of considering a revision to the Township’s zoning ordinance at a future meting.
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