We’re here live at the Hopewell Township planning board meeting as the planning board holds meeting #2 of the 3 public hearings it will conduct regarding the master plan revisions for what is referred to as the “Scotch Rd” area, also the vicinity of the Merrill Lynch campus in Hopewell Township. For our previous coverage of the subject, check THESE out. REFRESH this page to read in real-time what transpires at the meeting.
OVERVIEW OF PROCESS AND PROCEDURE
(Frank Banisch, Township planner) A master plan is the big picture view of the town’s feature of the growth and infrastructure investments looking at demographics, housing, etc. and the master plan provides proposals for all of that. it also provides the legal basis under NJ law that allows the Township to zone. It also provides a unifying vision.
Differente beween master plan and zoning: master plan is general and also exclusively by the planning board not ratified whereas the zoning is governed by the governing body. Master plan provides presumptive validty to zoning ordinances
When will traffic, open space, etc be addressed? The general practice is that the planning board creates language for guidance to the governing body and then the ordinances that flow from this are under the spirit of that language. The governing body can direct an agent to provide an amendment to the zoning and then act on the zoning board. Planning board adopts master plan, governing body adopts the zoning ordinances.
The master plan is not about traffic or open space.
The planning board adoptions can be rejected by the governing body.
Impacts: there are standards for the # of trips generated by certain types of property (office or residential) but the trips cannot be assigned in a precise way ahead of time based on the information in the master plan nor could the master plan dictate what this will do. This will be refined once the composition is determined and the developer proposes something specific.
Planning board efforts: many documents, presentations, experts have been reviewed and retained.
Procedure: We’re at the public hearing portion –> planning board adopts or doesn’t adopt the master plan –> Township committee will prepare or ask planning board to prepare a draft ordinance which will result in another public hearing with comment regarding the proposal –> Township will adopt, modify or reject the plan
Back to reviewing what the planning board considered in this process: Showed pictures of the study area and talked about planning board and planner analysis. Looked at existing zoning and that the OP zoning was crafted as part of settlements guaranteeing a certain magnitude of office development. And talked about the existing land use character (suburban residential character), the office footprints, light industrial and small commercial areas as well as reviewed the undisturbed areas. Bound by major regional highway, railroad and municipal buildings to identify boundaries. Showed slide with agricultural and woodland conservation with the intention of substantial wildwlife habitat preservation with the retaining of woodlands. Views this as a more compact development with less sprawl and single use development with surrounding natural features prized by the Township.
The OP area would be broader with a broader aray of health care and technology uses to support Capital Health and Merrill Lynch properties. The PUD would collect development rights from the conservation area for a compact format to allow for preservation of the green areas.
The sewer services would happen in 2 phases so the development would be phased with that sewer service expansion. Phase 1 in the North brings in Township owned property for affordable housing and requires sewer service for that. The model would allow for green areas surrounding the development.
… Non-continguous clustering; transferring of development rights… Talked about Mount Olive moved development rights to other pieces; NJ NOW allows separate owners to transfer development rights between different developers on non-continguos tracts. There is a “sending area” that the Township wants to protect, which is the green spaces. Showed slide illustrating this.
Talked about the attractiveness of multi-use properties.
QUESTIONS FROM STONYBROOK-MILLSTONE WATERSHED ASSOCIATION / ANSWERS FROM HOPEWELL TOWNSHIP
1) What is the square footage of currently allowable but yet developed and how much of this is on either side of Scotch Rd? Karen Murphy answered that simply put, existing development on east side is 1.25 million square feet leaving almost 1.4 million square feet yet to be development on east and west side; there can be up to 1 million on the west side;
2) What is the anticipated acreage of site disturbance? Permitted impervious coverage is 50% under current zoning.
3) How much of the 340 acres is developed and how much is developable? Karen Murphy, planning board chair, said that Capital Health has 700,000 square feet left more that can be built. With Merrill Lynch properties, it is hard to say because of the way the settlement that is flexible, says Paul P, Township Administrator and Engineer. Murphy said that the question was about acreage rather than square footage and the question is about wetlands — how much land can be developed that isn’t wetlands?
4) Will the impervious surfaces be less with the changes? Originally at 50% coverage and now the current plan is 50% conserved as preserved. The new plan uses only 50% of the land and also accommodates affordable housing that won’t have to be placed elsewhere.
5) Acreage of continguous area? 300-350 on the west side and 100 on the east side.
6) Number of Affordable Housing Units? Aiming for higher than standard builder’s remedies. Typically it is 5 to 1. Still at 20%? But this doesn’t happen in the master plan — this happens in zoning.
Ron Morgan, planning board attorney, says that that master plan has to address the affordable housing. Anxiously waiting to find out what the new numbers are and the 20% for sale (and 15% for rental) has been upheld by the Supreme Court in the March decision of this year.
WHY THIS PROCESS IS HAPPENING/COMMENTS FROM PLANNING BOARD MEMBERS
Belmont: The reason why we’re going through this exercise is about the settlement with the Merrill Lynch properties. This choice to keep these properties as farmland has already been decided by that settlement.
Paul P answered: The reason why the planning board is hearing this is because a developer asked to review the settlement agreement and the consideration continued because of a holistic approach. Historically speaking, the date was 2004 for the settlement agreement from a lawsuit filed against Hopewell Township changing the zoning.
Lester: We have a choice to determine whether we want to participate with current developers.
Muprhy: We do and that’s why we’re looking at it.
Parker: While this is a long way to meeting the COAH obligation, this is the most important point and why we see this opportunity as the best way to meet the obligation. In considering these issues, we thought long and hard — we do not see any other opportunities that come close to making a dent into this obligation. This is one of the overriding factors and this cannot be ignored. What has made this frustrating is the lack of numbers from COAH. It may seem absurd but most of us are convinced the numbers won’t reduce over time.
<<Public outcries about being tired of waiting for the public hearing portion of the meeting.>>
Clarke: Talked about parts of the plan that talks about the less desirability of the suburban developments and the preference for more mixed use/urban areas. We should be clinging to our differences. Thinks that the Princeton/Tech/Pharma corridor is potentially more desirable subset of Mercer County which is doing very well. Since we started discussing this and the death of the office complex, Bristol Myers is building a new office building. Clarke questioned the expertise of Otteau, the property expert who provided guidance to the planning board. Talked about how there is no data provided about the quality of the school district and offered concern about attracting school-aged children to our town for our schools who will live in the apartment buildings. Wants to make sure the Township discovers the current demographics before going forward. With regarding to declining school enrollment trends, it isn’t the worst thing in the world to have too much space for a few years. Needs clear guidelines and mandates. Thinks the timing is terrible. We are under a court settlement that has 3 years left. We don’t want a planning board remedy that is worst than the builder’s remedy.
Swanson: Wants to know whether Clarke thinks the Township should consider transferring the obligations.
Clarke: We can’t figure things out when we only know 15% of the facts. We don’t know the rules. If COAH is the driving force, it seems crazy to go forward when things are in such a disarray.
Lester: Thinks it is premature. The language of the proposed amendment strikes him as alarmist in nature. Suggesting edits to the document particularly with regard to preferences of millennials.
Belmont: Concerned about property taxes increasing because we have not focused on ratables.
Kiss: Comments / edits for document. Talked about whether the necessity about having the exact heights of the buildings — perhaps should identify that the goal is density rather than spread — the purpose of the property is to make sure it is compact.
Robert Baranowski, lawyer represents owners of the properties at the southeast Scotch Road corner: Here to reiterate to work with township to make sure businesses within the conservation area are treated fairly.
Mike Kuzma, Hopewell Township resident: Giving up rights. We all have affordable housing. We didn’t elect the Supreme Court. Property owner ran the risk of not making as much money when he bought it. Just say no. Do something off of Route 31. We keep talking about expanding — we have plenty of places we can visit. What is wrong with keeping it the way it is. Why can’t be greenbelt it?
Elton Clark: Says that he is a millenial who moved back because he loves who Hopewell is. The planning document should be what we see as the vision of our community not what someone else wants to impose on us.
James Taylor: Joked that he is really boring and wears a suit because he likes to. He dreams in regression analysis. This is not a village, this is an urban center. If the board sensibly and correctly says that they can’t do a traffic analysis, but what you can do look at the proposal and take the most conservative numbers out there and the conservative traffic trip data. Looking at the smallest # of proposed houses 1500 at 200,000 –> 8,400 trips per peak hour just on retail and the smallest number of houses. He look the lowest numbers. It does not include the other traffic generated by “offices and office parks including businesses, laboratories, medical training, etc.” The current roads are designed for low traffic use. 8,400 trips is comparable to exceed the 3-27x what the infrastructure was designed for at maximum capacity. The infrastructure in place is utterly insufficient.
He has all the data that will be publicly available and all the sources are publicly available.
Says that he lives on Washington Crossing Road. He talked about what the Township existing documents call for in terms of ensure the preservation of Township character. Thinks that the current plans go against the 2002 land use plan.
Says there is no data on what appeals to millennial and babyboomers. Building Hopewell’s Future Together on savescotchrd.org and will be on Facebook at Neighbors at Scotch Road.
Ed Kashmire: Says that nothing was true in Frank Banisch’s report and wants to know who is paying him. (Answer by Murphy: Mr. Banisch is the Township’s land planner. When an application is reviewed, then the planner is payed through that application.) Wants to know why the Township should be in a hurry to make sure that the developers will make money.
Heidi Wilenius: Wants to know whether millenials want to live in a fake town dropped in the middle of a field. Spoke about a report that James Taylor found that 34% of millenials wants to live in a city neighborhood outside of downtown and 19% want to live in towns and 14% want to live in downtown or near downtown…. and then 11% want to live in a new-purpose built suburb which is the second from the bottom (the bottom being a rural area). If you say that Hopewell Township is entirely rural, this would only be a slight improvement. This seems based on unclear data. And then when looking at the data about baby boomers, they are doing everything they can to stay in place.
Wants to know why they are trying to make the community something that it is not.
Murphy: “We’re not trying to change the character of the Township (lots of booming and laughing). We are trying to preserve the character. If not here, where? The housing has to go somewhere. If not here, where?”
Wilenius: Wants to do what is right for the Township. None of us know what the COAH obligation is.
Murphy: There is an obligation.
<<YELLING.>> <<By what date? When? 20 years?>>> <<CLAPPING>>
Carol Hager: Wants to know who financed the report. Wants to know why the developer is paying for the report when this isn’t an application.
Banisch: Says that he works for the planning board. <<Yelling from the audience.>> Paul: CF Hopewell filed an application and then they were advised that the escrow account would be extended to pay for these types of things. Murphy: Explained that the developer never gave direction to provide any part of this. All of these things came at the direction of the board. Paul: the establishment of escrow accounts is very clearly laid out in municipal land use law and has been used and continues to be used. This is an extension of an ongoing review of a plan that has been submitted. Murphy: there is an application that has been rejected but that the planning board is continuing to look at what started at the request of the applicant.
Harold, on Reed Rd: Issue with traffic and has an issue with Frank Banisch. Talked about c-1 streams and buffers. Talked about the sewer service problems and suggests that this development should go to Trenton or Ewing where there is sewer available. We’re building a city where there is no infrastructure or need.
Lou…: Spent 10 years in Brandon Farms in an affordable housing unit and now lives in Titusville. If the master plan is our long term vision, this step tonight could end this process and to change it now is short-sighted. The developers bought it as an office park. No one seemed to address the historical significance of this area. This is Washington Crossing. This IS America. Wants to know the costs of emergency services and spoke about how Ewing is building up to the border. We don’t need retail now. Times have changed.
“I understand your pressures is because of COAH obligations. You guys are trying to find a place to put our requirements but we don’t know what the requirements are. We should be suing COAH to give us a number because they are wasting our time to comply with a requirement that they can’t identify. This will buy you more time to investigate areas in the northern areas in town, the southern part is overly dense…. You can tell from the striking of the adverbs that the report was paid for by the developer.”
Annie Saunders: “I speak for myself and myself alone and no organization I spend my time with. ‘Our fair share.’ COAH was created in response to Fair Housing act because of intention discrimination. We’re not doing that here in Hopewell. We’ve already built our “fair share.” We have no exclusionary zoning. I moved here because I was bowled over by the green space and now when you get off 95 and Brandon Farms etc and now I take Scotch Road rather than take RT 31. When we talk about the right thing to do, I urge you to push back to say that we have already built our fair share.”
Mike K: Not concerned with the funding of the report. He hopes that the report doesn’t reflect the desires of the developers. And he is worried that this reflects the desires of the board.
Ray Nichols: Moved here from Ewing for the schools. One of the things he learned in real estate, if you buy bald? land, you’re making a risky investment. Talked about the history of the Merrill Lynch property. Asks the planning board give the planner more direction about what the public wants. Would rather see you devote your time to building on the Pennytown tract.
Ed Kashmire: If we have to do COAH, why does it have to be in one spot? Let’s think about what is possible using 3-4 pieces of land.
Jennifer Curtis, Hopewell Borough: Lived in West Windsor. Do not fight what your obligations are. West Windsor did and we had no say. After the community of West Windsor thought they were above the obligations, they had very upsetting results.
Paul: Bought in the Township at what was basically affordable housing. Has a polluted well and the sewer project was cancelled to prevent build-up in the southern tier of the Township. “You’re focusing on one area. There are horse farms in the north that could use housing.”
Carol Hager: Supports what Larry Clarke said at the earlier meeting. Talked about school demographics and school enrollment — some board members said that it would not effect schools while others say that it would replenish the schools. Would like to see whether it will add kids to school or not. Titusville is a magic place.
Mark Fuller: Moved here 10 years ago because he wanted to be in a rural setting. The report has no negatives outlined — wants a balanced report for/against the change. He says that is a scientist and has to cite his sources. The report appears one sided. Wants a report that does not take assumptions. Wants another independent consultant to look at the information if there are deep pockets from the developers.
Mark Solomon, represents CF Hopewell and is a resident of Hopewell: “When we showed up last year, it was for something wholly different and what was stated here tonight was accurate. the board rejected that proposal. the work product is not our work product and we’ve been sitting on the sidelines and reading the data in the same real-time as when the public gets it.” Talked about ratables and the future of the properties in the area.
Julie Sessory: Provides unique perspective, 27 years old. Has friends of all different backgrounds all over the place. A few of her friends who are just starting out and want to be here, can’t live here because they can’t afford it. Thinks there should be a little more affordable housing. People who are her age don’t have the money their parents did. Isn’t wanting to create a place that creates traffic that the area can’t support but it seems shortsighted and a quick fix.
Heidi W: Wanted to state for the record — supports the concepts of affordable housing. Need to wisely distribute the housing so we don’t create more congestion than any one area can handle.
Jim Waltman, executive director of Stonybrook-Millstone Watershed Association: Lives in Hopewell Boro but loves Hopewell Valley deeply. What triggered this process was a request from a landowner. He doesn’t mean to condemn it and thanks Frank and Paul for their own and knows them to be fine professionals, as is everyone on the planning board. There is no rush. There is no responsibility to do anything but be deliberate and make sure that the data is available. We don’t know the obligation yet. The board owes it to the questioners and itself to get the answers to itself.
There are things in the document that he strongly endorses — the intersection of environment, social, and economic. The Watershed evaluates the environmental impact and Walkman says that they have been trying to assess that relative to the impact under a different kind of zoning under a different master plan. Appreciates the response from Paul P. Doesn’t think the questions have been fully answered.
The document says that there are 340 acres on the east side of Scotch Rd that are developed already or at are still developable. 195 acres have been developed so 145 on the east side that are not yet developed but are developable. Months ago, organizations were asking whether they would try to put new development on the east side of Scotch Rd and preserve the west side. Supports clustered development. Thinks there is adequate room on the east side to be done what the Township wants to do.
With regard to COAH, firmly in the camp that Hopewell Township will get a considerable affordable housing obligation — not in the camp that this is fightable but thinks a fight might be necessary. Whatever the number is, it stands to reason that the lower percentage of affordable, the more development you need. Arguing for a larger percentage of affordable housing. Princeton has one that is 50/50. This process is in response by a landowner so it takes two to tango — what will you get in response? You should get as much open space as possible.
Nicole ? from Drinker Biddle represents American Real Estate Partners: Has a letter…
Kim Robinson: Says she lived in Hopewell Township growing up and had to live in Ewing to save money to move back. Wants an analysis specific to Hopewell Township especially with regard to school children — thinks that the general numbers about how many school children will be drawn from a particular residential unit.
Melanie Philips: Wants to know why this has to be voted on at the next meeting.
Murphy answered that “This plan should be OUR PLAN. It isn’t going to be NOTHING. It is going to be the existing zoning or something else. We’re trying to creatively move this process forward.” When people are just saying they want green-grass and no changes, they will still have to come to a vote.
Swanson: Says that they should see whether the majorty of the board members at the next week can make a decision.
Sandom: Appreciates the work of the board but thinks there are legitimate questions raised by the public.
Swanson: Thinks that there might be enough people who will make a vote. The danger is that this could continue indefinitely.
Murphy: reexplained the process.
Parker: all the questions tonight are legitimately but are beyond the scope of the master plan development.
Murphy: there already was a development behind the Shop Rite in the master plan. Lots of the other plans to fulfill the obligations are still in place but there isn’t enough planned to satisfy the obligation.
Ron Cefalone: Everything has to be done with a thought out process. There was a lot of rushing. Pennytown cost a lot of money. Something may be coming shortly. No one has mentioned this but Hopewell Township can be a game changer. Bring folks with important issues to the table in a smart way. This way you improve economy. Before you act, do all your homework. Because we can make a positive impact on those that are disadvantaged.
James Taylor: Murphy is right. Scotch Rd will have something on it. The community as a whole should determine what should go in there, perhaps. Large box, manufacturing, etc, those don’t fit within the character of the community. This shouldn’t be about the COAH obligations because we don’t know what they are, and in that way he agrees with Banisch.
Diane Baratta: Talked about the effect on the school district and doesn’t want to have a situation where there are overcrowded schools and wants to know what the plan for the children is there is an excess and whether the tax payers have to pay for another school.
Ray Nichols asks the board to vote the changes down. Talked about other infrastructure concerns besides sewer and traffic.
Elton Clark: 9 months is not a long time to consider.
Laurie Cleveland: Wants to know about the train station. Paul P will find out more.
PUBLIC COMMENTS CLOSED. DECEMBER 18TH IS THE NEXT MEETING.