The Hopewell Township Committee changed the land use near the intersection of Nursery and Scotch Roads at its meeting Monday night, allowing more commercial development and concluding one of the largest elements of the Township’s affordable housing litigation.
The site, owned by a company called Deer Valley located, will allow a mixture of commercial and residential housing, with plans for 625 age-restricted housing units, 125 of which will be affordable housing, as well as a potential hotel, offices, convenience store, and gas station, according to the resolution.
According to Committee member Kevin Kuchinski, this resolution will “end five-plus years of unproductive litigation that has cumulatively cost the Township and its residents hundreds of thousands of dollars.”
“We collectively did not like a number of these terms… so collectively we dug in and pushed back,” Kuchinski said.
The plan received some criticism from Committee member John Hart, who supported the idea of a hotel, but disagreed with the idea of a gas station. Hart suggested “baby steps” with a slower approach instead.
“We want to get a rateable in there, but I wasn’t really thinking a gas station,” Hart said. “We’re getting too far in with that other stuff.”
Members of the public additionally voiced concerns on the site, including a potential gas station and worries that surplus housing could create a “ghost town,” a situation in other areas in New Jersey that was earlier described to the Committee by Hart.
Jennifer Williams, Vice Chairwoman of the Trenton Zoning Board of Adjustment, warned against the “precedent setting” expanded land use and the impacts of a gas station, in her personal opinion.
Williams cautioned that the Township “should be very cognizant of and very protective of” its well system, with potential environmental impacts caused by antifreeze and regular runoff, not just gasoline. Additionally, 24 hour-a-day traffic could be created by a gas station, according to Williams.
“A slow development, as discussed by Mr. Hart, is a wise one,” Williams said.
Township resident Todd Grant criticized the idea of a gas station as well, in contrast with the Board’s past record on environmental issues.
“I can’t believe all five of you fight against PennEast but are willing to put a 16-pump gas station up,” Grant said.
Township resident Ed Jackowski referenced Freedom Village on Denow Road, which he says was originally designed for the disabled and is now filled with parents and their children. Jackowski warned that the same could happen to the age-restricted units.
The Board responded to the concerns of the public and Committee member Hart with Mayor Kristin McLaughlin “hearing loud and clear the environmental concerns about the gas station.”
“Just because there’s a permitted use, doesn’t mean there’s a definitive plan,” said Township Community Development Director Mark Katrinyiak. “Gas stations are probably one of the most highly regulated land uses in the state.”
Kuchinski additionally supported the residential units, stating that they will offer a place for existing residents to downsize as their children graduate and an “onramp” for younger residents coming in.
Hart, however, continued to advocate for a moderated approach, stating that the process is “moving too fast.”
“We don’t have the luxury of that,” said Township attorney Linda Galella, from Parker McCay. “We are under a lot of time limits here.”
Galella said that the affordable housing case will go to Judge Mary Jacobson on August 29. If the judge does not see that the Township created a “realistic opportunity” for affordable housing through zoning, then the Township could be subject to builder’s remedy and lose control over zoning in the area.
“I’ll take my chances with builder’s remedy,” Hart said.
Kuchinski responded, stating that Hart “is willing to play Russian roulette with zoning around the Township.”
“This is the best path that has been presented to me,” McLaughlin said. “I am absolutely not willing to roll the dice.”
The resolution passed in a three-to-one vote, with Hart voting no and Committee member Julie Blake absent.
The Board’s next meeting will be August 19, with the previously scheduled August 5 meeting cancelled.
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