Home » Hopewell Township Zoning Board makes crucial decision in Hollystone application

Hopewell Township Zoning Board makes crucial decision in Hollystone application

by Mary Galioto

The Hopewell Township Zoning Board finally reached a decision on August 2 regarding a contentious variance application, marking the end of a rigorous and protracted 10-month application process. The application, seeking a use variance to transform the historic residential property, known as “Hollystone Manor” on Fiddlers Creek Road in Titusville, NJ, into an upscale boutique hotel christened “The Hopewell” has ignited impassioned debates about its legal and environmental ramifications.

Closing Arguments and Varying Perspectives

Matthew Mailman, a Fiddlers Creek Road resident and opponent of the application, passionately voiced his opposition: “We moved into these homes with a reasonable expectation that the neighborhood would remain residential and preserved.” Mailman argued that “the only reasonable conclusion is to agree with both the Environmental Commission of Hopewell Township, and the community at large, that this project’s benefits do not come close to off-setting the negative consequences.”

Mailman offered his concise analysis of the months of testimony and reasons for deeming a 30-room hotel as incompatible with this residential setting. His concerns ranged from property value depreciation and strained water supply to the unsuitability of the road for increased traffic, especially considering its proximity to the Fiddlers Creek Preserve. 

“This intensive use of a 30-room hotel complete with pool, gym, spa restaurant bar, and even pickleball court,” he asserted, “has no place in the Mountain Conservation Zone and fails to execute the Master Plan for the Township.”

Legal Vantage Points Shape the Discussion

The opposition’s legal representative, Stuart Berstein, presented an exhaustive summation, strategically advancing the argument that the applicant failed to meet the prerequisites for a use variance. Berstein’s assertion was resolute: that sanctioning the application could potentially equate to spot zoning and place undue pressure on the community’s water supply.

Attorney Lieberman echoed Berstein’s stance, emphasizing the applicant’s obligation to satisfy the stringent standards required for a use variance. With a focus on water usage and its potential impact on the environment, Lieberman underscored, “The applicant has not met their burden – especially with regard to water usage and the potential damage to the aquifer.” He further elaborated on the impermissible measurement of water drawing, which raised concerns about environmental conservation.

Lieberman further challenged the project’s appropriateness for the site, asserting: “The applicant has failed to demonstrate that this site is ‘particularly suited’ for this project and all the evidence shows the opposite – this property is particularly unsuited for this project.”

In contrast, Attorney Robert Ridolfi, the representative of the applicant, extolled the project’s viability and compatibility with the property. He emphasized the historical significance of the mansion, its adaptive potential, and the proposed landscaping improvements. Ridolfi asserted that the project conformed to the required criteria for approval.

An Outcome with Conditions

As the proceedings unfolded, Chairman Hatke encountered a moment of confusion that led to a flurry of recesses. He ultimately relinquished meeting control to ZBA Vice-Chair Bill Cane, who opened the floor up for Board discussion. Cane opened stating that this was the most public participation he has witnessed in his 45 years of service with Hopewell Township, and spoke passionately about the project’s adaptive reuse and its historical value.

Zoning Board attorney, Kevin Van Hise presented the Board with a list of conditions that the Board might want to consider when/if it were to approve the application, namely: no amplified music; that the restaurant have set closing hours to outside patrons and maximum seating of 60 seats for inside and out; no large scale events; no irrigation on site; no on-site valet parking; no shuttle buses; and no pickleball. The Board accepted those conditions and also stipulated that the applicant provide complete water testing and hydrologist verification of water usage calculations to account for any water demands and ensure sufficient capacity for fire suppression needs. The applicant also must meet specific environmental conditions including removing invasive species. 

The conditions will be set out in a memo to be issued in September or October. Van Hise explained that, procedurally, the applicant must come back for site plan approval and that these conditions could be amended if the applicant makes a proposal for a condition amendment.

The Board did not mention the request of the Township’s Historic Preservation Commission to require that the applicant agree to the HTHPC’s nomination of the property for local, state, and national recognition. That request had been echoed by the Hopewell Valley Historical Society.

A Milestone Decision

In a defining statement, Chairman Hatke emphasized the importance of environmental conservation and questioned the projected benefits against potential environmental repercussions. “Every acceleration of land use increases stress to the system. Environmental conservatism is a fairly simple concept: take as little from the land as you can,” said Hatke.

Amid a volley of perspectives and conditions, the Board cast their votes (5-2), ultimately granting the use variance subject to conditions.

This marks the culmination of a long and fiercely debated application that strained all parties involved and cast a shadow on the Board itself. The part steps for this project will unfold during the site plan approval phase. The adoption of this motion marks a turning point in the Hollystone narrative, and illustrates the delicate balance between progress and the duty of environmental care. The impending resolution of memorialization will cement the Zoning Board’s verdict, paving a new path for the ongoing evolution of Hopewell Township’s landscape.

Prior coverage

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