Hopewell Twp Residents Ask Planning Board to Go Back to Drawing Board

At the third of three planned public hearings, Hopewell area residents came out in droves in opposition to the proposed master plan changes for the Scotch Road / Merrill Lynch area of Hopewell Township.

The Hopewell Township planning board intended to vote on the proposed changes to the master plan that would ultimately permit a high-density mixed-use development on the east and west sides of Scotch Road north of 95. We were there and covered it live. However, reservations posed by members of the board and the concerned public resulted in a delay in decision-making at least until the new year.

“We should cut through the suspense about whether we are voting to amend the master plan. I propose we decide we will not because we do not have enough information and we do not have enough planning board members to give the public a vote that reflects the mindset of the planning board,” said Harvey Lester, Township Committee person and planning board member.

The major issues of concern included 1) the Township’s affordable housing/COAH obligation; 2) traffic impact; 3) environmental impact / whether development can be consolidated primarily on one side of Scotch Road; 4) effects on property taxes/affordability of housing units; 5) burden on school district; 6) effect on property taxes to existing residents.

Many residents in opposition to the master plan change sited their own research on data regarding property taxes and traffic impact studies.

In response, some planning board members expressed frustration that these concerns are being raised almost one year into the planning board’s process of considering the master plan change.

“People haven’t been here at all the meetings and haven’t been listening to all this data. It isn’t that lay people are doing better research than our professionals. They have done an outstanding job. And the other thing to keep in mind is that just because you hear someone from the public say something, doesn’t mean it is true,” said planning board chairperson Karen Murphy.

The planning board sub-committee spent considerable time assessing whether development could be consolidated on the east side of Scotch Road, the side of the Merrill Lynch campus. While the sub-committee considered the issue nearly one year ago, planning board member Rex Parker shared that he supports returning the emphasis on the east side.

The January planning board meeting is the reorganization meeting when planning board members appointment by the Township Committee select officers for the planning board. It appears that some current planning board members will not be serving next year so the new members will need to familiarize themselves with the issues. The master plan revision may not be revisited until the planning board’s February meeting.

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