Home » In memory of Zoning Chair, Hatke’s final testimony in Hollystone decision

In memory of Zoning Chair, Hatke’s final testimony in Hollystone decision

by Community Contributor

To the Editor:

The following statement was composed and read to the Hopewell Township Zoning Board by Eric Hatke on August 2, 2023. During the past 10 months with Eric Hatke continuing to officiate in his long-held position as chairman, the zoning board evaluated testimony regarding a hotel/restaurant/bar/ store/sports complex development application for a precedent-setting variance for residential property to be changed to commercial use. The following composition was chairman Eric Hatke’s last public comment presented to the zoning board prior to their vote on the hotel application use variance. Most unfortunately five other board members, Ms. Sandam, Ms. Rogers, Mr. Cane, Mr. Kolodziej and Mr. Verdino, appointed by Mayor Ruger and Township Committee member Mr. Kuchinski, chose to ignore Eric Hatke’s advice, warnings from expert hydrologists, traffic engineers, environmentalists and outcrys of overwhelming hotel opposition by township residents. Thus these other five board members voted to approve the hotel application and by their majority granted the use variance. Sadly Eric Hatke passed away on September 2, 2023.

Debra Hodge
Titusville, NJ

“For 30 years, I have never been ashamed to be a member of the Hopewell Valley community, the support and outpouring of love provided to my family after our son’s death, and still the deep feeling of communityinclusion, and comfort to my entire family. When the opportunity to serve our community by accepting an unpaid position on the Zoning Board of Adjustment was

offered, I was quite happy to accept. I was appointed by a woman whose political feelings were, and continued to be, completely different than mine. This was truly a bipartisan appointment. Her only request was that I stick to the law, remember the public good, and always vote my conscience.

This case has clearly shown the wisdom of those words. This Board, my Board, as I like to call you, has been maligned and accused of pay for play politics, backdoor deals, and worst of all outright incompetence. We have become a punching bag without compensation. Since all of these accusations are untrue, I have never been prouder of being a part of this — this group of fellow citizens who are participating on the Zoning Board as servants to their community.

Fortunately, voting my conscience has proven to be a simple ideal. I grew up in Montgomery Township in a time when resource conservation was a far-off idea. I could disappear into the forest behind my family home just after breakfast for the day, fishing, hunting, or simply planting myself at the base of a sycamore tree and watching nature slowly stroll by. I could sit for hours and never hear a manmade sound. At that age, I learned the value of natural resources. Clean water, unspoiled land, singing birds, clean air, and perhaps most precious of all, peace and quiet.

Our applicant has proposed that the best current use would be to have a multi-bedroom hotel with all of the accouterments thereof. That to save the property, it needs a more valuable business scheme. I ask why? Before the property was improved, was it actually worse than it is now? Was it the aquifer challenged with a higher discharge? No. Were effluents from the local septic systems injecting more nitrate solids, etc. into the ground? No.

Moving forward. is the current construction of the house in any way, shape, or form worse for the environment than the proposed hotel? No. All of these efforts will simply exacerbate the demands upon the environment by the transition to a commercial property.  Every escalation of the land use increases stress to the system. Environmental conservatism is a fairly simple concept. Take as little from the land as you can.

When we discuss water removal from the local aquifer, should the canary in the coal mine for overuse be a local well going dry? Certainly not. Will the increase in local traffic affect the local wildlife? Obviously so. Do we honestly need to do a headcount of dead animals to establish this? This is barbaric.  Will the increase in ambient light be a concern to the local fauna? Without a doubt. Will the sound of upwards of 30 air conditioning units humming away through the summer nights repel local wildlife?  Certainly. Will the depletion of the local aquifer by many-fold demands do anything to defend the mountain resource conservation zone? Obviously not.  

The applicant has stated that the core of her business model is to cater to ecotourism. In general,Zoning Board issues must be deaf to any given business scheme. However, much of this application has stated that ecotourism and husbandry of the land is the centerpiece of the application. This is anathema to everything that an agrarian community should hold dear. Thefact that the applicant feels that she can charge hundreds of dollars to allow jaded city dwellers the opportunity to reconnect to their mother Gaia is abhorrent. Such a high access price specifically highlights the scarcity of solitude in our local environment. Is commercialization such a thing to be the hinge pin of the solution? I feel no.”

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