To the Editor:
I attended the Hopewell Township Committee meeting on June 24, along with 100+ others, to hear about the proposed (now adopted) ordinance concerning the change of use at the Bristol-Myers Squibb campus. Sadly, the meeting was an eye-opening experience that, I believe, every citizen of the township should be concerned about.
The mayor started the meeting with a short dissertation about the thoughtful consideration that went into crafting the proposed ordinance, including the consultation of real estate professionals and consulting engineers for guidance.
Immediately following that, the public comment period began. The comments expressed an array of concerns about the ordinance, including the fact that there had been no environmental study requested or performed, the language of the ordinance was broad and allowed uses contrary to the original master plan for the campus, and concerns over increased truck traffic that would spill over onto rural roads not intended for such heavy traffic.
One of the major concerns was that the notice and review of the ordinance was not transparent. Many direct neighbors were never made aware of the proposed change. Resident after resident requested that the vote be tabled until a more thorough, thoughtful review could be completed. The members of the community in attendance were an impressive group of scientists, former BMS employees, attorneys, environmentalists, laypersons, and even the president of a pharmaceutical company, who advised that the preparation for this decision was incomplete and that it would be ill advised to bring it to vote without proper vetting.
After the public comment period was closed, a carefully orchestrated “dog and pony” show occurred. Unbeknownst to the public, the committee had invited representatives from Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), the real estate agents for BMS. From a purely marketing perspective, they described the concept of sub-dividing the space into condominiums. They explained that potential users of the property would include medical device manufacturers, pharmaceutical manufacturing, bio-tech companies, and research laboratories. Next, an engineering firm explained their conclusion that the natural conditions of the location and rural nature “would limit the likelihood of large-scale production.” They determined, based on unspecified standards from the Institute of Transportation Engineers and by speaking with representatives from BMS, that all of the potential deleterious effects of this ordinance could be mitigated through traffic control. Finally, a representative from BMS explained their heartfelt concern about the effects of the community in the wake of their exodus.
After these three individuals spoke, it became pretty clear that these were the professionals the Township had consulted for guidance. The professionals were all vendors of BMS and clearly have a vested interest in the selling the property to the highest bidder. The fact that the township committee consulted these vendors, or rather were guided by these vendors, is either irresponsible, misguided, thoughtless, lazy or ignorant, you decide which.
After these professional presentations (which happened after the public comment period), there was no opportunity for questions or dialogue with the public. The public comment period was closed before the “facts” were presented. The meeting agenda contained no information that “professionals” were going to present additional information.
The citizens were understandably outraged: This led to a five-minute recess, that eventually turned into a 25-minute adjournment. When the meeting resumed, it was announced that the committee members had made a minor language change so that the ordinance was less broad to “appease” the participants in the meeting. They unanimously voted passage of the ordinance – discounting any environmental study, consultation with experts in the community, or engaging truly independent real estate advice.
I want to be clear: I am a realist. I accept that change is often necessary. I appreciate that BMS has been a good neighbor. I understand that a decision must be made in order to maintain the tax base. I empathize with the committee about how difficult it is to make thoughtful, balanced decisions, knowing you will never gain full consensus. However, when a room full of well-informed citizens – your neighbors, friends, constituents, and clients – come forward with some serious questions regarding a study that was clearly done “on the fly” so that BMS could wrap up their involvement in the township, your alliances seem misplaced.
I strongly urge Hopewell residents to attend these meetings. I initially thought some of our neighbors had been exaggerating the condescending, self-serving nature of the board, now I am more inclined to stand with them after witnessing it for myself.