Live from Hopewell Township Planning Board Re Scotch Road

    We’re here! Refresh if you want an up-to-the-minute info.

    The planning board has already told the public that they will not be voting at tonight’s meeting and they will discuss the Scotch Road development tonight, Dec 4th and December 18th. Clear your schedule — it is going to be a busy few weeks. Ho ho ho.

    Right now the planning board is “word smithing” the language in the master plan document. In particular they are discussing whether they should include or exclude descriptive words to describe the local economy and the viability of office space.

    The planning board is stressing that the document should reflect that the proposed change is enhancing the commercial/office zoning that is already in place but also adding residential uses.

    Frank Banisch said that Otteau’s presentation regarding the future of office space should not be taken lightly.

    COAH update:

    COAH has not been able to issue new rules and the Supreme Court will likely have to revert to their original approach of having the Court determining the obligations. Does not look hopeful that there will be an administrative process. Frank Banisch cautions about builder’s remedies. “We’re going to have a significant obligation. There’s no way around it.”

    Larry Clarke asked whether we need to consider COAH when making this decision.

    Frank Banisch says that whether there is affordable housing in the mix or not, the proposals included in this fortify and make sure that the ratables are strong into the future.

    Clarke says that this is a 10-15% increase in our housing stock and wonders whether Hopewell Township will ever really need to add that many units to meet that law.

    Bruce Gunter said that there is an obligation to make sure that people can afford to live here. “You’re talking affordable housing — incomes starting at $40,000 for a single person. And I live in a development where there are a lot of affordable units and the community pays for the roads, snow removal, garbage collection in that community. Of course there are services we do get like school and police but a lot of the costs, because it is a managed community, we are paying taxes as well as the development fees.”

    Karen Murphy, planning board chair, said that there is a constitutional obligation to determine whether the affordable housing must be and has clearly started to determine that this location is where it makes sense because it is near highways.

    Jack Belmont says, “What we tried to do in this document is to form a mixed-use and I don’t think affordable housing is going to go away. We know that something is going to be out there that we have to deal with in the future and what what we tried to do is plan for the future in this document.”

    Ronald Morgan, planning board attorney: There is a constitutional obligation and that will not disappear.  Morgan also talked about a suit brought by Atlantic Highlands and also the NJ Builder’s interest in exposing municipalities to builder’s suits, which he describes as a “harsh remedy.”

    Harvey Lester: I understand that one of the criticisms of the current rules is that there are blatant mistakes including confusing the counties. Lester talked about this issue as well as COAH announcing that they lost backup data for how they arrived at their numbers and agrees with Morgan.

    Morgan said that there was a suit filed last night for a builder’s remedy that was filed incorrectly so was thrown out

    Banish says that if this plan was just about COAH, then he doesn’t advocate for it.

    Concept of the Development

    The concept of “Jacobs Creek Village” is meant to unify the development in an area that will include a conservation zone. It sets up a method for the movement of development rights. Part of the text notifications in the master plan document clarifies the focus “infusing new life and repurposing development” …. “commitments to local farming” … “better balance to Hopewell Township now and in the future.”

    OP1 zone would be sufficient and no longer including OP2 zones at all? If you’re a super nerd, you should just read the master plan. 😉

    Clarke: the document talks about limited nightlife, no jobs, limited opportunity to interact with peers. I get the sense that you think every town should have certain things to be a successful or great town and I think (and maybe I’m just being sensitive) people come here for a specific reason… but I don’t think not having nightlife is a bad thing because I can drive to nightlife. It scares me that every town will be exactly the same.

    Banisch: Explained that this paragraph has to do with the interest of millenials moving to the area. I don’t have a vision that all towns have all these parts — but the question is that if you’re going to grow, how do you want to grow. These are things that other towns are putting priorities on.

    Lester: Sounds like a study was conducted with young adults. “We all know millennial will not stay in one place.”

    Schoenholtz: He talked about how his children ran out of this town and this is reality based and this is what is happening. Almost all the kids he knows wants to do something, walk somewhere, to walk to the conveniences. If this is a reality, you have to accept it. If this is where things are going, we have the opportunity to control what it will be like in 5, 15, 25 years. If you don’t control it, it will happen to you. We have a giant tract of land that can be developed in a way that is good for the community. I’m not 100% behind this but this is where things are going.

    Kiss: He talked about how his kids have a similar experience and it is good to promote diversity.

    Murphy: Talking about the language regarding “in order to attract young adults…” etc. to make it clear that the zoning for this area addresses the needs of millennial.

    Clarke: As you age, your values change and what is important is going to change. He said that people will move away regardless.

    Sandom: Talked about her son who is 25 — this is a significant drop between the ages of 25 and 34 from 2000-2010 and the drop of the number of students in the school. I don’t think of 25 as “kids” but as younger people and couples. What the challenge is for the schools is to manage the fact that there is a great drop in students. Her point was about the description in this conversation as referring the individuals as “kids.” The fact that the Township is losing so many young parents, that is what is scary to her which is a strong negative impact on the schools.

    Banisch*: The discussion is about whether these individuals generally have children at the ages between 25-34 and the statistics show that people are waiting but this is still an opportunity to diversity the population.

    *Autocorrect hates Frank Banisch’s name. It will occasionally appear as “banish.” Apologies.

    Clarke: He says that he is suspect as to the selectivity of facts.

    Sandom: There is a “problem” or reduction in the number of students in the schools which is a real trend that will continue for a long time. There is concern about how to manage this. This is real and we can either decide that we don’t care and the schools will keep losing students and that is not something we’re going to handle….

    Clarke: There should be just adjusting of staffing according to the needs of the schools rather than building to fill the capacity of the schools. He doesn’t seem to think that this issue is something that is pertinent to the Scotch Road development.  This is just a reality that schools have to deal with.

    Banisch: part of what Otteau told the Township was that attracting millennials is key to the viability of an area.

    Gunther: As a member of the school board he spoke to the reduction of students and the financial impacts of class reduction. We’re not talking about changing the make-up of the Township. I love the rural nature of the Township and riding my motorcycle through it. I love the way this town is. But we’re not talking about this particular area changing the makeup of the Township, we’re not talking about making the Township not rural anymore and it would satisfy so many needs like fixing the school under enrollment problem and allowing for younger people to live here. The affordability of the homes… We’re not talking about Section 8 housing. We’re talking about a very small portion of the Township. One out of the 67 square miles of the Township which is not generating any taxable income. I don’t understand why everyone is so afraid of this and it can be a taxing taking development like the one I live in. And taxes are going up all the time. What are we doing in the Township to control that? I don’t see how this will ruin Hopewell. I would support what the Mayor is saying about the school district — about redistricting or not wanting schools closed. This has a chance to help the educational system and the tax base and have a more diverse housing stock in this community. I like Brandon Farms and I’ve lived here for over 20 years. And I like the rural nature of the Township. This is a small area and I don’t think have a development will change Hopewell in a drastic way. I first said “no” but when I heard some of the plans, it sounded pretty nice. You don’t have to live there! We have a very varied areas in the Township and to talk about doing something in this area, I can’t see any negatives.

    Belmont: When Brandon Farms was developed, people thought that would be the end of Hopewell Township. I got new parishioners from there and new friends from there. And if I want to stay in the Township, there will be a place I can live when I have to sell my house. There is open space surrounding it with natural habitats that will protect the rest of the community because of the buffers provided by the open space in place and it is a ratable which may help our tax base more than offices.

    Schoenholtz: We don’t know the COAH obligations but we know it will be a lot. You won’t be able to spread them through much of the town because of the facilities (sewer, water, etc) and we don’t want builder’s remedies being jammed down our throat. I was on the planning board in West Windsor when there was a builder’s remedy. You want to control your future, not a judge. I could see that happening in this town. We’re going to get a whole lot of COAH housing. It is a chance to pick how, what and when it should happen.

    East Side vs. West Side

    Here’s we’re talking about the east vs. west side of Scotch Road (with 95 being on the south of that “t”)

    Clarke: Asking about the east vs. west side. Felt that he heard that the east side did not have much potential. I don’t see what the downside would be on focusing on the east side. He talked about his understanding about the history of the owners and the marketability of the properties — east and west. “To rush to their convenience that is more marketable is scary.” Wants to know why they can’t this for the east side and see how things develop.

    Sandom: The Township said they would provide an analysis for the Watershed Association and wants to know where the Township is on this. Paul P said that it is done and can be presented at the next meeting. Sandom said that some of Clarke’s questions might be addressed by the analysis.

    Banisch: Said that he wanted housing on the east side and the board members did not which is how it ended up with the development of the west side.

    Murphy: We still have to plan for the future. We hear applications on the present but we need to start addressing the location for the affordable housing.

    Clarke: We shouldn’t be based on the marketability for a landowner. We shouldn’t plan for that.

    Murphy: I agree but that gives people of the town that that is what we’re doing. We’re not. We turned the developer down originally but then the planning board reconsidered it because of the affordable housing obligation. I understand your fear and that is one that a lot of people have — we’re not cow-towing to a developer. They are part of the process but not the reason.

    Swanson: He was on the board when the Merrill Lynch agreement was passed. This was a rubber-stamped 20 year agreement. At the time, there was a special section for multi-use communities but because of the 20 year agreement there was nothing he could do at the time. He wanted it to be a multi-use community. This is not a new idea. We suburbanized in the 50s and now we’re coming around. This is something that we’re not responding to immediately because the owner has come in, it just opens the possibility of changing what was agreed on since the court settlement.

    Public Comment

    William Highland, attorney representing Hopewell Properties LLC owning 3 lots in the subject area master plan study.  Although there are things we very much support, there are other areas of concern. We submitted letters to the planning board stating some of the factual items. Other comments on behalf of the client — wants copies from the Township to see specific modifications to the current report. (Ron Morgan gave him his own copy.) “My client current has an office approval at the intersection of Washington Crossing and Scotch Rd. although no one will know what will happen on June 30th but for the time being what is being proposed is conflict with my client’s rights because it would be zoned in a farmland conservation designation which would create a buffer with no remaining use for my client.” Requesting compensation. (Murphy: One of the parcels would be moved to sewer service and move the development rights.) (Banisch questioned whether he understood the plans.)

    Edward Cashmere: Resident for 40 years and asked how many people from the planning board were born here. “I think this is the whole point. I came to NJ and lived in Hightstown. Then we moved here when we had kids and it is a great place to have kids and have a life. “It isn’t nightlife. I realized a wanted a place where I could grow a family.” He said that the study gave the land owners what they wanted. “We’re hurrying to do in 8 months that will effect for the next 50 years in Hopewell Township.” Proposed to call it “Trenton North.” “One of the reasons people come here the school district and it should be well managed to deal with the effects of enrollment changes.”

    James Stacy Taylor: Agrees with the comments about walkability and jobs but doesn’t see in the report about where millennials actually go rather than creating a community in hopes to attract millennials. Wants to know whether there are studies from millenials. Thinks if the character of Hopewell is to be changed, they need the data. Asked the planning board to consider taking their time rather than pushing for December. “Nothing I’ve said is a rejection of the plan. We need more data and more extended and widespread and factual discussion.”

    Swanson: This is not a case where we can say “Let’s make this a field forever. The choice is office space or reconsidering it.”

    Murphy: We need to come up with an affordable housing plan and this provides the framework for the other plan to work. We can’t say we are going to put units on a particular lot when it isn’t zoned for the lot. There isn’t a deadline on this but on other things the board has to do.

    Sandom: Intrigued by your comments and wondered whether he looked at the date online. Asked him to look at the data for a discussion.

    Melanie Phillips: Wants to know whether a traffic study has been done.

    Murphy: Baseline traffic studies for the Township. Before development happens, traffic studies will have to be part of that process. And the proximity to the major arterial roads is part of the consideration rather than the rural roads. Conceptually we have thought about but specifics haven’t been done because we don’t have the plan yet.

    Carol Hager:  Wants to remind the planning board that people live on these roads. Talked about the roads being called “east/west collectors.” And spoke about the profound effects on the Township in terms of traffic. “The master plan talks about the community as degraded semi-rural community with an existing sense of place.” Confused about the size — This is not just a total of 1500 residents.

    Banisch says 1500 units in total which is the market potential guided by the expert.

    Carol: continued to speak about the traffic. “What attracts people to Titusville is that it has a sense of place in a rural setting and that it destroy to create a sense of place in a fake town.”

    Public Comments Closed.

    Overview of the Steps

    If the planning board votes, what are they voting on and what happens with that vote.

    Morgan: Started with the master plan and the point of that is to plan. The issue is whether (person next to me was talking). You will have a public hearing and vote on it. If you vote on it, put in the ordinance. Then there are 2 readings of this and the public gets a chance to weigh in on the nuts and bolts. And the property owner or anyone with contract rights can submit a … and then deliberate on the subdivision and site plans.

    Sandom: We have individuals here who have asked questions about how this will impact their daily life and their community. The question I have is what is it about this decision — how will this have an impact. Or at what point do we start considering the real day-to-day impact. It doesn’t come from this document because this isn’t really about the number of units — it isn’t set in stone and there is a lot of flexibly in the master plan that provides more flexibly later on.

    Morgan: At the planning level you don’t get into that level of specificity. This specificity generally happens when the applicant brings an application before the board and there is a study provided.

    Paul: There are a lot of extreme variables. The market dictates the size of the retail, restaurants, etc. and that is all theoretical vehicle trips.

    Lester: Said the Sansone Pacific rep said he would give specifics.

    Murphy: That happens at the zoning stage. There was a rendering in the past from a prior applicant because there was a specific application.

    Banisch: Our job is not take what the property owner wants to do and the justify it.

    Kiss: We are not comparing a field to the development but a million square feet of office space and this development.

    Paul: I’m happy to put traffic reports online when we had the general development plan. Talked about trip generation which is so dependent on knowing the specifics — greater detail — you can make assumptions but when you do that, the challenge is that you will give out information that might not be relevant to what will actually happen.

    Sandom: With regard to Taylor’s remarks, the development would not only be millenials. We would be focusing on other age groups as well to attract people around the town including people in the area who want to downsize.

    Bansich: Confirmed that it isn’t just one group of individuals.

    Carried to December 4th and then again on December 18th.

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