Pennington Planning Board gives final approval for Heritage at Pennington

    Renderings from November 2015

    American Properties was given the green light for an 80-unit mixed residential development, to be known as “Heritage at Pennington,” in July, when the Board approved the final resolution for site plan approval, variances and waivers.

    To be located on on 12.88 acres off of Route 31, just north of the Straube Center, “Heritage at Pennington” would consist of 80-unit residential units — 19 buildings with 3 different styles comprised of 32 villas, 32 townhouses, and 16 “COAH” or affordable housing units. The villas would be 3-bedrooms with a 2-car garage; the townhouses would be 3-bedrooms with a 1-car garage; and the “COAH” units (affordable units) would be 2-bedroom with surface parking.

    For background, see “Developer Plans to Build 80 Residential Units in Pennington” and “80-Unit Residential Development in Pennington Stalled but Not Derailed by Planning Board.”

    The Board stated, in its resolution, the reasons for approving the application:

    “Since 2013, the Board has been working to review and create a zone that would encourage mixed family residential development on the Property. The Property, as reflected in numerous Master Plans and reexamination reports, has been viewed for more than 15 years as a property that could be appropriately developed for family residential housing but also include an affordable housing component… The applicant’s plans for development strike an appropriate balance for the need for affordable housing options for the Pennington community with a good site plan design, appropriate landscape buffering and open spaces, a stormwater management plan and a fire protection plan that are appropriate for the type of development proposed and will appropriately protect not only the residents of the applicant’s community, once built, but other Pennington residents as well.”

    After months of hearings and review by applicant and Borough professionals, the final hearing of the application was in June to resolve the remaining issues identified in the April hearing: stormwater impact both downstream and on the wellhead, landscaping issues and fire protection.

    With regard to fire suppression, in April, the applicant indicated that they determined that a sprinkler system would offer the best fire protection and were in the process of submitting the proposal to the Hopewell Valley Fire Official, Andrew Fosina. By June, the applicant had met with Fosina and, at his request, upgraded the system to a 6-inch main, to improv water flow to the fire protection system. The public piping will now be 8-inch and the hydrant will be attached to the public water supply. Fosina was also satisfied with fire protection and smoke detection systems.

    After meeting with Pennington Borough engineer, Carmela Roberts from Roberts Engineering, LLC, and Borough officials, the detention basin has been redesigned to help mitigate downstream impacts. They have also revised the landscape plan between Building 13 and the nearest Pennington Point building in that area.

    The project will be completed in two phases, with timing yet to be determined. Planning Board Member, Tom Ogren, asked if the applicant could maintain the Phase 2 portion of the property as uncleared to provide more construction buffering to neighboring community, Pennington Point. However, the applicant’s professional engineer and planner, Alfred Coco, stated that while possible, there is an economic efficiency clearing and grading at once but that the clearing and grading would also provide additional opportunity to ensure that the property is draining as intended. Clearing and grading will take approximately two to three months.

    At the close of the hearing, Planning Board attorney, Edward Schmierer, explained that he had drafted a resolution, at the Board’s request, focusing on the conditions of approval — the ones that arose from applicant and Board professional comments as well as the conditions that arose that evening.

    “With all these conditions, I feels that that this protects the Borough and the neighbors and keep the character of the Borough,” said Planning Board Member Kate O’Neill.

    A motion was made and passed to approve the application with conditions. Schmierer informed the Board that, after the professionals have reviewed and made comments, he will circulate the resolution to Board members for final approval, which ultimately was signed and adopted on July 13, 2016.

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    1. This makes me want to sob. I raised my son playing soccer, baseball, football, climbing trees and walking the dog in this lot. It was slated for the Hopewell Community Center, Senior Center, and YMCA for the last decade, until the developers got a hold of it and pushed their affordable housing agenda upon the boro. Oh, and all that business about school enrollment declining? What a bunch of malarky. Why do humans always have to pave paradise and put up a parking lot. Brick and mortar. Brick and mortar.

    2. Don’t blame developer’s greed on ‘affordable housing’.
      Out of 80 units, only 16 will be ‘affordable’.

      I see it my town, too. ‘Quick, before ‘affordable housing’
      comes rolling in, let us develop the land in the way
      developers want’.

    3. Great report, Mary. Thank you being the community’s best news source on this and many other Hopewell Valley issues.

      The American Properties application was not an easy process, but you have represented it well, with obvious and much appreciated care for the work that goes into a planning board’s hearings, discussions and decisions. I have served on the Pennington Borough Zoning and Planning Boards since 1978—a fact that I find pretty hard to believe, but here I am countless applications later, and still proud of the work we do.

      It is rarely easy to see open space fill in with development. We all remember the places where we played long ago or even yesterday and now see homes—or shopping centers or highways. The older you are, the more you remember. Some houses in the Hopewell Valley, even the century-plus-old homes, or newer places, such as Pennington Point or Eaton Place, were built on former farm fields or in woodlands. I remember a development built on former farm fields within the boundaries of Baltimore, where I grew up. As we drove by, my mother would always describe it in a not-so-nice voice as “the slums of tomorrow.” On a December visit to my hometown a few years ago, however, I saw that that development was a thriving community, with mature trees and every window glowing with holiday lights. The houses stood strong.

      As your report indicates, major subdivision applications take a long time, as the board and its professionals and the borough office staff make sure that we dot every possible “i” and cross every possible “t.” The outcome, we always hope, will be a new community, with its own sense of place within the Valley. You have only to look at Brandon Farms and the contributions of the people who call it home to know that developments can evolve into new neighborhoods, while also engaging in the life of the Valley.

      I’d like to try to clarify the history of that site. Some of these dates and details are approximate. I’ll try to get it right and apologize for any errors. The site was farmed into the ’50s, at least, and may have continued as an agricultural use after its purchased by Helene Fuld Hospital, which used its as training site for their nursing school. When that use ended, other plans were proposed and for various reasons abandoned. Meanwhile Helene Fuld had become part of Capitol Health, which had an application of its own underway to construct a hospital in Hopewell Township, and Capitol offered the 12+ acre site to the Hopewell Valley “Y” which was considering purchasing it for a community center, complete with pool. The asking price: $750,000 (now the price of many single-family family dwellings in the Valley). But the “Y” was unable to come up with the down payment, and that was that until American Properties made a successful offer to purchase and develop the site.

      In your blog, you have provided excellent explanations of the history of New Jersey’s affordable housing requirements and the court decisions leading to those requirements. So thank you: I don’t need to get into that or to describe either the need that drove the affordable housing movement, starting with Mt. Laurel, or the subsequent mind-boggling challenges and hundreds of hours spent by each municipality trying to meet or modify those requirements.

      If you’ve read this far, I hope you and your leave this chapter with an appreciation of the planning process and a clear understanding of the history of the site.

      Thanks again.

    4. Hi Kate,
      Thank you for your details and history of the land, and for your work on the Boro Planning Board. I lived across from what I dubbed “Murphys Field” for about 7 years until I moved out of the Boro. That was about 9 years ago. Yes, it’s always sad to see open space with development of any kind. To be clear I am a proponent of Affordable Housing – in my opinion, all 80 units should be built with affordability in mind. So should have the 70 units in Pennytown. But developers won’t build out of the goodness of their hearts, so AF has to be a small percentage of the total build out.

      I know that a vast majority of the members of our Valley work in some way to sustain it; from the Planning Boards of the two boros and the township, the committee members, the historical society, the preservers, the fire fighters, medical community and police, down to the PTOs, teachers, and volunteers that give countless hours to raising money and doing the right thing. Unfortunately we all seem to work in silos without knowledge or appreciation of each other’s time and energy.

      My only regret is that there wasn’t a shout out to the whole community to say “hey, we need a downpayment on the land to build a community center and a senior center.” The community built a football stadium in this way, why not a community center? I remember seeing the sign on 31 announcing the future Y, and in the papers there was a vote on the lovely design on the center-t0-be. I wish there had been an effort to rally the community to help raise the money and get everyone behind the effort. 75K for that land seems reasonable; as opposed to 6 million for Pennytown.

      Again, thank you for all your efforts.

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