The application for a single-story, five-unit retail center in downtown Hopewell Borough, at the former Amy Karyn / Sun Bank site, continued at Wednesday night’s Planning Board meeting. The applicant, 64 East Broad Street, LLC, unveiled a revised plan in response to the arguably less than positive reaction at the prior hearing in July.
Modifications to the plans include changes to size of the two “end” retail units to less than 2,000 square feet each, which eliminated the need for a “D” variance, one traditionally more difficult to obtain. The removal of the “D” variance also meant that a class of Planning Board members (which includes the Council, Mayor’s appointees and the town clerk), previously not permitted to participate in the planning board’s decision, under the Municipal Land Use Law, are now permitted to vote on the application.
As part of the modified application, the property owner reduced its requested lot coverage slightly from around 70% to 69.2%, with 40% being the maximum permissible under the current ordinance.
“The changes have not significantly reduced the coverage,” said Hopewell Borough planner Frank Banisch. “There is 3000 square feet more building on the site than the ordinance would have you put there.”
Banisch also suggested that there could have been an opportunity to include housing on a second story in the character of a downtown. “The thing that is interesting about this is that the typical character of a ‘main street’ is a 2-story building with residential on the second for providing in-town living. We live in a world where residential rates are reliable. It is not for me to rewrite the application but if you are asking me what would make this better, this is it,” Banisch advised the Board. When asked whether the applicant had considered mixed use, the answer was that they had not.
The applicant addressed plans for storm water management, number of proposed off-street parking spaces, and plans for exterior lighting and outdoor dining.
Pedestrian safety was raised as a major concern, particularly in light of the Maple / Broad Street intersection having been the location of both a fatal accident and a multi-vehicle accident. Planning Board member, Ryan Kennedy inquired whether the applicant could be willing to provide traffic calming or pinch points. The feasibility of whether or not, on a County road, the County would permit such modifications and Dennis O’Neal, the Borough engineer indicated that the County had not been receptive in the past, citing snow plowing concerns. With another application soon pending for the property across the street, Kennedy suggested that if there was ever a time to implement safety improvements for that intersection, now was it.
In addition, the developer now plans to create curbing and sidewalks along Maple Street and increase the number of parking spaces to meet the ordinance requirements (while still requesting a variance for smaller parking spot sizes). Banisch suggested that the amount of blacktop in the parking lot could be reduced if the lot was reconfigured to include a strip of landscaping.
“We tried to listen. Last time we were here, we listened. We tried to make it more of a brick building and in keeping with the building across the street [Brick Farm Market],” said Architect, John Montoro, from the Montoro Architectural Group. “My client is looking to get good stores — not nationals — but they have requirements of open space, fewer columns and need to be able to sell and display their products with larger storefronts and more glass.”
In her presentation to the Board, Historic Preservation Commission Chairperson Alison Baxter readdressed concerns about the design of the project, notably an interest in insuring that the commercial space blend with the surrounding town — describing that all the historic details on existing Hopewell Borough buildings tend to be “quiet” and that the applicant should “take cues from the surrounding.” Baxter, who serves in her role as a volunteer, suggested that not all design elements should be used simultaneously and discussed number of decorative columns as well as material choice.
Members of the public spoke out largely against the project, including representatives from the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, who were concerned with the environmental effects of the large lot coverage and water runoff. The owners of popular Borough restaurant the Peasant Grill spoke in favor of the new development, indicating that they had been in discussions to locate their establishment to a larger space in the new building. Members of the board and other members of the public spoke in agreement about the need for modern facilities to keep the Borough attractive to businesses, but disagreed about the size and layout. While the comments were mostly respectful and civil, the presentation ended on a sour note when one of the principals of the applicant questioned the qualifications of the volunteer historic committee chairwoman, while trying to explain why the company and its professionals failed to attend the committee’s meeting on the project.
After the board expressing many concerns about the project as currently proposed, the applicant asked for the matter to be carried to the Planning Board’s October 5, 2016 meeting in order to revisit the design. Changes to the plans would conceivably be vetted first at the Historic Preservation Commission’s September meeting (7:30PM, on the last Tuesday of the September at Borough Hall).
Note: to October 5, 2016 meeting will again be scheduled at 6:30PM, one hour earlier than its regular time, to accommodate the volume of applications set for that night.