Home » Public Backlash sweeps Hopewell Zoning Board Meeting over proposed Hollystone hotel

Public Backlash sweeps Hopewell Zoning Board Meeting over proposed Hollystone hotel

by Mary Galioto

During the fifteenth evening of virtual participation, the Hopewell Township Zoning Board faced a surge of public comments from area residents regarding the proposed transformation of the historic Hollystone Manor at 29 Fiddlers Creek Road into a “boutique” hotel called “The Hopewell.” The virtual meeting on Monday, July 25, attracted more than 100 participants signed onto Zoom to voice their thoughts on the requested use-variance.

Zoning Board Chair Eric Hatke commenced the meeting with an apology for his conduct at the previous session. Hatke admitted to being in a “sour” emotional state due to family deaths, which had affected his behavior. He expressed deep regret for his unprofessional conduct and assured the public that it would not recur.

The Board then deliberated on a memo from the Environmental Commission, despite objections from the applicant’s attorney. Ultimately, the Board admitted the memo as evidence, reasoning that it contained information already known to the Board.

For more than three hours of public comment, testimony from the public was largely against the application approval, with some individuals providing additional insight into the history and condition of the property and its sale history.

One notable comment came from Tom Niederer of Titusville, who had represented the Hollystone property for 15 years as a real estate agent. Niederer refuted misinformation about the property’s market interest and stated that there had been considerable interest in it over the years, even without any zoning variance. He pointed out various types of interest, including residential requests and related uses.

“This property had a lot of interest and would still have a lot of interest residentially without any zoning variance,” said Niederer who emphasized that it is a mischaracterization and to say that this property was “rescued.”

Numerous other area residents expressed their concerns about the potential ecological impact and the importance of preserving the adjoining Fiddlers Creek Preserve. They cited threats to wildlife and water quality and argued that the proposed hotel would not align with the ecosystem’s well-being nor with the Township’s Master Plan.

“This project is not wanted or needed by anyone but the applicant,” said another resident. “It’s not the Zoning Board’s job to make someone whole for a bad investment; and it’s the kind of restoration proposed that could be done by a homeowner – not just a hotel.”

They also urged the Board to not be swayed by what they referred to as “marketing ploys” by using seemingly eco-friendly buzzwords like “farm to table” and “ecotourism.”

Supporters of the project highlighted potential benefits, such as attracting leisure travelers to the region and promoting historic preservation. However, opposition voices prevailed, arguing that the hotel did not meet the criteria for a D variance and that the commercial project could lead to increased tax appeals.

“There is a high bar in favor of granting a D variance; and the absence of this use was not an oversight in the Master Plan,” said former Township Mayor Jon Edwards. “It is meant to be a heavy-lift and the Municipal Land Use law gives the applicant the duty.”

To that point, the public argued the lack of benefit to the Township. “This is a project to be used by the privileged few to the detriment of many including birds, salamanders, frogs and turtles,” one member of the public testified.

“It affects my quality of life,” said another.

The meeting ended well after the 10:30pm scheduled close, and by 11:30pm there were still 90 people on the call. The application hearing will continue as the second application at the August 2 meeting at 7pm at which time the attorneys will present their clients for testimony and offer their final arguments.

Prior coverage

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