Home » The Watershed Institute ‘outdoor classroom’ is approved by Township ZBA

The Watershed Institute ‘outdoor classroom’ is approved by Township ZBA

by Lynn S. Robbins

The Watershed Institute expects to move forward with its plans to create a nature education-play area on its property grounds on Titus Mill Road after approval by the Hopewell Township Zoning Board of Adjustment.

The Institute’s director, Jim Waltman, addressed Zoning Board members October 11 to request a use variance and site plan waiver to proceed with the project which would enhance its existing “robust schedule of educational activities.”

The Watershed site, located within the Valley Resource Conservation zone, had received variance approvals in 2015 for walking and bike trails and educational uses of the site. The playground area is considered an expansion of these functions, and therefore requires approval from the zoning board.

Because the proposed playground is situated in a wetland transition area, the Institute had applied to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) prior to the Zoning Board meeting, and is expecting to receive official acceptance from DEP soon. The zoning board approved the playground project on the condition that the Institute receives the DEP permit. There were no comments or objections from the public.

During the meeting, New Jersey state attorney Archibald Reid asked Waltman to describe the elements of the playground and its relationship to the Institute. Waltman said the playground will enhance the Watershed Center, the Kate Gorrie butterfly house, the hickory loop boardwalk and other nature trails. The institute has been used for educational programming for more than four decades, he said.

The playground will include a zig-zag shaped table used as a base where children can pump water with a hand crank, a climbing structure located in a bed of mulch, six small frog sculptures with educational signage, a rustic shelter, and two picnic tables with benches. The project is integrated with elements that already exist: a sensory garden of native plants, a tunnel made from live willow stems, and a boardwalk ramp.

Speaking in favor of the playground, professional planner Carlos Rodriques said the project was the equivalent of an outdoor classroom. Referring to Hopewell’s master plan, he said the institute and the project align with the values of health, safety, morals, and general community. “The project is entirely within the goals of the conservation district,” he said. Rodriques wrapped up his summary saying the project would encourage environmental stewardship among a younger generation.

New Board positions

Board members approved William H. Cane as the new Board Chair and Paul Verdino as Vice Chair.

Cases moved to the November meeting 

The Washington Road self-storage facility application was carried to the next Zoning Board meeting at the request of the applicant. Verdino refuted comments on Facebook where posters say they are wary that the facility could become a retail space. Verdino stressed that the application is for storage only.

The Bellemont Farm brewery application was also carried to the next Board meeting at the request of the applicant.

Referring to the November meeting, Cane said the board could have an update on The Hopewell hotel application which was granted a use variance subject to conditions at the August meeting.

The next zoning board meeting is scheduled for November 1.

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