Historic Hollystone Manor on Fiddlers Creek Road in Titusville was recently purchased by Matthew and Margo Stern with the plan to turn the 200+-year-old building into a “boutique hospitality experience” that would include a 27-room hotel with plans for a full-scale restaurant/bar, pool, gym, spa, and more to be known as “The Hopewell.” The Hopewell Township Zoning Board will review the application for a “use variance” and consider the proposed project at next month’s meeting on December 7 at 7pm.

When the Sterns bought the property this past summer, it had been on the market since at least 2011, according to Zillow.com. Once owned by Joseph Titus, the patriarch of the Titus family who developed Titusville, Hollystone has a storied past, including life as a dairy farm in the early 20th century and ownership by the Trenton diocese as a planned home for retired clergy in the mid 20th century.

Most recently, the property was owned by Sandra Saladino, who passed away in 2020. During her ownership of the property, the hundreds of acres that originally comprised the farmstead were sold to Mercer County to form the Fiddlers Creek nature preserve, which, according to the Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space (FoHVOS) website “has been identified as habitat for State Threatened and Special Concern species, including Wood Turtle. Federally Endangered and State Endangered and Threatened species occur within 1/4 mile of the preserve.”

In response to the Sterns’ application, numerous neighbors, environmentalists, and historians have signed a petition begun by Fiddlers Creek resident John Mastrosimone expressing their concern. Mastrimone explained: “Hollystone is part of a highly sensitive, environmental area in the Mountain Resource District, a residential-only district designed to protect the endangered flora and fauna of the Fiddlers Creek and Ted Stiles preserves, Bald Pate Mountain and neighbors’ properties.” The petition and information about residents’ concerns can be found at this link: hollystonemanor.com.

Mastrosimone says this plan is a “non-starter.” With regard to safety, he shared with MercerMe that the property is on a rural country road that already is not easy to navigate even with the very light traffic it sees now. Further, he said he is also quite worried about safety for hikers from the nearby Bald Pate Preserve crossing the road to the Fiddlers Creek Preserve. “Traffic is sure to become dangerous if there are hotel customers and vendor’s trucks traveling back and forth,” he said.

Mastrosimone questions whether Hollystone is suitable for any commercial development due to its location in the Mountain Resource Conservation District, which restricts land use to one residential unit on a minimum of 14 acres. Current regulations strictly prohibit any commercial use and would require a series of variances by the Zoning Board before a hotel could be allowed.

FoHVOS is intimately involved in the preservation of the land around Hollystone. It manages both the Fiddlers Creek preserve and the Ted Stiles preserve on Baldpate Mountain. It also is party to a conservation easement on some of the land around Hollystone that is still part of the property.

FoHVOS Executive Director Lisa Wolff said: “The FoHVOS Board has no official position on the development, however FoHVOS holds an easement on the land surrounding the property. Our easement serves to permanently preserve ecologically sensitive lands that are home to rare birds, plant species, and wildlife. Our exclusive purpose is to assure that the open space character and natural resource values of the property are conserved and maintained forever.

Wolff continued: “FoHVOS will protect and support the surrounding habitat. Our Green Acres state partners offered their opinion of the easement language and confirmed that any development or commercial activities must be limited to the owner’s property excluding the easement.  “Any use of the eased area that isn’t clearly conservation or agricultural in nature, will require the pre-approval of Green Acres.”

When asked for comment, applicant Margot Stern shared: “The proposal itself is rooted in stewardship and preservation of what is already in place… I think that people who support the proposed inn are doing so, in large part, because they have seen the effort and expense that has already gone into engaging consultants with historic and environmental expertise… to ensure that any impact on the property and surrounding area is negligible.

Stern shared that she views the property as a potential booster for the area: The property itself will source labor, produce, and amenities from local businesses. Guests will add another level of economic support by visiting regional shops, restaurants and attractions. Locals can sign up to access a thoughtfully restored barn-clubhouse with some spa-like amenities and a workspace/coffee shop.”

Further, Stern shared that she hopes to “foster a sense of appreciation [and conservation] among guests… Some concerns have arisen about the general idea of increasing the number of visitors to this sensitive area. What I want to emphasize is that the way we are doing so will also increase the number of stakeholders who will care about supporting and protecting it.”

The matter will be heard before the Hopewell Township Zoning Board of Appeals on December 7 at 7pm – as of now it appears that it will be by zoom. The zoom link is found in the agenda, which will be posted a few days before the meeting here. The Application materials also are found there.

Edited on 12/2 at 9:01am to remove the description of Margo and Matthew Stern in the first sentence as “developers,” at their request. They also requested that the Application materials be specifically linked. That is here.

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