Two Hopewell Borough Areas Considered for Redevelopment (updated)

    Hopewell Borough is currently identifying parcels of land within the Borough limits as potentially qualifying as “areas in need of redevelopment.” At a meeting earlier this month, the Borough council reviewed and discussed the “Preliminary Investigation for Determination of an Area in Need of Redevelopment” report prepared by Frank Banisch, the Borough planner.  The planning board at its March 2, 2015 had a similar presentation.

    Last fall the Borough council started the process by asking the planning board to investigate two parts of town as possible redevelopment areas.  “Area A” is in the northeast part of town, situated on the southern side of the railroad tracks on Railroad Place and Somerset Street and includes the large “Hopewell 57” building and surrounding lots. “Area B” is comprised of three parcels with common ownership that includes the “Castoro” Shell gas station at 71 East Broad Street, with frontage on East Broad Street, Maple Street and Columbia Avenue.

    The purpose of Banisch’s report is provide detailed findings to the planning board regarding whether each property in the two areas meet the qualifications of the Local Redevelopment and Housing Law to be designed “areas in need of redevelopment.”  As noted in the report, the Borough resolution directing the investigation indicates that the Borough is not considering a redevelopment process that could include condemnation or eminent domain.  

    “This is a chance to consider what we, as a community, actually want with a holistic, long-term view and in a public way… The sole question is that whatever the areas we define meet the standards for redevelopment to identify which are eligible,” said Councilman David Mackie, also planning board liaison, at the Borough council meeting in August, 2015 when the Borough council passed a resolution instructing the Borough planning board to proceed with the analysis.

    In this context, “redevelopment” is an alternative to parcel rezoning and means clearance, replanning, development and redevelopment, as defined by the state’s Local Redevelopment and Housing Law (LRHL). (For the full statute, see N.J.S.A. 40A:12A-1).

    A reoccurring topic for the council, the Borough’s planer in May explained the differences between redevelopment and rezoning, following the planning board’s recommendation that “Area A” be considered for rezoning in its master plan reexamination process.  At that meeting, planning Banisch explained that a redevelopment zone allows a governing body to have more control to guide the future of a particular area but does not involve condemnation, whereas rezoning is more of an extension of police power directing a particular use — he compared both as a construction of a box that directs particular use, lot sizes, building specifications however, with redevelopment, the municipality would also retain control over what goes into the box. Designation of redevelopment areas also has development incentives including tax abatements and payments in lieu of taxes (“PILOT”), and possible bonus credits for the Borough’s affordable housing plan.

    “It is a process-heavy process but well delineated,” said Banisch at this month’s meeting. “Rezoning cannot be so specific about what goes where and how much. Redevelopment is also an opportunity to improve the ratable with the Borough being able to retain 90-95% of total tax dollars (instead of going to Board of Ed and the County)… It is a non-condemnation plan where landowners do not have to take advantage of the changes at all but could choose to and reap the benefits.”

    processflowchartCurrently, Hopewell Borough has completed the first two steps in the timeline shown to the left (from Banisch’s report), meaning that the governing body directed the planning board to undertake preliminary investigation and the planning board examined the study area. Based on Banisch’s report, he recommends that all areas within the study area would qualify to be designated as areas “in need of redevelopment.”

    Being designated as an area in need of redevelopment is “really more of an invitation than anything else,” explained Councilman Mackie.

    The public hearing will be at the next planning board meeting at 7:30pm on April 6, 2016 at Hopewell Borough Hall. Under the LRHL, two weekly notices of the hearing must be published and a notice letter sent to all property owners.

    Update May 2, 2016:  Due to problems with the public notices required under the LRHL, the public hearing has be adjourned from the April meeting and then again removed from the agenda for the May 4, 2016 meeting.  MercerMe will update this article again when the public hearing is finally scheduled.  

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