Variance application lights up Hopewell Borough Planning Board meeting

At its meeting May 4, the Hopewell Borough Planning Board reviewed an ordinance that would allow cannabis retail in the business-residential and service zones and cannabis delivery business only in the service zone. It found that such businesses would not conflict with the master plan. The Board also agreed to continue the hearing of the redevelopment of a lumberyard on Model Avenue to townhomes at the June 1 meeting at the request of the applicant. 

The Board then heard a variance request for the proposal of the construction of a 40′ X 60’ accessory storage building to the rear of a residential dwelling at 45 Hart Avenue. 

Jim Kyle, Professional Planner in Hopewell, testified on behalf of the homeowner, Michael Misiolek, that the building was intended to be a second garage. The applicant has children at home who have their own vehicles, jet skis, snow plows, a boat, and off-road vehicles that would be stored in the garage. If the Board agreed to recognize the building as a garage, then a variance was not necessary. 

“Do we agree with the Zoning Officer’s conclusion that this is not a garage considering there is already a garage on the property? If we are going to make a distinction on what we’re deeming a storage structure and what we’re deeming a garage, future applicants can say any storage unit is a garage” Board Chair Peter Macholdt asked. 

The applicant testified that he had lived in Hopewell Borough his entire life and that a total of seven vehicles would use the new garage. He said that a new driveway would be extended at the north entry of the property to the garage. 

When public comment opened, several neighbors of the applicant testified that he was manufacturing melting pots for candles out of his existing garage and the business he was running from his home had caused issues for the neighborhood. 

Dan Saporito, 41 Hart Avenue, said, “I live next door to the applicant. There is hardly a compelling need for the garage. [The applicant] is already running a business out of an attached garage with lots of deliveries and things coming in and going out.”

Paul Stilintano said he has had flooding in the backyard after the applicant erected a shed, adding that, since other construction on the applicant’s property has occurred, $10,000 worth of damage has occurred to his finished basement due to flooding. The applicant regularly has deliveries, including some from trucks as big as 18-wheelers, he said.

Mary Castria, 8 Newell Place, said, “I am the homeowner of twenty years at the end of Newell Place. I am deeply concerned about drainage issues affecting my property. I have started experiencing basement water since more rainwater is channeling off of my neighbor’s property. I fear additional rainwater problems will reduce the value of my home. I believe these improvements should have required stormwater management.” 

Tom Stathopulos, 52 Hart Avenue defended his neighbor’s character as a longtime resident of the Borough and business owner. He said the building should be approved, regardless of whether it is considered a garage or storage unit. “Michael has enough money to move out of here and buy any property he wants.” 

Laurie Saporito, Hart Ave, “I live directly next to the Soylite Candles. I am a little concerned that because of its success that buildings are being constructed.”

The applicants said that the garage would not be used for commercial purposes and that the construction officials would consider run-off when issuing the permits. 

“I just can’t consider this a garage. I’m with the zoning board on this,” said Macholdt.

“The ordinance is not very well done and needs to be clarified,” said Boardmember Mary Lou Ferrara. 

“Except we have heard testimony a business is being run on that property,” responded Macholdt. 

Ferrara said that was an enforcement issue and not a Planning Board issue. 

When put to a vote, Boardmembers Ferrara, David Mackie, and Lou Young voted to recognize the structure as a garage, and Boardmembers Macholdt, Robert Donaldson, and Jackie Perri voted that the structure was not a garage. 

The Board’s deadlock was unprecedented. When voting to approve an application, a deadlock would be a no-vote, but in this unique case of ruling to clarify if a building qualifies as a garage, there was nothing on the books about how to proceed in a deadlock. 

The Board took a break for several minutes before returning to announce that the applicant’s attorney had agreed to reconvene the issue at the next meeting in June. 

Macholdt said nothing like this had happened in the past twenty-two years. 

SoyLite Candles has a website, a Facebook page, and an Etsy page. The company sells candle-making supplies, including custom wax melting pots for customers interested in producing bulk candles. Michael Misiolek is listed as the owner of the Etsy page.

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