As talks of high-density mixed use development in Hopewell Township thickens, environmental groups ask Township officials to consider: “What’s in it for you?”
Hopewell Township’s planning board has been considering a change to the master plan of the Scotch Road/Merrill Lynch area, from zoning for office park to mixed-used. Last month, real estate expert Jeffrey Otteau from The Otteau Valuation Group, painted a unfavorable picture of the economic climate of New Jersey for the Hopewell Township planning board, as well as the failing future for office space in Mercer County.
In Otteau’s presentation, he highlighted for the planning board planning board high levels of vacancy in office buildings, slow rate of employment recovery in the area, and the unvaried housing options in Hopewell Township. “The prospects for office building demands are very grim,” stated Otteau.
Armed with the 129 page market study of the Scotch Road area, the Township planning board met last week to determine whether it would recommend a change to the Scotch Road area master plan, ultimately changing the permitted use from strictly office park to a high density mixed use of residential and commercial spaces.
“Now is the time to go forward to determine if we want a change and what should the change be,” explained Karen Murphy, Hopewell Township planning board chairperson.
The planning board members discussed at length a variety of options including phasing the master plan and associated development. The group also considered whether a change might only apply to the east side of Scotch Road (the Merrill Lynch side) rather than both the east and west sides.
Jim Waltman, the Executive Director of the Stonybrook Millstone Watershed Association begged the Township officials to remember how the process of considering a change began.
“Remember that you have been approached by the landowner for change and there is an obligation that the township get things in return. And one of the things that the township should seek in return is a net benefit to the environment,” emphasized Waltman.
Waltman explained that to determine the “net benefit to the environment” he asks the planning board to compare what is currently approved with the best estimate of projected impact, including land disruption and impervious surfaces.
“I would like to know the environmental impact of the existing zoning for both sides and what it would be if the township were to change the zoning — at least to start to understand the impact,” said Mayor Vanessa Sandom.
Ultimately, the planning board ended the meeting requesting more information about environmental impact before rendering decision. The next meeting will be September 30th at 7PM.