Neighbors opposed to a new boutique hotel on Fiddlers Creek Road offered expert testimony from a civil engineer and a geohydrologist at a Hopewell Township Zoning Board meeting last Wednesday.
Much of the testimony was about well and septic capacities on the property and directly countered the expert testimony offered earlier by the property owner in an application for a use variance on the property, which lies in the Township’s Mountain Resource Conservation (MRC) zone amid the preserved lands of Bald Pate Mountain and Fiddler’s Creek.
The Board continues to hear testimony on the application filed six months ago for a variance that would allow a 27-room hotel with a dining room, pool, spa, and other amenities on land adjacent to the Ted Stiles Preserve and zoned primarily for residential use.
“The sensitivity to the MRC zone requires a more acute assessment of impact that really requires a more insightful site plan,” said Thomas Quinn, a civil engineer who testified for a group of neighbors. “The current site plan is too cursory and substantially misses some of the important components.”
The land owner, Margot Stern, has offered a conceptual plan for renovating the property but not a formal site plan, which is not required for the variance application.
Quinn questioned whether the existing T1 septic permit, approved years ago by the NJDEP, is adequate for the scope of proposed use, saying the septic disposal fields were significantly undersized and lacked a “reserve” disposal field.
Construction of a 90-car parking lot as proposed would require removing trees and shrubs from the property and could substantially affect both septic disposal and water retention on the site.
Quinn said some of the assessments were speculative because the conceptual plans don’t provide enough detail to properly and comprehensively assess the impact of uses not permitted in the zone.
Another pressing concern, according to testimony by Glenn Carleton, a geohydrologist who lives in Titusville, is the amount of water the hotel could use.
The water needs for a hotel/restaurant could amount to 5,600 gallons per day, a “staggering” 660% of the MRC zone’s “Dependable Water Yield,” Carelton said. Further, the use would also be 20% “consumptive,” which means just 80% of the water used would return to the aquifer to “recharge” the local water supply.
“It will likely harm plants, insects, and animals,” he said.
Carelton also testified that the sewage effluent discharge will exceed the “Nitrate Dilution capacity” allowed by Code by 770%, especially with a restaurant. That would also impact the aquifer, potentially jeopardizing neighboring wells, he said.
“It’s a zero-sum game,” Carleton concluded
Zoning Board Chair Eric Hatke noted that it will be up to the Board to assess the expert testimony and make judgments about the potential impact of the development.
“The applicant in the proposal is doing its best to provide the least impact view, so it’s reasonable for the opponent to propose the worst case,” Hatke said. “I’d like to make sure the experts will make clear that this is simply (their prediction of) what could be.
The Zoning Board of Appeals continued the hearing on the use variance application, which has now stretched to 18 hours over six meetings, until April 11, when neighbors will present three more expert witnesses before a public comment period is opened.