HOPEWELL VALLEY: The year that was: An introspective look at 2016

By Andrew Martins, Managing Editor
With the end of the year fast approaching, people around the world are looking forward to 2017., From the incoming Trump administration to the future of the Pennytown site, residents in the Hopewell Valley area should expect to see major changes in the coming months., In an effort to look back on the year that was, the following is a compilation of the top stories of each month. Each piece was selected either for its impact on the respective community or its importance to decisions expected to take place in the new year., Hopewell Borough celebrates 125 years, Hopewell borough kicked off its quasquicentennial, or 125th, anniversary with events all throughout the year. To start the year-long celebration, the borough held a special event on New Year’s Day at Borough Hall., Starting at 11 a.m., the event included Revolutionary War-era re-enactors wearing period clothing, the Con Brio a cappella singers from Hopewell Valley Central High School and Scottish bagpipes and dance performed by Vince and Emily Janoski., During the proceedings, Mayor Paul Anzano and Borough Council members Debra Lehman and Roxanne Klett were sworn into office after each winning their respective bids for re-election in November 2015., “I think it went really well. It was beautiful,” said Cydney Perske, who co-chairs the 125th anniversary planning committee with fellow borough resident Debra Stuhler. “Everything that we planned worked out.”, Hopewell was incorporated as a municipality in 1891 from portions of Hopewell Township., “There is a strong community spirit here and it’s an opportunity to celebrate that spirit, and also to invite other people to come in and enjoy the many assets that we have,” Mayor Anzano said., Future of Pennytown up for debate, The future of the township-owned Pennytown property was a key concern for officials in Hopewell Township that continues to weigh on their minds at the onset of 2017., Back in February, members of the township committee debated what the future held for the approximately 25-acre plot of land, located at the junction of Route 31 and 654., In 2008, a previous Hopewell Township Committee voted to buy Pennytown, formerly a shopping center, for $6.65 million with the intent to use the land for affordable housing., Since the later part of 2015, however, the property is no longer part of the township’s affordable housing plan., At the time, Commiteeman John Hart urged officials to sell the property, though he warned that the municipality was “not going to get that money back that you paid for it.”, Committeewoman Vanessa Sandom agreed with Mr. Hart on selling Pennytown, but also insisted the township sell another piece of land, known as the Zaitz-Hutchinson property between Route 31 and Reed Road, near the ShopRite grocery store., Hopewell Playhouse reopens, Off-Broadstreet Theatre leaving in 2017, Given the recent news of the Off-Broadstreet Theatre company ending its run at the Hopewell Playhouse after more than 30 years, taking a look back at March brings back a more hopeful time for the group, as renovations at the venue were finished., The 200-seat theater at 5 South Greenwood Avenue had originally been owned by Bob and Julie Thick before they sold it to partners Jon McConaughy, Liza Morehouse and Mitchel Skolnick., Mr. McConaughy, who owns Double Brook Farm in Hopewell with his wife, Robin, was initially looking at the playhouse building as a site for a creamery to bottle and package milk, yogurt and ice cream from milk produced at the farm, but those plans fell through., There were plans to “expand the programming beyond the plays to support local music, local book readings, TED talks and other events,” Mr. McConaughy said. “Businesses in town would also be connected, as well.”, Partner Liza Morehouse, whose husband Schuyler (“Sky”) is a Hopewell Borough Councilman, said renovations to the playhouse building, based on plans conceived by ThinkForm Design Architects in Hopewell, started in early 2015., Along with a transformation to the theater interior, changes were made to the entrance area, the addition of restrooms and additional seating., After New Year’s Eve, the Off-Broadstreet Theatre group will have one month to vacate the property after rent increases forced them out of the building., Plans are currently being drawn up for additional renovations and the potential for a new production company to take Off-Broadstreet’s place., PARCC forces school district to change graduation requirements, Just as in previous years, the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) test brought changes to local school boards., In April, the Board of Education approved revisions to its policy regarding the academic requirements needed to graduate from high school., The changes reflected announcements by the state Department of Education that it is transitioning to the PARCC standardized test as a prerequisite for students to earn a diploma., PARCC is a consortium of states that collaboratively developed a common set of assessments to measure student achievement in math and English up to 12th grade, and preparedness for college and careers., Test scores from the PARCC exam or from other standardized tests, such as the SAT or ACT, can be used by current high school students to demonstrate they meet the requirements for graduation., However, the state Department of Education is looking to make passing the PARCC a stipulation for graduation by the end of the decade. Alternative tests, like the SAT and ACT, would no longer be accepted as a PARCC substitute., In March, the Hopewell Valley Regional School District Board of Education passed a resolution expressing its disagreement with the Department of Education’s decisions. The resolution formally urges, in part, “that the legislature review/hold hearings on the impact of the Department’s proposed graduation rules.”, At the Hopewell Valley Board of Education work session on April 18, Lisa Wolff, the board president, talked about why some parents were keeping their children from taking the PARCC exam., “One of the primary reasons that parents opt out is because they are upset about the opportunity cost of the time — the amount of time that their kids are not getting educated because they are spending time on the PARCC,” Ms. Wolff said. , PennEast pipeline draws ire of residents, activists, Hopewell Township Mayor Kevin Kuchinski was among a group of bipartisan elected officials who joined conservation leaders and citizens’ groups at the State Capitol in Trenton on Tuesday morning to announce the results of a regional petition opposing the proposed 118-mile PennEast natural gas pipeline., The petition received more than 8,000 signatures from citizens across 2,000 zip codes in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, according to the Hopewell Township Citizens Against the PennEast Pipeline. The non-profit organization was also represented at the event held on the steps of the State House., Mayor Kuchinski and six other mayors from town located along the pipeline’s proposed route in both states traveled to Washington, D.C., the following day, Wednesday, May 11, to hand-deliver the petition signatures to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission offices in the nation’s capital., At the time, the PennEast Pipeline Company was waiting for approvals from the FERC for a permit to proceed with construction of the proposed 36-inch pressurized pipeline that would start in Luzerne County, Pa., near Wilkes-Barre and pass through parts of Hunterdon and Mercer counties in New Jersey and end at a junction with an existing pipeline in southeastern Hopewell Township near Blackwell Road., PennEast specifically was requesting that FERC issue what’s called a certificate of public convenience and necessity., “New Jersey is already over-supplied with natural gas by existing pipelines, so there is no ‘public need’ for more,” the mayor said. “We should be investing in cleaner energy alternatives, not building redundant fossil fuel pipelines.”, Besides Mayor Kuchinski, a Democrat, the other elected officials on hand in Trenton on May 10 are Township Committee member Richard Dodds (Republican) of Kingwood Township; Mayor Ray Krov (R) of Holland Township; Mayor Susan Lockwood (D) of Delaware Township; Mayor Jill Popko (D) of Bordentown Township; Deputy Mayor Alex Robotin (R) of Chesterfield Township and Supervisor Kathy Gentner (R) of Durham Township, Pa., Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, a Democrat representing parts of Hunterdon, Mercer and Somerset, issued a statement Tuesday declaring opposition to the PennEast Pipeline., “The overwhelming bi-state opposition to the proposed PennEast Pipeline is rooted in facts presented by experts who, after careful consideration, concluded that the project would have no public benefit,” Mr. Zwicker said. “I implore the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to give this data similar scrutiny., Citizen representatives from New Jersey in attendance included homeowners on proposed PennEast Pipeline route; petition signers; Association of New Jersey Environmental Commissions; Homeowners Against Land Taking – PennEast (HALT); Hopewell Township Citizens Against the PennEast Pipeline; N.J. Conservation Foundation; New Jersey Highlands Coalition; N.J. League of Conservation Voters; Pinelands Preservation Alliance; Raritan Headwaters Association; ReThink Energy NJ; Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association; and Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania., School district tackles gender and transgender rights, Throughout the year, discussions at the state and local levels were held regarding the rights of transgender and gender neutral individuals. Though the discussion usually moved to the topic of bathroom usage, schools faced a more nuanced discussion this year., During a June meeting, several members of the public voiced their opinions and two speakers sparred in a testy verbal exchange before the Hopewell Valley Regional school board approved a policy titled “Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students.”, Restroom availability and locker room accessibility at Hopewell Valley schools are two topics addressed in a new policy., Voting in favor were Gordon Lewis, Jenny Long, Michael Markulec, Alyce Murray, Adam Sawicki, Bruce Gunther and Lisa Wolff. Roy Dollard abstained, while Leigh Ann Peterson was absent., When the policy was introduced during the May 16 school board meeting, Ms. Wolff, the board president, offered a brief description of some of the details., “It simply documents how the district is already working with transgender students,” Ms. Wolff said. “While it’s several pages long, I’d boil it down to two overarching positions. First, the responsibility for determining a student’s gender identity rests with the student. Second, all students, regardless of the underlying reason, will have options to ensure their safety, privacy and comfort.”, On the issue of bathrooms and locker rooms, she said, “If any student has a need or desire for increased privacy, we provide it.”, “We (are) acknowledging the rights of both any transgender students who are in the locker room as well as any students who are not transgender who might also have concerns of privacy or comfort,” Ms. Wolff said., Voters approve $35 million bond referendum for schools, Further discussion on the Pennytown redevelopment plan was held in October, with eventual approvals made for changes to the municipality’s plans suggested by the Planning Board., Earlier this year, the Township Committee hired the Clarke Caton Hintz firm of Trenton to prepare a redevelopment plan for Pennytown with the intention to sell the 25-acre property purchased by Hopewell Township in 2008 for $6.65 million., Restoring the Pennytown property to a more productive state, while preserving and reusing the historic single-family residence known as the Marshall House on the land that is part of the hamlet of Marshall’s Corner, are just two of several objectives outlined in the plan. The proposal also calls for preserving the pond and stream corridor along the Stony Brook Branch., Under New Jersey’s redevelopment rules, the Planning Board was required to review the plan initiated by the Township Committee and report back to the committee., The full plan with changes will be posted on the Hopewell Township website, according to officials., Some of the recommendations from the Planning Board include a request that “green building” design features be incorporated in new construction at the Pennytown site, located at the junction of routes 31 and 654. The federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines a green building as “a sustainable or high performance building.”, The Township Committee discussed limits on maximum impervious coverage for the site and “preserving and protecting” wetland areas on the property., Committee members also spent time considering lifting restrictions that would allow construction of a refueling station for large commercial diesel trucks, but ultimately scrubbed the idea., The redevelopment plan also sets maximum building heights, and recommends water recycling be incorporated as a conservation measure., The consensus of the Township Committee is that municipal water be provided to the Pennytown property, but not to extend public sewers to the site. , Election Day results, Though most of the focus was spent on the 2016 Presidential Election and eventual electoral win of Donald J. Trump, residents in the Hopewell Valley area selected a number of individuals to serve their respective communities., In Hopewell Township, incumbent Republican John Hart and Democrat newcomer Kristin McLaughlin were both elected to three-year terms on the Hopewell Township Committee., With 100 percent of the township’s votes officially tallied by the Mercer County Clerk’s Office, Mr. Hart earned 4,812 votes, while Ms. McLaughlin took in 4,883., In Hopewell Borough, incumbent Democrats Chris Fossel and David Mackie were elected back to the Hopewell Borough Common Council for their second and seventh consecutive terms in an uncontested race., In Pennington Borough, Democrats Charles “Chico” Marciante and Beverly Mills won seats on the Pennington Borough Common Council in their uncontested races., Bristol-Myers Squibb announces departure from Hopewell by 2020, Bristol-Myers Squibb recently left Hopewell Township officials gobsmacked after announcing the gradual closure of its 433-acre research and development facility by 2020., According to the international pharmaceutical company’s Dec. 13 announcement, the facility will be shuttered in an effort to “strengthen capabilities of the company’s R&D hubs” in New Jersey, California and Massachusetts., “We are planning a phased close-out of the BMS Hopewell site, with a completion date of mid-2020,” spokesperson Lisa McCormick Lavery said., Ms. Lavery said employees will continually vacate all of the buildings that make up the campus., The Hopewell campus is made up of a number of buildings and we will be exiting the entire site and all buildings. Relocation has already taken place for some personnel, as renovation work required they move to a temporary site on Carter Road, which will also close by mid-2020., Last month, the company announced the opening of a new 555,525 square foot office building at 3104 Princeton Pike in Lawrence. The building is valued at $13.1 million and sits on a more than 73 acre plot of land., Though BMS has been working on this project and eventual relocation of its workforce for years, Township Business Administrator Paul Pogorzelski said the news came as a surprise., According to Mr. Pogorzelski, the township collects approximately 5.9 percent of its annual tax revenue, about $6 million, from the pharmaceutical company’s facility., Bristol-Myers Squibb, then just Bristol-Myers, originally purchased the campus from the gas company Mobil back in 1997., Mr. Pogorzelski said BMS representatives said they intend to put the campus on the market, meaning the township would continue to collect tax revenues from the new tenant. Specific discussions about the location’s future, however, have not been held., In addition, local workers will have to relocate “over the next several years,” Ms. Lavery said., “Specific to the announcements made this week, we expect many of the roles from Hopewell will transition to other U.S. locations,” she said., One thing that will not change as a result of the relocation, Ms. Lavery said, was the company’s continued support of the Lawrence-Hopewell Trail, of which BMS is a founding organization., Earlier this year, Bristol-Myers Squibb provided a grant to the trail to help with the administration of the trail activities., “The trail links our three campuses in Lawrence and Hopewell and we have constructed segments of the trail on all three of campuses,” she said. “Our support and involvement with the LHT will not end with the closure of the Hopewell campus.”