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Hopewell Borough officials’ action paves way for townhouse development

The Borough Council has adopted an ordinance that sets the parameters of a redevelopment plan for the former J.C. Van Doren and Sons lumber yard property, now known as JMAT Supply, on Model Avenue, Hopewell Borough.

The ordinance creates a Townhouse Residential zone on the 1-acre property at 24 Model Ave., incorporating elements of a redevelopment plan that has been in the works since 2015. The new zone allows for the construction of up to 13 townhouses, including two that would be set aside for low- and moderate-income households.

The New Jersey Local Redevelopment and Housing Law allows municipal officials to look at properties that are underused or that are out of sync with the community’s goals, and to rezone the land for another use.

Hopewell Borough’s 1997 Master Plan calls for diversification of the housing stock, to include multi-family housing, and that is what has been presented, planning consultant Frank Banisch III said.

“The Master Plan says to look at alternatives to single-family homes. People like me are looking for a nice place to live. We don’t want to mow the lawn,” Banisch said.

Councilman David Mackie agreed and said the broad goal is to provide a diversity of housing stock. People at different stages of their life will have options and a modest townhouse is one of those options.

Model Avenue resident Hope Carter asked the council to incorporate some of the buildings on the lumber yard property into the plan, but was told the truly historic buildings burned down in a fire at the lumber yard several years ago.

Michelle Downie, who also lives on Model Avenue, said she was concerned about cars speeding on the street, and said 26 more cars from the townhouses will be added to the traffic on the street. The only motorists who drive 25 mph are those who live on Model Avenue, she said.

Model Avenue already has its fair share of houses and rental properties, Downie said, adding that the street also has its fair share of high-density housing.

The potential redevelopment of the lumber yard property will result in a density of 12 units per acre, according to the Townhouse Residential zone.

Downie said she believes the current zoning, Residential Office, “fits more in line.” She said changing the zoning will “open a can of worms for other properties,” but Mackie said it will not set a precedent.

Another Model Avenue resident, Beth Miko, said she has been looking out at the lumber yard for more than 30 years. She said she was concerned about the concept plan for the property and hoped that neighbors, who have only learned of the redevelopment plans in the last few months, would be able to offer input on it.

“This has been a surprise to all of us. Not that we don’t admire the work you are doing, but it is redevelopment that will affect our style of living on our street,” Miko said.

Explaining the project, Hank Whitman, who owns the lumber yard property and whose son operates JMAT Supply, told council members the townhouses will cost about $450,000 to $550,000. That is around the same price as similar homes in Pennington, he said.

The townhouses will sell for those prices because of the cost of the materials used in them, Whitman said, describing them as “upscale.” He said he will have to absorb the cost of building two affordable housing units and selling them for less than the projected $450,000 to $550,000 price of the other units.

Whitman, who lived in Hopewell Borough before moving to Hopewell Township, said the townhouses will be in town and close enough for residents to walk to the coffee shop. He said they would not likely appeal to families who may want a yard for children.

Councilman Sky Morehouse attempted to allay neighbors’ fears about traffic and density, noting that traffic is always an issue. When an application for development on the property is submitted, it will be subject to review by the Planning Board and the council, he said.

Banisch, the planning consultant, said the next step would be for the developer to prepare a plan. The developer will sign an agreement with the council, which will be designated as the redeveloper in accordance with state redevelopment law.

The developer will have to submit a completed application and plan to the Planning Board, Banisch said, pointing out that what has been discussed “is not the kind of project that gets approved in one night.”

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