Hopewell Township’s four candidates on the ballot will vie for two seats on its township committee.
This year, residents will be selecting who best represents them on five-person committee during the general election on Nov. 5, when Republicans incumbent John Hart and Edward Jackowski try to secure seats against the Democrats, who are incumbent Kristin McLaughlin and newcomer Courtney Peters-Manning.
Hart is a 10th-generation farmer who traces his Hopewell roots more than 250 years, to the Honorable John Hart, a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He is the owner of Rosedale Mills Country Store, Hart Farms Stables and John Hart Farms. John Hart Farms was the first farm preserved in Hopewell Township. Hart is a member of the Farm Bureau and a former member of the Mercer County Board of Agriculture.
Hart has 12 years of experience on the Hopewell Township Committee, including having served as mayor from 1996-1998. Hart’s three children and four grandchildren have all attended the Hopewell Valley Regional School District. Hart has served as a volunteer firefighter for Hopewell Fire Department and helped to establish a Pop Warner football league.
Jackowski was born in New Jersey and has lived in Hopewell Valley for over 20 years. He served as a US Marine and then later worked in the financial services industry. He and his wife, Anita, operate Jack’s Greenhouse and Farm. They have raised two daughters who have been educated in the Hopewell Valley School District. Jackowski is an officer of the Trenton Cyrus #5 Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons and a trustee on the Woosamonsa Schoolhouse Board. Jackowski’s Nursery has proudly sponsored boys’ and girls’ divisions for the Hopewell Valley Soccer Association for eight years.
McLaughlin was elected to Hopewell Township Committee in 2016 and is serving her first term as mayor. She has served as liaison to the senior advisory board, historic preservation committee, youth advisory board, and recreation advisory board, as well as a member of the planning board. Kristin moved to her husband’s hometown of Hopewell Township in 2008 and understood that it is the community that makes this area special. After receiving her degree at Harvard University, Kristin worked in the Manhattan DA’s office helping with prosecutions of organized crime. She then turned to education and earned a master’s degree from Teachers College at Columbia University. Kristin spent time volunteering in her daughters’ schools on the board of one and head of the PA of the other. She has been married to her husband, Mike, for 28 years. They have three daughters, Megan – 25, Amelia – 21 and Carolyn – 18.
Courtney Peters-Manning is active in the Hopewell Valley community, serving on the planning board, as a trustee for the Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space (FoHVOS), on the board of the Lawrence Hopewell Trail, and on the finance council for St. James Church. She is a steadfast, experienced advocate against the PennEast pipeline. Professionally, Peters-Manning’s background is as an environmental lawyer, and she currently is the director of Finance and General Counsel at the Cambridge School in Pennington, a school her parents founded in 2001 to help children with learning differences. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Brown University and her law degree from the University of Chicago. She has been married to her husband, Tomas, a native of Dublin, Ireland, for fourteen years, and they have two boys—Seamus – 11 and Conor – 9.
Other than taxes, what are the two most pressing challenges that Hopewell Township faces? If elected, how would you address them?
Hart: The question eliminates a very serious concern that I cannot ignore. Our current budgeting process is broken. The 4.68% tax increase this year is a very serious matter. For reasons that make no sense to me, the township majority eliminated the Financial Advisory Committee, and then failed to create my proposed Economic Development Commission in time to assist the budget process. This new commission should include members of the community who understand what it takes to succeed in running a business in Hopewell Valley, but the committee has played politics with its creation and its membership.
Second, the township has passed its affordable housing plans without enough regard for the impact on the environment. The plans for the west side of Scotch Road became far too intensive, and I had to voted against the truck stop idea.
Third, there is a very pressing need for a Community/Senior Center and I have suggested its possible placement at the Hopewell Valley Country Club, lessening growth pressures in the southern tier.
Jackowski: This year’s shocking 4.68% tax increase is horrific and will now compound yearly. Second, the Committee’s disappointing environmental record, proceeding in its affordable housing plans by extending the sewer service area to regions defined by our Master Plan as environmentally sensitive. Better solutions involve the use of citizen volunteers.
The Township’s affordable housing approvals are in, and the neighborhoods surrounding these new developments should be offered the opportunity, at reasonable rates, to connect to the new sewers that will be constructed. Many neighborhoods around Pennington involve small lots that were originally meant for sewers, and these connections should be explored seriously. However, I will oppose all efforts to extend the sewer service area.
McLaughlin: Keeping Hopewell Township affordable and green are the most important goals that I have been working toward. I challenged each of our expenses and developed a 2019 budget that is nearly $2 million dollars less than that of 2015. With that, we added services such as bulky waste pickup, a friendly face to staff the front desk and additional hours to the construction office. Since 2017, we have reduced our debt from $67 Million to $59.5 Million. I am working to sell Pennytown, and to attract the right new tenants for the BMS campus – this is critical as BMS contributes almost $1000 per household in property taxes. We formed an Economic and Tourism Advisory Board to support our local businesses and attract new ones, helping reduce our reliance on residential property taxes. The goal of protecting our environment and rural character is paramount. I partnered with FOHVOS, The Watershed, D&R Greenway, the county and the state to make the township’s open space dollars go further. I want to expand our trail network to enhance recreational opportunities. We built a new safe route to school behind Timberlane by partnering with Trap Rock. We are working with the LHT to finish Hopewell’s portion of the trail.
Peters-Manning: The most pressing issue facing Hopewell Township, besides keeping property taxes in check, is protecting our environment and rural character, which includes fighting the PennEast pipeline. I discuss PennEast below, but I would continue to make preserving open space and farmland a priority, as I have done working on the boards of FoHVOS and the LHT. I also would oppose extending sewers to more areas of the township, such as up Route 31 to the golf course, as sewers inevitably lead to development.
Next is finding the right, responsible corporate partner to replace BMS when they leave their Hopewell Campus by July 2020. The first new tenant, PTC Therapeutics, is a great start, but we have more work to do to ensure that this huge chunk of our tax base is replaced with companies who fit with the BMS legacy of community partnering and environmental advocacy. I will bring my business and financial experience to these negotiations, as well as my training as an environmental lawyer and experience working on behalf of community environmental organizations.
What in your experience or background makes you prepared to face the challenges and issues of Hopewell Township?
Hart: I have served on the Hopewell Township Committee and its various boards and commission since 1995. I know the town, its environments, its possibilities and its limitations. I have run a family owned business, Rosedale Mills, for many decades, and my family and I have ties to this community going back centuries to our founders. I have always acted as an independent. I serve because I know and love my community. I know the residents of Hopewell Township very well, and I very much want to preserve the special feeling that all of us have for the valley. I know first-hand the impact of the environment on local agriculture. We must now plant later, harvest earlier. Climate change affects what and where we plant. This expertise serves the township in many ways, from our planning for smarter growth, our efforts to control the deer population, our efforts to preserve open space and our continuing efforts to preserve agricultural lands. We need to break free of petty politics and address issues as would any business. I would not succeed in business if I hired employees based upon their political affiliation.
Jackowski: As a long-time businessman and environmentalist, the owner of Jack’s Nursery, I must always make responsible decisions and balance my budget or go out of business. I don’t have the luxury of raising taxes to make my business work. I must deal with changing local and national economic conditions, and fashion a business that recognizes that my customers are the key to everything. The township’s “customers” are its citizens and taxpayers, who deserve a government that understands from where its funds derive. The point is, I listen patiently, always, and I will bring that underestimated skill to the running of the township.
McLaughlin: I am a mother, wife, friend, neighbor, educator and volunteer. I take my responsibilities seriously and I do not make hasty decisions. I am dedicated to learning as much as I can about a topic before we vote. I listen to our residents, professionals and volunteers. I strive to find common ground and believe that the best results come when all sides have a voice. We are fortunate here to have a strong volunteer group with years of experience. I have learned a tremendous amount working with them. A good leader has to be wise enough to ask hard questions, and humble enough to seek answers from those who have more experience. I enjoy bringing people together to work for all our residents. I am willing to make the hard decisions that this role presents. I listen, ask questions and work toward solutions, always with the best interest of the entire township as the top priority. If reelected, I will build on the solid foundation we have in order to ensure that the Hopewell Township of the future offers its residents a strong community, in a healthy environment, with a responsible and thoughtful governing body.
Peters-Manning: The two most pressing challenges in Hopewell Township are keeping property taxes in check and protecting our environment and rural character. On taxes, I am the director of Finance at the Cambridge School, where I am responsible for budgeting, keeping expenses under control and managing cash flow. I know what it means to keep within a budget in order to pay the bills and make payroll every two weeks. I will bring this financial expertise with me to the township committee to help keep municipal taxes under control. I have been an environmental consultant and lawyer, and this background in environmental law and policy gives me a deep understanding of the challenges facing our town, as well as how to preserve our critical assets. I currently serve on the boards of the Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space and the Lawrence Hopewell Trail, so I have experience working with community partners to preserve land and build trails that benefit our community. I have a track record of putting my time, energy and expertise into environmental causes, and I will continue that at the committee.
Where do you stand on PennEast’s proposed pipeline and how should the committee continue to address this issue?
Hart: I have very strongly opposed PennEast from the very first moment that I heard about it. In fact, it was my republican majority and I that kicked PennEast surveyors off Hopewell owned property while the all democratic-run county allowed them on county owned property. We also had multiple meetings in public with blasting, environmental and safety experts to help us build our case to defend against land seizures. I will continue to fight against the pipeline. We need to oppose their seizure of public and private lands in the courts, if it comes to that. We have worked far too long and hard as a community to preserve our valley only to see such mismanagement imposed upon us.
Jackowski: I am not yet in office, but I am part of a natural, bi-partisan movement that has opposed the PennEast Pipeline through environmentally sensitive lands. Democrats and republicans have opposed this pipeline from its inception. The last time that republicans were in the majority, they led the groundwork for the consistent fight that all members of the committee have joined. I will keep up the good fight. I question the inherent, economic need for the pipeline and I am vehemently opposed to their use of Eminent Domain to seize land for their use. The effort must be fought using every means at our disposal. My main concern is that the township has not allocated sufficient funds for joining the regional, legal effort. A relatively small investment there would pay enormous dividends later.
McLaughlin: We do not want and do not need the PennEast pipeline. I just returned from a conference in Lexington, Kentucky, convened by the chairman of the Federal Energy and Regulatory Commission. He invited nearly 180 national leaders in the energy field to discuss the future of energy in this country. I was one of three people invited to represent affected landowners. I made sure that they knew that we would never accede to PennEast’s bullying tactics. Our preserved land is exactly that – ours – and no private company should be able to take it for their profit. Even with the recent court decisions on our side, our vocal opposition must continue until this project is totally and finally rejected. This is not a fight that will be won by standing on the sidelines. Don’t be misled that this election will not affect the fight against this project. Action is demanded, and I have been vocal, active and engaged in this fight.
Peters-Manning: I have been fighting PennEast every step of the way. I have testified against the pipeline in Trenton in front of both Senate and Assembly Committees. I have attended rallies, events and protests, where I have spoken on behalf of FoHVOS. My training as an environmental lawyer has helped me work on green energy aggregation with other communities along the route to address the supply-side demand for fossil fuels that causes pipelines to be economically viable. The committee should stay steadfast in its opposition to the pipeline and should not negotiate with PennEast. We had good news this month, when the NJDEP rejected PennEast’s permit application. While they can reapply, and our fight is not over, it was a big victory. Unlike my opponents, I know that it takes more than just empty words to fight off such a giant corporation. It takes a lot of hard work by a lot of people. It has been inspiring to work alongside my running mate, McLaughlin, Congresswoman Watson Coleman, local environmental leaders and many others to achieve this hard-won result. It shows that working together, we can fight for our environment and win.
As a member of the Township Committee, how would you address growth in Hopewell Township? Do you think the Committee has addressed growth concerns in town?
Hart: We must work with, rather than avoid the township’s Master Plan. Years ago, the township invested more than $1 million to bring a full understanding of our local environment into our planning, but we have instead put forth plans that are all wholly inconsistent with that plan. I had to vote against the idea of placing a 16-pump gas station and fast food restaurants on lands that our Master Plan identified as environmentally sensitive. The developmental burden is far too great on the southern tier. That’s a main reason why I wanted to move the Community and Senior Center to the Hopewell Valley Golf Course, a location that can better serve both boroughs and lessen the traffic impact on the southern tier and around the Pennington Circle. No new sewers would be required there.
We need to market Pennytown for resale far more effectively. We must propose no new PILOT agreements without first conducting careful cost-benefit analyses. We must not alter our carefully-defined sewer service areas without good cause. Many of the homes on small lots, often with failing septic systems, surrounding Pennington, may be able to benefit from the sewer service extensions that the affordable housing agreements will bring.
Jackowski: The township’s affordable housing plans have failed in five ways. First, the PILOT agreements will stress future school budgets. Second, at least one of the projects, notably Woodmont, should have used 100% affordable housing to minimize the impact on schools and township services. Third, Pennytown is a financial disaster, costing the town more than $8 million and doing nothing to satisfy our affordable housing goals. Fourth, the expansion of the sewer service area to the west side of Scotch Road will stress the environmentally sensitive lands there. Finally, the town needs to negotiate sewer service for existing residents with failing septic systems in the neighborhoods surrounding Pennington. Township policies will result in a nearly 50% increase in population within the next eight years, and yet they insist that there will be no impact on schools and services. A more independent and frankly critical voice is needed to lessen the impact of growth on our overall taxes. The PILOT agreements may well limit township tax rate increases while stressing the local school budget.
McLaughlin: Managing growth has always been a major issue in the township. The challenge of meeting our constitutional mandate to provide a reasonable opportunity for the construction of affordable housing while protecting the rural character of the township demands critical thinking, collaborative engagement with partners and an unwavering refusal to accept a poorly constructed plan. The initial 2015 plan pushed through by then Mayor Lester with John Hart had 1300 affordable units. The current plan has only 653 units and I negotiated for a larger share of this obligation to be geared to age restricted 55 and over households, to create new opportunities for our residents looking to downsize in town and to minimize impacts on schools. There have been some decisions from prior committees that I would not have made. Attempts to expand the sewer service area up Rt. 31 to Pennytown would have resulted in overdevelopment of some of our pristine areas. The current plan that received an unconditional blessing from the court keeps development near our major arteries and several large employers, maximizes the number of age restricted units, and keeps tall towers out of Hopewell Township.
Peters-Manning: Hopewell Township is facing a great challenge in growth and development by state-mandated affordable housing. The vote to approve the settlement, which resulted in our obligation of 653 units, was bipartisan and unanimous. This is a court order. If we do not comply, we risk a builder’s remedy lawsuit, which allows out-of-control development run by developers, not our local officials. So it has to go somewhere in the township, and the current plan is the result of years of work by the Committee and Planning Board. I think while the township committee was in a difficult position and dealing with many competing forces in arriving at the settlement, they could have done a better job in communicating with residents. It is government’s responsibility to keep the public informed and listen to constituents.
I have already advocated for changes. I insisted that we conduct a survey to get public input for the Open Space/Recreation Plan. I suggested that developers be required to post signs on their property alerting neighbors about where to get information. If elected, I would hold office hours, make more use of video and social media and proactively spread the word about controversial topics.