Representatives for a proposed commercial retail and restaurant project at 71 E. Broad St. are re-noticing, after a noticing deficiency was discovered by Hopewell Borough Planning Board officials, prior to the carried application’s public hearing on Nov. 4.
The planning board was unable to hear additional testimony for the application for the proposed project at the corner of East Broad Street and Maple Street on Nov. 4, due to the deficiency. The next scheduled planning board meeting is set for Dec. 2 at 7 p.m.
Planning Board Secretary Maggie Schmitt said representatives for the application will start testimony from the beginning when the public hearing does resume.
The proposed project would renovate an existing structure for commercial retail and restaurant space formally occupied by Castoro & Company Inc. as an automobile service station, according to application documents, and would be phase one of a two-phased project on the property.
The project is facing certain pushback from neighbors, which was on display at the Nov. 4 meeting and arose again in discussions during the Borough Council meeting on Nov. 5.
Brad Evans, property owner at Columbia Avenue whose backyard would face the completed project, spoke to some of community concerns about the project to the council, which included improved community input.
“There is broad community interest and a desire for some imaginative thinking on how to have a more proactive stance on the part of the planning board and the council perhaps, about being able to direct in some way, and I do not know what that way is, any kind of redevelopment that would be happening at the 71 E. Broad St. or other properties in town,” he said. “I think there is a sense here of playing catchup and reacting to plans that nobody, from what I can tell on the planning board, and nobody in town that I talked to, appreciates.”
Concerns about the project include the size, parking, hours of operations, noise at the completed project, lighting, landscaping and redevelopment plan for the Castoro property, as stated in letter by surrounding property owners to the planning board.
“We very specifically excluded an eminent domain option for the borough (redevelopment ordinance) to take someone’s property and very specifically as a council said we want to work on a collaborative basis with the property owner, to do what they think A. is in their best economic interests and balance what we think is the best interest of the community in how these properties are developed,” Mayor Paul Anzano said during the Borough Council meeting.
“There has been nothing that has happened to date where none of those commitments have been ignored. What is before the planning board right now is not a redevelopment plan, it is a variance,” he said. “We are still hoping people at the Castoro lot will file a redevelopment plan that we all can negotiate to benefit the borough property owner and surrounding property owners. We are not at that stage.”
Anzano added that the property is still the applicant’s property.
“This is their property. They should have some significant impact on how the property is developed,” he said. “We have a very legitimate interest as a governing body to make sure it does not go off the rails and harm the community. Right now that is their property and they are devising plans. They have to include us going forward if plans are such that it does not fit into our master plan or long range vision of the borough.”
The renovation of the former service building includes the removal of a portion of the rear of the building and a small addition at the front of the building along East Broad Street. The project would also remove all the service station items currently existing on the 1.8-acre property.
Representatives for the applicant are proposing the demolition of a portion of the 6,624-square-foot existing building for constructing space of close to 3,900 square feet for a potential restaurant tenant. The building will also serve as office use for 1,139 square feet; a common and mechanical space of a little more than 1,200 square feet; and open air seasonal outdoor dining consisting of 1,016 square feet.
The project would also have covered parking and contain 45 parking spaces for the first phase of the property’s redevelopment.
The applicant is seeking a variance for an existing non-conforming condition for the front setback from Maple Street; a variance for maximum allowable floor area of single retail use (2,500 square feet) in the borough business zone (B-R Zone); and additionally, variances are being requested for size of parking spaces, parking setback, and landscaping buffer, according to documents.