Top stories of the year for Hopewell Valley

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With 2023 quickly coming to an end, the Hopewell Valley News looks back at its top three stories for the year.

‘Make no mistake the need is great’

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A partnership between HomeFront, Homes by TLC, and Lennar celebrated the groundbreaking of a building complex that will house 26 affordable housing units for low-income and working families.

Construction for Lennar’s Hopewell Parc residential development on Scotch Road has been well underway for the first phase on 1,077 homes with 216 affordable housing units.

“We are thrilled that this new project in Hopewell Parc will become home to 26 families,” said Celia Bernstein, executive director of Homes by TLC, Inc, a Lawrence nonprofit, at the groundbreaking ceremony on June 23. She noted they have partnered with Lennar to purchase the building.

The three-story apartment building complex will have four one-bedroom units, 16 two-bedroom units, and six three-bedroom units.

For a family to afford a modest two-bedroom home in Mercer County they must earn an hourly wage of $33.50, far more than the state’s average wage of $24.40 or the current minimum wage of $14.13, according to this year’s annual Out of Reach report conducted by the National Low-income Housing Coalition.

“That means that at minimum wage an individual would need to work 95 hours a week to afford a two-bedroom apartment at the fair market rent of $1,742,” Bernstein said. “In New Jersey, 36 percent of the residents rent their homes.”

The Hopewell Parc residential development is the 23 affordable housing project for Homes by TLC. HomeFront, which is a Lawrence nonprofit with a mission to end homelessness and break the cycle of poverty, partners with Homes by TLC to develop housing for clients.

“Among the top 30 occupations in New Jersey, 24 of them pay medium wages less than the housing wages,” she said. “This includes the teacher assistants, nursing assistants, counting clerks, home health aides, truck drivers, security guards, laborers, field preparation workers, receptionist cashiers and others. Make no mistake the need is great.”

Those living in the 26 affordable units will pay no more than 30% of the income on rent, according to HomeFront.

Hopewell Township Mayor Michael Ruger said he sees the groundbreaking as a step forward in ensuring that there is affordable housing in Hopewell Township.

“I firmly believe people who work in a community should have the opportunity to live in a community and the people who have lived here should have the opportunity to stay,” he said. “It is wrong to offer a young police officer a job and tell her she needs to commute a long distance in order to take the job, because there is no place she can afford to live in the community she protects.

“It is wrong to hire a teacher to educate our children and not give him an opportunity to become a part of the community because there is no place he can afford to live, and it is wrong to tell a retired couple that they have to move because there is no place they can afford to live.

“That is why affordable housing is necessary and that is why it is the right thing to do,” he said.

When Fair Share Housing released the nonprofit’s report on its work since 2015 on helping provide housing for low-income families, the Hopewell Parc building project was featured as one of the most important developments in all of New Jersey out of more than 22,000 affordable homes that have been created since that year, officials said.

Mitch Newman, director of Land Acquisition and Entitlements and senior vice president of Venture Operations with Lennar, said conversations had taken place over several years to have Homes by TLC and HomeFront take control over some units in Hopewell Township at Hopewell Parc.

Pennington First Aid Squad ambulances. Photo courtesy of PFAS

No gaps in emergency services with Pennington First Aid Squad closure

There are “no gaps” in service with the closure of Pennington First Aid Squad operations, which closed due to a lack of volunteers.

As of March 1, the Hopewell Township Fire District had been providing emergency services to Pennington residents through their career staff, and staff from the Union Fire Company & Rescue Squad Inc. and the Hopewell Borough Fire Company.

The fire district continued to provide those services through April 3. That is when the contract with Capital Health for emergency medical services began.

Capital Health has one Capital Health ambulance covering Hopewell Valley on a 24/7 basis.

Mayor James Davy informed Pennington residents at a Pennington Council meeting on March 6 that ambulance services were still occurring before the Capital Health service began.

The Council passed an interlocal services agreement with Hopewell Township Fire District on Feb. 28 to provide ambulance service to the borough from March 1 to April 3.

The Pennington First Aid Squad (PFAS) made its last call on March 1. It was a mutual aid call to a neighboring town, according to the PFAS website.

“On April 3, Capital Health will take over through the end of that contract period. We will then negotiate continued service beyond April 3, 2024,” Davy said.

Pennington is contributing $25,230 to the $200,000 cost for emergency medical services coverage from Capital Health for the year.

To ease residents’ concerns about a March gap in emergency medical services, Hopewell Township and Hopewell Township Fire District No. 1 had released a statement to the public announcing that there would be no interruption in service.

Career staff from the Township Emergency Services are filling in on the night shift, along with per diems and volunteers from Titusville and Hopewell Borough, and services are being staged at the Pennington First Aid Squad facility at 110 Broemel Place in Pennington, according to the township and fire district.

“This cost will be shared by all the local municipalities,” they said.

They added that come April, the Capital Health ambulance will free up staff at Titusville and Hopewell Borough.

“We will be able to call on these staff and volunteers when a second call is necessary,” they said. “We want to give special thanks to the remaining volunteers, who are going above and beyond to get us through this month between PFAS and Capital Health. They are true community heroes.”

Andrew Harrison/Hopewell Valley News
Mayor Paul Anzano (left), Sen. Shirley Turner (center), Assemblyman Anthony Verrelli (center), and Board President Kris Provenzano (right) stand with $150,000 grant check for Meetinghouse preservation efforts.

‘State funds aid preservation efforts of historic Meetinghouse’

Efforts to preserve the Old School Baptist Meetinghouse are moving forward as the historic landmark received $150,000 from the state for improvements and preservation.

The meetinghouse, which is steeped in Hopewell Borough history and located on 46 West Broad St., was the site for a celebration of state funding from the State Fiscal Recovery Fund on Aug. 2.

“This grant will allow us to begin to make necessary upgrades to our building and start the process of preserving and restoring a local, state and national treasure,” said Kris Provenzano, president of the Meetinghouse Board of Trustees, calling the grant “a good steppingstone” for the foundation.

Overseeing the Old School Baptist Meetinghouse is a Board of Trustees, whose current members are Provenzano, Julie Osborn, Marsha Lowe, George Wislar, Rae Grasso, Mark Bovenizer, and John Buck.

“We still have a long road ahead of us,” Provenzano said. “A little over a year ago, we were in dire straits as a foundation with few opportunities or ideas for how we can sustain our operational needs let alone our necessary improvements.”

With help from Hopewell Borough officials and staff, the Meetinghouse foundation connected with Architect Ronica Bregenzer, Archaeologist Ian Burrows, and Architect Michael Mills, who serves on the Borough Historic Preservation Commission.

They are working with Mills on a preservation plan for the Meetinghouse, which is already being developed now.

“From there we are going into other grants,” Provenzano said. “But, in order to get the other grants, we have to have our certificate of eligibility for the state and federal historic registry. We are hoping by the end of this year we will have [the certificate of eligibility] and then we will be able to go for [other] grants. That will help with our grant work.”

The current state grant being received and any additional grants to restore and renovate this building will go towards addressing operational needs and making necessary improvements.

“In order for the Meetinghouse to serve the community better, our plan includes a new HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) system, restoring the exterior of the church and ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant bathrooms,” Provenzano added. “We are in need of volunteers now more than ever and I would like to invite interested folks to join in any capacity.”

The board also continues to fundraise private donations for planned preservation efforts for the Meetinghouse.

The $150,000 state grant funded from the Fiscal Year 2023 (FY23) State Fiscal Recovery Fund under the American Rescue Plan was made possible through efforts from Assemblyman Anthony Verrelli, State Sen. Shirley Turner, and Assemblywoman Verlina Reynolds-Jackson, all of District 15.

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