Townsend’s Carter Road projectto be aired at planners’ session

On Tuesday, the Hopewell Township Planning Board is expected to discuss Townsend Capital’s proposal to donate 190 acres it owns on the west side of Carter Road to the township

By: John Tredrea
   On Tuesday, the Hopewell Township Planning Board is expected to discuss Townsend Capital’s proposal to donate 190 acres it owns on the west side of Carter Road to the township.
   The donation would be made in exchange for subdivision approval of 190 acres Townsend owns on the east side of Carter Road. Townsend purchased the property (most of which is the former Western Electric site) several years ago.
   The land located on the east side of Carter Road is the former site of Western Electric’s Corporate Education Center (CEC) and Western Electric’s Engineering Research Center (ERC). Also involved in the proposal is land on the west side, which includes a building once used as the CEC residence hall, which was connected to the CEC by a tunnel under Carter Road.
   ERC buildings located on the land east of Carter Road include the white house that passers-by see as they drive north toward Hopewell, and the building behind it. This site was used for a time by Lucent Technologies, which has vacated the premises, but still has a lease on the ERC site, according to Howard Sobkov of Townsend.
   Townsend spokeswoman Erin Donovan said last week, "In addition to the 190-acre donation on the west side, the firm also will abide by the township’s 15 percent open space set-aside for the east side. Of the 380 total acres in the tract, Townsend’s plan will preserve 57.5 percent of the land — 218 acres — for open space."
   The open space set-aside on the west side would take the form of a conservation easement. This means that, although Townsend would own the land, it would be prohibited from developing it.
   Ms. Donovan added that Townsend also will guarantee, in a deed restriction, that no more than 5.1 percent of the total 380 acres the firm presently owns will ever be developed.
   Ms. Donovan said "subdivision approval itself does not permit any additional development on the property. It will make it easier for Townsend to renovate existing buildings and attract new biotech business to the site.
   "Townsend will have to go through further approval processes to build anything new on the east tract. Subdivision approval will allow Townsend to renovate the existing site buildings for use as biotechnology labs and associated offices. This will result in low-impact use for these buildings, in keeping with community goals of maintaining the rural character of Hopewell Township."
   Ms. Donovan and Mr. Sobkov said use of the property for research work rather than offices would mean less people would work on the site each day. This would mean less traffic on local roads, they said. "Township regulations require fewer parking spaces for laboratories than for other uses," Mr. Sobkov noted Monday.
   "In addition, laboratory work is not normally 9-to-5 office work, meaning that workers will be commuting to and from the property at off-peak hours, further limiting rush hour traffic. The property currently uses an on-site, state-approved waste treatment plant and will continue to do so. While the site currently uses well water, the township has granted a franchise to the owners to provide city water once buildings are slated to be occupied," Mr. Sobkov said.
   Ms. Donovan added: "Homeowners living in Elm Ridge, Nelson Ridge and Hopewell Hunt that border the west tract will be assured that land adjacent to their neighborhood will remain open, undeveloped space forever. Bringing in highly-educated, biotechnology laboratory employers will increase the local tax base and increase property values. Local traffic systems may need to be improved to accommodate the future redevelopment of the east tract. Townsend will work with Township officials and the Hopewell community to create safe traffic conditions. Townsend has proposed to donate an additional $225,000 to the township for community safety facilities. This will allow the township to determine the best community use for the donation."
   Buildings expected to be proposed by Townsend in the future will help preserve the rural character of the township, Ms. Donovan said.
   Future plans include three buildings, none greater than 43 feet, 11 inches in height, to increase the amount of open space while limiting visual impacts. New buildings will be aligned to limit visibility from the road. Townsend will provide for 200-foot set-backs from property boundaries, as per township requirements.
   Mr. Sobkov said the new buildings would be approximately 600 feet to 800 feet from Carter Road. He said the firm considered proposing five two-story buildings, but felt three three-story buildings was a better idea.
   "Three buildings instead of five would substantially reduce the amount of impervious coverage," Mr. Sobkov said, referring to the amount of land covered by buildings, parking lots and other structures through which rainwater cannot pass.
   "Natural landscaping, including the planting of native trees, would limit visual impacts" of the new buildings, Ms. Donovan said.
   Since township law limits height of buildings on the Townsend tract to 40 feet, a variance would be needed to build them to the height expected to be proposed by Townsend if its application for subdivision approval is granted by the Planning Board.
   On the east side of Carter Road, for which the subdivision approval is being sought, Townsend will maintain the character of the rural space and will retain recreation space, Ms. Donovan said. There will be a mulch path which ties into other green spaces, the existing baseball field will remain, and basketball courts will be developed to comply with the township’s recreation requirements.
   There are several items ahead of Townsend on the board’s March 26 agenda, meaning discussion of the proposal may not begin until a later date. If the discussion does begin March 26, there may not be time to complete it before adjournment. The board’s consideration of the Townsend proposal would then be continued at a subsequent meeting.