Township planners want$300K more for Master Plan job

Appropriation of the $300,000 would bring the amount of money committed to the Master Plan to $500,000

By: John Tredrea
   The Planning Board is urging the Township Committee to appropriate $300,000 for the ongoing task of completely rewriting Hopewell Township’s Master Plan.
   The board voted unanimously Tuesday night to recommend the appropriation, which would require adoption of an ordinance by the committee. Appropriation of the $300,000 would bring the amount of money committed to the Master Plan to $500,000. The first $200,000 was appropriated about three years ago.
   An ordinance authorizing the $300,000 may be introduced at the June 6 Township Committee meeting. Introduction of such an ordinance was on the agenda of the committee’s last meeting, held May 16. The committee decided to delay a vote on the proposed ordinance until after Tuesday night’s joint meeting with the Planning Board, when committee members could question the Planning Board and its professional consultants about the proposed expenditure.
   The money, if approved, would be funded as a special emergency appropriation, which, under state law, would enable the township to spread the cost of the appropriation over five years.
   Planning Board members said a complete revision of the Master Plan is necessary to intelligently and comprehensively prepare for the future of the township. At 58 square miles, Hopewell Township is one of the largest municipalities in New Jersey.
   Board member Bill Connolly and board Chairman Michael Aucott said Tuesday night that a key element of the proposed $300,000 in new work on the Master Plan would be the detailed design of a "traditional neighborhood" that could be located in the township. Officials have said in the past such a neighborhood probably would be located in the southern township, due to proximity of infrastructure. An estimated $80,000 would be spent on the design of the traditional neighborhood.
   A traditional neighborhood, like those in Pennington and Hopewell boroughs, would include commercial as well as residential components. Residents would be able to walk to many of the services they require, thus reducing traffic, which has become an increasingly intense political issue in Hopewell Valley during the past few years.
   Township planner Michael Bolan said that, in designing the traditional neighborhood, he and other township professionals "would lay out the streets of different types of development … it would be a physical design." Mr. Bolan said the design could be "adopted into the Master Plan, so you can say: ‘This is the street pattern we want.’ "
   Mr. Connolly said "this idea that we could design a traditional neighborhood development ourselves is one of the most important things" in the Master Plan work that will be done if the $300,000 is appropriated. "It’s important because we can design the community ourselves, rather than having builders do it," he said. This feature could eliminate "the confrontation, between the builder and the community" that has become a staple of development proposals in the township during the past several years.
   Affordable housing also could result from the traditional neighborhood development, Mr. Connolly said.
   "We’re hoping to get housing that’s affordable for ordinary people," he said. "That’s one of our objectives. Right now, what we can deliver is housing for the wealthy."
   Tackling the traditional neighborhood design is special, board Chairman Aucott said. "It’s an opportunity to do something truly progressive."
   During Tuesday night’s meeting, Township Committee members Fran Bartlett and Vanessa Sandom said that, because of the amount of money being proposed for the Master Plan, they wanted more detail on how the money would be spent.
   "Before I’m going to be comfortable going to the public saying I want $300,000, I’m saying there’s more information about this I can use," said Ms. Sandom. By way of example, she noted that the $300,000 includes an estimated $53,000 for a traffic circulation element of the Master Plan. "When you say $53,000, what are you going to get for that?" she asked.
   "I think what you’re asking for is reasonable," Mr. Connolly replied.
   Ms. Bartlett made comments similar to Ms. Sandom’s. She also wanted to know if the $300,000 would finish the job of rewriting the Master Plan.
   Mr. Connolly replied: "This is the dollar estimate for all the work we could see."
   The resolution, which the board passed unanimously, stated that Mr. Bolan and other professional consultants will provide more written detail on how the $300,000 would be spent and when various components of the work might be done. The work would be done during a span of about two years, officials say.
   In addition to the aforementioned $80,000 for work on designing a traditional neighborhood development and $53,000 for the traffic circulation element of the Master Plan, the proposed $300,000 includes:
    $26,000 for an open space and recreation plan.
    $10,000 for a farmland preservation plan.
    $29,000 for preparation of ordinances that would implement the Master Plan. The Master Plan itself is not an enforceable document.
    $10,000 for the conservation element of the Master Plan.
    $14,000 for the community facilities element of the Master Plan.
    $20,000 for the scenic byways element.
    $42,000 for legal fees and contingencies.
    $16,000 for other items.