Schafer tract zoning top Rocky Hill issue

Progress made on new county park.

By: Kara Fitzpatrick
   ROCKY HILL — The borough’s last major undeveloped tract of land became a dominant issue before the Borough Council and the public during 2004.
   Actions this year paved the way for construction of a large county park and zoning for age-restricted housing on the two separate but adjacent pieces of property.
   A development contract for the new county park, named Van Horne Park following a borough and Montgomery Township park-naming contest, was approved this year. Mayor Brian Nolan said coming to an agreement with Montgomery, with which the borough is collaborating to finance the park, was an accomplishment.
   And officials spent much of 2004 in negotiation with David Schafer over the zoning of his 15-acre tract on Princeton Avenue, adjacent to the park.
   Controversy ensued after the Planning Board proposed in February to rezone those 15 acres. That rezoning would have reduced the number of units permitted on the property. The Planning Board offered three options it felt were fair to Mr. Schafer, but he didn’t agree and threatened litigation if the rezoning was approved.
   In March, the Planning Board approved an ordinance giving Mr. Schafer three zoning options. Mr. Schafer said those options presented terms that were different from his original contract with the borough in 1996. In April, the Borough Council vote on the ordinance was delayed because of a public notification question and later that month the ordinance was tabled after Mr. Schafer and the borough entered negotiations.
   After months of consultation and discussion, the new ordinance approved this month by the Planning Board after Master Plan amendments and by the Borough Council would allow Mr. Schafer 34 units of age-restricted housing on the Princeton Avenue tract.
   Mayor Nolan said the conclusion of the Schafer tract zoning was front and center this year for borough officials.
   "The resolution of the zoning and the updating of the Master Plan was very important for the community," said Councilman Rich Batchelder.
   But resolving the Schafer tract issue and sealing the park development wasn’t all that happened.
   During the November Borough Council elections, independent Jared Witt defeated incumbent Republican Martin Englebrecht. Joining Mr. Witt on the council will be Republican incumbent Rich Batchelder, who won re-election.
   Traffic calming measures also were undertaken throughout the year.
   "Certainly, at the top of the list is the success of the South Bound Brook traffic force agreement," said Councilman George Morren.
   The South Bound Brook Police Department provides supplemental police coverage to the borough through an interlocal agreement, which costs the borough about $30,000 per year. From January to October, the latest month for which there are statistics, the South Brook Police Department issued more than 900 tickets.
   Other members of the committee, including the mayor, expressed satisfaction with the increased police presence in the borough.
   Additional traffic calming measures taken in 2004 include the installation of eight speed humps on Montgomery and Princeton avenues.
   "It’s part of the overall package of improving traffic safety conditions here," said Mr. Morren. He added that, as a result of the speed humps, the borough has even enjoyed some unexpected benefits, including a decrease in the number of large trucks that use Rocky Hill’s roads as a shortcut to Route 27.
   "We are continuing to focus on (traffic calming measures)," said Mayor Nolan.
   In other issues, Mayor Nolan pointed out the borough was able to again maintain the local municipal tax rate without an increase.
   In December the Borough Council also adopted an ordinance approving $130,000 for the acquisition of a new ambulance to replace one of the two currently in operation.
   "Rocky Hill received significant amounts in grants," said Councilman Ed Zimmerman.Those grants, totaling more than $375,000, assisted in paying for the fire department’s ventilation equipment, tennis court repairs, sidewalks on Princeton Avenue and the Community Group building renovation.