On Wednesday May 4th, the Hopewell Township Zoning Board of Adjustment will consider a request to interpret an ordinance by the owners of the “Kooltronic” property. While the request is unusual the power to interpret ordinances was given to zoning boards under state law. It is important that Hopewell residents come out and urge the Board to reject Kooltronic’s proposed interpretation.
Kooltronic can build 14 homes on the property under the zoning ordinance but can build more if it preserves land elsewhere in Hopewell Township. Under the ordinance for each seven acres in the MRC preserved Kooltronic gets an additional dwelling unit on their property. For every three in the VRC preserved Kooltronic gets an additional dwelling unit on their property. The question is what kind of land can Kooltronic “preserve” to receive the right to build more houses on its property and what uses can be allowed on the “preserved” lands.Specifically, Kooltronic is asking the Board to interpret the following provision in the zoning code:
Purpose. The purpose of this paragraph is to provide a mechanism for the transfer of development potential in the Mountain Resource Conservation and Valley Resource Conservation Districts to designated hamlet in the VRC-HLI District. The intent of this provision is to provide an opportunity to create an alternative development opportunity that furthers the goals of resource conservation in the township, while also providing a development form that supports the goals and policies of the master plan.
The essence of the issues is what is meant by the “goals of resource conservation?” The applicant has provided a suggested interpretation of this ordinance that would include a wide range of activities.
Kooltronic’s proposed interpretations is not consistent with the intent of the ordinance. For example, the proposed interpretation would allow the large scale enlargement of a house on a preserved lot or even tearing down the existing house and building a brand new house on an environmentally sensitive portion of the property. It would allow the expansion of active recreational activities on lots that sold their development rights. Also, a farm that sold its development rights could develop a hydroponics facility or greenhouse instead of maintaining traditionally farming.
None of these, in our opinion, are consistent with the letter of the law and definitely not consistent with the spirit of the law. The phrase “goals of resource conservation” means something. That meaning is provided by the ordinance: ”to promote the retention of large contiguous wooded tracts and large farm tracks, and to promote the aggregation of smaller wooded and farm parcels.” Protecting woods protects the aquifer recharge rate of the land and protects the groundwater. If this is not enough to interpret the meaning, , one can gain additional understanding by a review of the Township’s master plan. The master plan forms the basis for the zoning ordinances. The Master Plan explains that the intent of the transfer of development rights is “to preserve and protect the critical environmental and agricultural resources that prevail in the VRC and MRC Districts.” The Township’s master plan also discusses it’s Natural Resources goals as:
• To protect sensitive environmental resources from destruction or degradation, including but not limited to steep sloops, ridgelines, trout streams, wetlands, stream corridors, potable water supplies, watersheds, aquifers, rivers, viewsheds, forests and other vegetation, soils, habitats of threatened and endangered species and unique natural systems.
• To preserve and maintain the interrelationships between land and water resources that contribute to their functioning as an ecological system
• To protect biological diversity through maintenance of large contiguous tracks and corridors of recreation, forest, flood plain and other open space lands.
• To protect prime agricultural soils, soils of statewide importance and soils of importance for the contribution to agricultural production.”
To give this ordinance even more context, one must remember that the ordinance was adopted to protect groundwater. Back in 2004, the Township commissioned a study on groundwater resources. The study found that if current patterns of development continued in Hopewell, significant impacts to groundwater would result. In response to this study, the Township created the zoning known as the VRC and MRC to better protect that water resource. Several property owners filed suit and a settlement was reached. That settlement is embodied in the ordinance that is subject of the interpretation. The settlement allows Kooltronic to build at greater density than otherwise allowed if it protects critical environmental resources elsewhere in the VRC/MRC. It was not intended to be an easy thing to accomplish. The purpose was to water and other critical environmental resources. The purpose was not to undermine these critical resources, but that is exactly what could happen if the applicant’s interpretation is approved.
The Board should interpret the ordinance faithfully to protect groundwater; preserve large tracts of forest and agricultural lands with prime soils or soils of significance. Preserving lands that includes environmental features like streams and wetlands is appropriate. Eliminating rights to build houses on areas that do not contain critical environmental resources is not sufficient to allow Kooltronic to increase the number of house it can build on its property.
Active Recreational areas, like ball fields and golf courses, have value, but preserving areas for those uses is not consistent with the intent of the ordinance. It is important to preserve and protect passive recreational activities for the benefit of the community. The transfer of development rights on this ordinance is the not the appropriate tool for this laudable objective.
Therefore, the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association strongly urges the Zoning Board not to accept Kooltronic’s proposed interpretation. Instead it is required to adopt an interpretation consistent with the intent of ordinance.
Saturday, March 4, 6:00-7:30PM, Adults & Families (children 6yo+), Free
Join Education Director Jeff Hoagland at dusk as we watch and learn more about the spring courtship dance and fascinating life of this bird. Hike is co-sponsored by Washington Crossing Audubon Society.Call or email to register.
Learn more about all our programs for the coming weeks!