More than 100 residents showed up on Monday night for a contentious hearing regarding a proposal to change the zoning at Bristol Myers-Squibb’s (BMS) Hopewell campus. The property is located across Titus Mill Road from The Watershed Institute’s nearly 1,000-acre nature reserve. Despite numerous statements from the public in opposition to the proposal, the Hopewell Township Committee approved the zoning change after adopting one amendment.
The Watershed Institute and BMS have been friendly neighbors for several decades and the Watershed certified the site as a “River-Friendly” business in the mid-2000s for its efforts to conserve and manage water as well as protect wildlife habitat on the property. The company is seeking to sell the property and the zoning change was proposed to entice potential buyers. The changes would broaden the zoning from “office and research” activities to include manufacturing and allow this large 400+ acre site to be subdivided into multiple 20-acre parcels.
The Watershed voiced concerns about the proposal, which were echoed by nearly thirty people who also testified at the public meeting. Those speaking out against the proposal included several current and retired pharmaceutical executives and scientists, who stated that pharmaceutical manufacturing is a much more intrusive and potentially dangerous activity than pharmaceutical research. No members of the public spoke in favor of the zoning change.
The Watershed voiced two main concerns:
First, the proposed ordinance would authorize a vast range of manufacturing activities “in the fields of medicine, pharmacology, chemistry, physics, engineering, biologics, and similar fields, including but not limited to the production of medicines, nutritional products, medical products and devices, and their component parts, and other similar items.” The Watershed asserted that virtually any manufacturing process one could think of would be allowed under that language.
This concern was voiced by a number of people who feared impacts on adjacent and nearby residential neighborhoods, numerous farms in the area (several of which grow produce organically), the Stony Brook, The Watershed Institute’s nature reserve, and other preserved open space areas. These spaces host migratory birds and wildlife which enhance the quality of life for all Hopewell residents.
The Watershed argued that in a more typical situation, a new or prospective owner would reveal itself and, if it desired, request a zoning variance or zoning change to permit an intended activity that would not otherwise be allowed. The Watershed encouraged the Township Committee to table the proposed zoning change and follow that process instead so that the public would know exactly what activities were being contemplated on the site.
The Committee eventually acknowledged the concerns that the proposal would authorize an extremely broad array of manufacturing activities, including the manufacture of potentially dangerous chemicals, and amended the language of the ordinance to delete the words “chemistry,” “physics,” “engineering,” and “similar fields.” Concerns persist, however, that some pharmaceutical manufacturing processes authorized by the amended language could pose a threat to the environment and public health.
The Watershed Institute also raised concerns that the ordinance would allow a large number of trucks carrying raw materials used in the manufacturing process to the site, and finished products away from the site. The Watershed Institute’s driveway is located less than 250 feet from what is currently used as BMS’ shipping and receiving entrance on the narrow and winding Titus Mill Road. Thousands of school children and other individuals travel to the Watershed for educational programs, conferences, festivals, and events each year.
The potential for dangerous accidents and long traffic delays was voiced by many members of the public, despite assertions by some members of the Township Committee that the ordinance would mostly allow modest sized “box trucks.” In fact, the ordinance would allow an average of 50 trips per day of trucks up to 48 feet in length (1,550 per month; 18,250 per year) and up to 3 trucks per day greater than 48 feet long (93 per month; 1,116 per year). (An earlier post indicated that the ordinance would allow an average of 50 trucks per day of up to 48 feet in length. More precisely, the ordinance authorizes an average of 50 trips per day by trucks of up to 48 feet in length.) The ordinance includes no daily caps on the number of trucks that would be allowed, meaning that the number of these large trucks, possibly carrying dangerous chemicals, could far exceed the authorized daily averages.
The Township Committee expressed concerns that if BMS is not able to sell the property, the company would leave the site and refuse to pay property taxes on the land or sue the town for a lower tax assessment if the buildings were to go vacant. Residents who spoke expressed fear that allowing the proposed activities at this site could lower property values for themselves and their neighbors and expressed their desire to maintain the high quality of life in the township with clean water, clean air, and public safety as their essential reasons for remaining in Hopewell Township.
The Watershed Institute is pleased that so many area residents came to the public hearing and voiced their concerns. We are disappointed that the Township Committee did not table the proposal in order to allow more time to discuss and evaluate its merits. Many of the residents who testified at the hearing said that they had not heard about the proposal until a few days before the meeting.