A Walkable Community At Hopewell’s Scotch Road Offers Many Advantages

DSC06531

A mixed-use ‘village’ off Scotch Road (pictured) is the subject of a current proposal before Hopewell Township’s Planning Board. (click to expand.)

In December, the Planning Board of Hopewell Township put off making a decision about a proposed amendment to the community Masterplan that would permit extensive development of the area on either side of Scotch Road, between I-95 and CR-546. The amendment (read it here) envisages new commercial and residential development, potentially including up to 2,500 homes, organized in the style of a walkable ‘village’. Although many local people are not be impressed at the thought of more development, the Scotch Road proposal offers several significant advantages.

The question is how best to protect as much farmland and open space in Hopewell Township as possible. Last year, New Jersey’s Council On Affordable Housing prepared new quotas for affordable housing unit for each New Jersey municipality. For Hopewell Township, the number of affordable housing units recommended by COAH was  982 units. That’s a lot! The COAH process is currently uncertain, because last October the committee refused to adopt the proposed affordable housing plan. But if anybody thinks this means that Hopewell Township will somehow get off the hook for its affordable housing obligation, they are kidding themselves. The reason why the COAH quotas didn’t get adopted was because many advocates thought that they were too low. One way or another, Hopewell Township needs to plan for a lot of new affordable housing.

It’s possible that if enough taxpayer money is burned on lawyer’s fees, the construction of affordable housing could be reduced slightly, or put off by several years, but this approach also risks seeing control of planning passed to builders. If that happens, the worst kind of cheap sprawl could be built. In contrast, the proposed concept for a mixed-use ‘urban village’ would minimize traffic increases from new housing. By co-locating stores, restaurants and housing on the same compact development, it is possible for people to get to where they need to be without using a car, or by making a shorter car trip. The only effective way to prevent future increases in regional traffic is to give people alternatives to driving. A mixed-use development at Scotch Road would help achieve that.

Merill

The  Merrill Lynch campus on the east side of Scotch Road, shown here, was the subject of an earlier development fight (click to expand).

Modern affordable housing developments usually involve a mixture of affordable an market-rate units, to avoid concentrating affordable units.  A ratio of 20% affordable units is typically used for inclusionary zoning in Princeton. If Hopewell Township wanted to take a big bite out of its affordable housing obligations, building 2,500 units at Scotch Road would not be so crazy, because this would bring 500 affordable units if the 20% ratio was used. Cutting back the number of units at Scotch Road might be considered to be a reasonable ‘compromise’, but it would just mean that other sites in Hopewell Township would need to be developed to ensure adequate affordable housing provision.

2,500 units would also provide the scale to support commercial activity. Realistically, a planned development should be big enough to support its own supermarket or grocery store, a coffee shop or diner, and a restaurant or two. A hairdresser, gym and dry-cleaners would also be desirable. If the number of units is scaled back, it makes it much harder to sustain these enterprises, and the mixed-use ‘village’ merely becomes more car-dependent sprawl. In short, the current proposal for a mixed-use village at Scotch Road is the least-terrible way that local affordable housing obligations could be satisfied. It could also be a genuine amenity for local residents. Planned properly, the Scotch Road development would provide useful stores and services for Hopewell Township residents, reducing their need to drive cars to other local communities to shop or have fun.

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Currently, land on the west side of Scotch Road has rural character. Could some of this open space be retained by ‘clustering’ development on the east side of Scotch Road? (click to expand.)

The decisions that Hopewell Township takes will have impact on other municipalities in the region. Scotch Road is currently the only place in the Township that is served by public transit (a point that is being overlooked by opponents). Although opponents of the Scotch Road plan maintain that there is no transit service to the site, over 78,000 trips were made by bus to Scotch Road last year, thanks to a GMTMA-operated shuttle service. The site is also a quarter of a mile from the NJ Transit 602 bus line. More compact development at Scotch Road would support improved transit in future, whereas low-density planning will just require more car use.  Where possible, it would be great if new development at Scotch Road could be clustered on the east side of the highway, to protect as much as possible of the open space to the west. But overall, the proposed Masterplan amendment looks reasonable and responsible, and worthy of recommendation.

We welcome your comments about the Scotch Road plan or the current state of walkable, mixed-use planning in New Jersey, in the ‘comments’ box below.

Updated 1.21.2015 – the article was updated to correct information about transit service to the Scotch Road area.

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This entry was posted in Affordability, Alternative Transportation, Density, Downtown Vibrancy, Local, planning, Smart Growth, Sustainability, Traffic and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to A Walkable Community At Hopewell’s Scotch Road Offers Many Advantages

  1. MF says:

    At a minimum, the author of this WalkablePrinceton article is misguided in placing the whole focus on COAH. Even Mr. Banisch, the planning board “professional” who has been leading the writing of the rationale for the proposed amendment for Scotch Road development admitted that COAH should NOT be the main consideration for making the changes to the Master Plan. See the following for additional info and discussion about this issue by people who actually live IN Hopewell Township.
    https://savescotchroad.shutterfly.com/
    https://www.facebook.com/neighborsatscotchroad?ref=br_tf

  2. JST says:

    There is so much that is factually wrong with this article it’s staggering. As noted by MF, above, even in the draft of the amendment to the Master Plan which advocates for the Urban Center at Scotch Road it was EXPLICITLY noted that COAH provides NO grounds for this development. Moreover, the author seems utterly unaware of the traffic study that was done by the Township that shows the MASSIVE increase in traffic that would be generated by just 1,500 units. Incidentally, this study was done using 1,500 units rather than 2,500 unites since it was discovered that even at 1,500 units plus some retail the current traffic infrastructure would be overstretched–2,500 units is simply unsustainable.) Moreover, to refer to a sporadic shuttle bus service that is provided for a few employees at the ML campus between their place of work at Hamilton Rail Station as “public transport” is simply laughable. Does the author seriously expect one shuttle bus running sporadically between ML campus and Hamilton rail to provide adequate service to the c.8,000+ new residents he or she is proposing?

  3. mtu says:

    The Township engineer had a traffic study done and reported on this at the last Township meeting. His report indicated a significant expected increase in traffic. I don’t know that shuttle service for BofA employees qualifies as public transportation. I live in the immediate area of the proposed development and haven’t had the opportunity to ride on any of this public transportation. It doesn’t give a fare rate for the public, only says shuttle rides are free for employees. Apparently people who do not even live in the area or in Hopewell Twp. somehow think they know best. Pretty weird.

  4. wow says:

    I think this development has the potential to be good (although if done badly could also be a missed opportunity). I look to Plainsboro’s recent development that included a new library, shops, offices and residences as somewhere I’d quite like to live and certainly somewhere I could envision AFFORDING to live. I they could make something like that work at Scotch Rd then I think it is probably a good thing. I can see 2 good things off the bat:
    1) Sure some fields will be lost, but if the development is suitably dense then this will be minimized. Density certainly shouldn’t be see as a negative thing just look at Hynes Plaza where Princeton library is located – 5 story buildings and I’d love to live there.
    2) Even if retail locates at the site it will likely increase traffic, but this site is very close to I295 and there is already a 3-lanes-each-direction road running through.

    • JST says:

      Let’s take the two points in order:

      1) Density in itself is not a problem; Manhattan, San Francisco, and London are all dense areas, as are parts of Princeton, but they’re great places to live. But all of them are CITIES, with public transport and a wide variety of cultural amenities that have grown organically. The proposed massive Urban Center at Scotch Road would be a fake Soviet-style “Urban Center” built in the middle of a field with NO access to public transport, no cultural amenities, and no walkability. It would be more “projects” than “Princeon”. Moreover, it would be located NOT in an urban area, but in a RURAL area. And ALL of the peer-reviewed studies on turning low-density areas into high density areas show clearly that this leads to increase in traffic and an increase in the need to provide additional services, such as police, EMTs, and fire, leading to significant tax burdens being placed on residents. This is well documented in posts referring to the peer-reviewed research on the Facebook site “Neighbors Against Overdevelopment at Scotch Road”, which can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/neighborsatscotchroad

      2) Scotch Road is a six lane road. BUT it empties onto the two-lane residential road Washington Crossing-Pe. Rd, and after that intersection becomes a two-lane residential road itself. These residential roads CANNOT take the traffic volume that is predicted. Moreover, at the other side of Scotch Road, in Ewing, the Parkway development of 1000 units plus retail is already underway. This will lead to a further massive increase in traffic on Scotch Road, which itself precludes the construction of the Urban Center without additions to the existing infrastructure.

      Put simply, this ill-conceived project is at odds with reality, at odds with the existing infrastructure, and at odds with the desires of the current residents.

  5. LBC says:

    Hopewell Township boasts many terrific trails and is creating more. We have worked hard to preserve farmland and open space which also include scenic trails. We have three lovely walkable communities with thriving businesses and beautiful homes of all sizes. As a resident of the township, though not a neighbor of the land in question, I have followed the Scotch Road proposal process very closely. I have attended several meetings and have educated myself with all of the facts. I believe that the township committee has acted wisely. They cannot move forward with planning to build to meet COAH requirements until it becomes clear exactly what those requirements are. I look forward to seeing the author at future township committee and planning board meetings, and encourage everyone to familiarize themselves with the facts, listen carefully to all points of view, decide for themselves the best course of action, and communicate with their representatives on this and all issues.

  6. Jerry Foster says:

    Hopewell’s proposed Scotch Rd development is similar in concept to what the Howard Hughes Corp is proposing in West Windsor, and similar to what was built in Poundbury, England. Here’s a critique that shows that a separate urban village will not by itself lead to car-free living, even with careful design.

    See: http://movementbureau.blogs.com/projects/2010/02/poundbury-an-essay-in-how-not-to-design-a-new-town.html

  7. mtu says:

    Thanks for posting the link, Jerry Foster. I think there is another study which shows that developments such as the one on Scotch Road do not cut down on traffic. I have yet to find a study into whether clustering actually preserves land, but the more likely scenario is that it will contribute to further sprawl. The developer of Robbinsville has actually stated that this has been the case there. I don’t think anyone really believes a development such as the one proposed on Scotch Road is really going to cut down on traffic, and it is just odd that a site called Walkable “Princeton” has any stake in what is going on here in Hopewell Township. How could building such high density housing in a rural area contribute to walkability? I think it should be pretty clear that building 5-story buildings in the middle of a field is not the same as building 5-story buildings in the middle of downtown Princeton, and that what is appropriate for one area may not be appropriate for another. Besides, the Township engineer here has presented a traffic study which projects substantial increases in traffic. This is just what the developer-driven development would require since the plan is to put in retail, even large scale retail and strip malls, that will require increased traffic in order to remain afloat.

    I live in the immediate area of the proposed development. Where I live is zoned rural, so why put an urban development where it doesn’t belong. I have not met a single person who actually lives here who thinks putting strip malls on Scotch Road (and this is really what the development is about, not just housing) will benefit the community. No one here wants large scale retail development in our rural community. The least destructive development would be what the area is already zoned for: office park. There is a limited amount of office space zoned for the west side which would take up less land space than urban development proposed by the fly-by-night out of state developer trying to make a quick profit off our rural community. Many local residents, none of whom have public water or sewer and will likely not have this in the future are already having problems with contaminated wells and overflowing septic systems because of the lack of permeable land caused by the already existing development (Merrill Lynch did not pan out the way the Planning Board expected by the way …. does Merrill Lynch even exist a decade later?). Apparently there was mention of this getting worse owing to increased precipitation brought about by climate change. What about these people? What about the wonderful rural community that actually lives in the area? Do you really think building a strip mall has any long term benefits?

    Frankly, it is just plain simple-minded to think that increasing the population of a rural area by 35% in one fell swoop in the absence of viable public transportation is going to foster walkability. Just plain absurd. Those who are kowtowing to the developer (just some to a meeting where this is as clear as day!) are using the issue of affordable housing to try to push through zoning that will allow for absolutely anything in what is now a largely rural area. New Jersey doesn’t need more strip malls and most of the residents of Hopewell Township (the people who actually live here!) don’t want this kind of development of Scotch Road.

  8. JST says:

    I have just confirmed with Greater Mercer TMA that the shuttle bus from the Bank of America/Merrill Lynch complex to Hamilton Rail Station is NOT public transport, but is a private shuttle bus available to employees of the complex ONLY. Honestly, you’d think that SOME fact-checking might have been done before this article was posted….

  9. JST says:

    Oh, and as for the claim that “Scotch Road is currently the only place in the Township” served by public transit, not only is there NO public transit there, but Hopewell is served by NJ Transit 602, 606, and 608 bus lines, none of which are routed by the proposed Urban Center.

    • In the interests of clarity, I will amend what it says about transit in Hopewell.

      • JST says:

        In the interests of clarity, you should also note that the “GMTMA-operated shuttle service” is ONLY available to employees who work there. And are these trip figures or passenger-adjusted transit figures? Where are they from?

      • Wes C. Addle says:

        More like, in the interest of accuracy, not clarity. Fact check your shoddy journalism. Why are you commenting about a community and an area that has nothing to do with your downtown Princeton? Keep your poorly written, inaccurate and meaningless comments out of our Township! When you write an article riddled with lies, half-truths, and ignorant opinions, it is challenging to digest anything that you are writing. We are not interested in what you have to say.

  10. JST says:

    You CANNOT walk to the 602 stops from the Scotch Road area–unless you’re wiling to walk along a six-lane high-speed highway with NO pedestrian footpath. The only way you can get to them from the Scotch Road area is–to DRIVE!

    • so…build a sidewalk, right? Then it’s a short walk.

      • JST says:

        No. The 602 stop is on the OTHER side of the railroad tracks to the Scotch Road site. To get there from it you need to exit on Scotch Road–a distance of about 1/4 mile from the main campus–then walk approximately 1/2 mile to Washington Crossing-Pe. Rd, then a further 1/2 – 3/4 mile to the bus stop, navigating the notoriously dangerous Pennington Circle on foot to do so. Washington Crossing-Pe. Rd is only really walkable after the railroad bridge, and that on the hard shoulder, not on a sidewalk. And to add in a sidewalk there would require taking land from residents’ yards.

  11. mtu says:

    Without public transportation, there really is no rational argument in favor of the development as envisioned in many of the revised drafts of the Master Plan.

  12. Elssie from HW says:

    At the 2010 United States Census, there were 6,551 housing units at an average density of 112.9 per square mile (43.6/km2). If we assume that the COAH # will be 500 units (much lower than all informed predictions) and we assume the 20% ratio of market-rate to affordable. (albeit the latest from COAH cites 10% ratio), Hopewell’s unit count will need to grow by 38.16% if new residential subdivisions are relied upon to solve future COAH mandates.

    52:27D-311(d) in the Fair Housing Act, which forms the basis for COAH’s
    rulemaking authority, indicates “Nothing in this act shall require a municipality to raise
    or expend municipal revenues in order to provide low and moderate income housing.”.

    So I pose the question; How can we expand unit count by 2500 units to yield 500 affordable units without a raise in taxes or reallocation of municipal revenues …..so that we may be in compliance with 52:27D-311(d) in the Fair Housing Act? My interpretation of 52:27D-311(d) seems to indicate that taxes and fees generated from affordable housing units must be adequate to fund the expenses generated by the affordable units and cannot be a burden to the existing market rate taxpayers.

    Perhaps the reason that the COAH board has failed to act for so long is that they are unable to reconcile these same issues.

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