Response to people who think converting Hollystone to a hotel is no big deal:
Hollystone lies in the Mountain Resource Conservation District. It is the most restrictive zone district in Hopewell Township with a 14-acre lot minimum. That means: 1 residential dwelling unit on 14 acres. Hollystone is currently zoned for residential use and includes: the main house (inhabited by one family), plus pre-existing non-conforming use of 2 apartments in the barn, and 3 cottages.
The new owners want to expand the use of the property up to 27 hotel rooms, plus commercial kitchen, full-scale restaurant, gym, commercial pool, etc. This is an enormous expansion of the existing residential use of the property.
Granting the variances would set a precedent in the Mountain Resource Conservation District that is the opposite of the intention of creating the district in the 2001 master plan in the first place. The whole point of the MRCD was to protect the environmentally sensitive areas around Fiddlers Creek and Baldpate Mountain, up through Woodsville and into the Sourlands above Hopewell Borough. The Master Plan strives to protect the scenic, rural areas of the township while directing development to areas with pre-existing infrastructure.
A good example of this is how when the State determined that Hopewell township was required to allow potential developers to build affordable housing, the township negotiated with developers to keep them in or adjacent to commercial zones where infrastructure such as easy access to highways, and an ability to connect to water and sewer was readily available. As a matter of fact, as part of the affordable development, a hotel will be built on Scotch Road, across the street from the hospital, just off Rt. 295.
It is the the new owners’ poor judgement that they purchased Hollystone thinking that they could get the necessary variances. Hollystone has been marketed since 2011 as a hotel and many potential buyers looked at it, were interested, then did their due diligence with Township staff only to learn that getting such a variance would be a major hurdle and very unlikely to be granted – so they walked away. At the same time, potential buyers who wanted to buy the home as a residence for a value commensurate with comparable properties were rebuffed. There is no magic to the fact that it took 20 years to sell it – it was over-priced and poorly marketed until someone with more money than sense bought it.
The fact that the owner bought a property that can’t be used as they wish it to be is not Hopewell Township’s problem. People make bad business decisions all the time.
But to allow the variances that would be required to move Hollystone out of its allowed use as a single-family residence with 5 small apartments to instead become a 27-room hotel paving nearly 100 parking spaces and installing all the commercial lighting, electricity, water, and septic that would be required is a terrible idea because once they are allowed to do that, what stops the next person who wants to turn their house into hotel, restaurant, store, or bar?
In 2006, the farmers who lived on generationally-owned farms on Fiddlers Creek Road and through the Pleasant Valley sued to overturn newly created Mountain Resource Conservation District. They argued that by making the district, the Township had taken the value of the land they had inherited from their ancestors because they no longer could subdivide it and sell it for residential housing. They lost. The court found that the Township had a right to determine that the land needed to be protected. And those children of Pleasant Valley farmers only wanted the right to build some houses on their farmland – they were not trying to institute any intensive commercial use.
There are two venues in Hopewell Township that host large events like weddings on weekends: Glenmoore Farms and Hopewell Valley Vineyards. Both of those venues are owned by long-time residents of Hopewell. Both venues have been held to very strict standards in order to hold their events. And they are both in much less restrictive zoning districts and only have guests periodically.
And why, you may ask, is the Mountain Resource Conservation District so important? Hollystone is adjacent to two preserves: Fiddlers Creek, and the Ted Stiles Preserve on Baldpate Mountain.
According to the Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space website, “Ted Stiles Preserve at Baldpate Mountain is Hopewell Township’s largest contiguous forest. Because of this distinction, it is home to numerous unique and rare plant and animal species and is an Audubon Important Bird Area.”
“The Fiddlers Creek preserve has been identified as habitat for State Threatened and Special Concern species, including Wood Turtle. Federally Endangered and State Endangered and Threatened species occur within 1/4 mile of the preserve.”
Finally, Hollystone is a historic property – one local historian has declared that it is as historically important as the Johnson Ferry House at Washington Crossing State Park.
Allowing the variances might seem innocuous to people who don’t know the history or importance of Hollystone. But it is actually a big deal when you consider that allowing it will set a precedent that will begin the chipping away of residential, historic, and environmentally-important areas of Hopewell Township. Once the genie is let out of the bottle, it will be impossible to put it back.
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