Urgent: WCAS opposes Zoning Change to allow High Density Housing at BMS

WCAS LETTER TO HOPEWELL TOWNSHIP |  MARCH 30, 2018

There is a silent crisis surrounding us, the relentless loss of biodiversity.

The North American Bird Conservation Initiative’s State of North American Birds 2016 states that 37% of North Americas’ bird, 432 species, are at high risk of extinction without significant action. Another 49% are at moderate risk for extinction. Only 14% of North American bird species are at low risk for extinction. Habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation is the primary cause of the loss of these species.

Other taxa are in similar decline. According to the Center for Biodiversity, a third of amphibians, a quarter of mammals, and a fifth of reptiles are in danger of extinction. North American bat populations are in freefall due to a fungal disease as well as habitat loss. Pollinating insects are also unsustainably declining. This is an unsustainable loss. The first step to reversing this march to extinction is to preserve our existing sanctuaries without further degrading or fragmenting them.

Birds are indicator species. Thriving bird populations are an indication of intact ecosystems because birds need a healthy diversity of insects, plants and other taxa to prosper. Censusing bird populations is a good first step in evaluating the environmental health of an area. The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology maintains a data base of bird sightings, eBird.   Species maps can be easily generated from this database to show where birds are concentrated in an area and where sensitive species are found. These areas should be protected from further habitat loss, degradation, or fragmentation.

Stony Brook corridor and the preserves it links are essential for preserving biodiversity in Hopewell Township.

EBird shows that the Stony Brook corridor and the preserves it links are essential for preserving biodiversity in Hopewell Township. A bar graph generated from the preserves along the Stony Brook shows which birds are present and at what time of year. Maps generated from this data show that several birds of conservation concern are concentrated along this corridor and using the corridor to access the preserves. The Bristol Meyer Squibb property is an essential part of this corridor. The eBird generated maps overlap with the sensitive species maps generated by the Stony Brook Millstone Watershed Association using NJDEP data bases, showing the usefulness of eBird in doing an evaluation of the environmental sensitivity of an area. The data bases complement each other.

No development should be allowed outside the ring because of endangered species habitat.

The area outside the ring road at Bristol Meyer Squibb was protected by Hopewell Township’s 2005 General Development Plan. The Township’s Master Plan states that a goal of the town’s planning is: “To protect sensitive environmental resources from destruction or degradation, including but not limited to steep slopes, 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.” The Township’s new draft Open Space Plan includes a map that shows most/all of the BMS land outside the ring road shaded as “state endangered species habitat.”  No development should be allowed outside the ring because of endangered species habitat.

The Hopewell Township Development Ordinance # 2018 states that “Residential uses shall be located within the existing ring road. Residential uses may be located between the ring road and site perimeter only if the developer demonstrates to the planning board that environmental constraints preclude residential development within the ring road. Any development located between the ring road and site perimeter, if the planning approves said demonstration, shall protect existing views from the perimeter through site grading, landscaping or other means acceptable to the planning board.” Unfortunately this language allows housing to be built outside the ring if there are environmental contrasts inside the ring.   All of the area outside the ring is either sensitive habitat or a necessary buffer between the developed inner ring and endangered species habitat. Washington Crossing Audubon Society agrees with the Stony Brook Millstone Watershed Association that no housing should be built outside of the ring if environmental conditions inside the ring preclude housing developing. The language of Ordinance #2018 should be changes to prioritize environmental protection. Protecting our unsustainably declining wildlife and their diminishing habitats should be our first priority. The Sixth Extinction is a silent but real threat and it is time that this is reflected in our decision making processes.

Hopewell Township Committee Meeting, April 9 at 7 PM

Please consider writing Hopewell Township Committee to express your opposition or attend the next Hopewell Township Committee Meeting, this Monday, April 9 at 7 PM at Hopewell Township Municipal Building, 201 Washington Crossing Pennington Road, Titusville, NJ 08560.

Stony Brook corridor and the preserves it links are essential for preserving biodiversity in Hopewell Township. 

The area outside the ring road at Bristol Meyer Squibb was protected by Hopewell Township’s 2005 General Development Plan. No development should be allowed outside the ring because of endangered species habitat.

Bristol-Myers Squibb campus with Ring Road and wildlife corridors

Listed Birds along the Stony Brook Corridor impacted by BMS Zoning Change.
WCAS’ complete report below (click pages to read online)→

Stony Brook Corridor is important Bald Eagle and state threatened species breeding and foraging habitat (e-Bird maps below.)

Bald Eagle © Sharyn Magee
Bald Eagle © Sharyn Magee

Federally Protected and NJ Endangered (breeding) and NJ Threatened (non-breeding) Bald Eagle

NJ State Threatened American Kestrel (breeding and non-breeding)

NJ State Endangered Red-shouldered Hawk (breeding)

Northern Harrier

Red-shouldered Hawk

NJ State Threatened Red-headed Woodpecker

NJ State Threatened Long-eared Owl (both)

NJ State Threatened Bobolink

NJ Species of Concern Great Blue Heron

STONY BROOK MILLSTONE WATERSHED STATEMENT  |  NOVEMBER 26, 2017

Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association

November 26, 2017 

Will Hopewell Township undo protections for farmland and open space at BMS?

On Monday, Nov. 27 at 7:00 the Hopewell Township Committee will hear public comment and vote on several zoning changes to provide for its revised affordable housing plan. One proposal would allow housing on BMS’s property in the Township. We fear that the proposed ordinance would jeopardize farmland and open space that has been protected there since 2005, and we encourage residents to attend the meeting and urge that those 2005 protections be retained.

More detail:

One area under discussion at the Nov. 27 Hopewell Township Committee meeting is the 433-acre Bristol-Myers Squibb campus, 220 acres of which has been protected from development since 2005 under the “General Development Plan” (GDP) that governs the property.

The GDP provides that BMS (or its successor) can build an additional 1.8 million square feet of office/research buildings on its Hopewell property but requires that any such development must occur within the “ring road” on the campus. About 220 acres of farmland, woods and wetlands outside the ring road are protected from development under the GDP.

The 220 acres protected from development include the Kerr Farm and woods and wetlands on the east and west side of Stony Brook. This large expanse of undeveloped land forms a key wildlife linkage between the Mercer Meadows/Rosedale Park complex and the Watershed Reserve and an important protective buffer on the Stony Brook.

The Hopewell Township Committee is now considering changing the zoning to allow affordable housing and market rate housing on the BMS campus. The Watershed has not expressed opposition to locating housing on the property because we were led to believe that any such housing would occur within the ring road and be instead of and not in addition to currently allowed office/research construction. Because relatively little of the additional office/research buildings that were contemplated in 2005 have been built, we believe that the proposed housing could fit on undeveloped areas inside the ring road. We believe that allowing such housing outside the ring road would violate the agreements made in 2005.

A new proposed ordinance was introduced earlier this month that addresses this issue, but not conclusively. The proposal states that: “Residential uses shall be located within the existing ring road,” but goes on to say that “Residential uses may be located between the ring road and site perimeter [ie. outside the ring] if the developer demonstrates to the planning board that environmental or other planning reasons preclude residential development within the ring road.”

We believe that the second sentence in the new provision provides an undefined loophole that could undo the agreement reached in 2005 to protect the Kerr Farm and other undeveloped lands on the BMS campus. That sentence should therefore be deleted. What would be the “planning reasons” precluding the developer from complying with the rules that have been in place against developing on the protected 220 acres since 2005?

Moreover, we are concerned that the new ordinance could permit a new owner of the BMS site to develop both its authorized office/research buildings AND the contemplated housing on the property. The Township Committee should clarify this issue.

We encourage Hopewell residents concerned about open space to attend the meeting and urge the Township Committee to delete language that could allow development within the 220 acres that have been protected since 2005, and to clarify that housing would be instead of the authorized new office/research buildings and not in addition to those buildings.

Hopewell Township Municipal Building
201 Washington Crossing Pennington Road
Titusville, NJ 08560