Baptistown Blog - by the webmaster, Alan Runfeldt

## 2008.0701 21:15 - Tuesday

This afternoon, the meeting to discuss development of a "Kingwood Town Center" in Baptistown took place. It was quite interesting. First of all, the Kingwood Township municipal parking lot was past overfilled. Cars were actually double-parked. Yes, the spectre of changes to the Baptistown Community atmosphere certainly did draw some attention.

Inside, the room was packed, with well over 100 attendees - including local home owners, renters, farmers and open land owners. Things were orderly and polite. Reporters from at least two newspapers took notes and will likely write stories. As soon as we receive links to their articles, we will post them here.

The existence of this web site was announced publicly and some folks wrote down the url.

So, from one attendees' point of view - and speaking only as an observer, here's what happened:

Members of the community were first presented with a slide slow outlining what development of a 'town center' might mean, then asked to contribute ideas and opinions on the subject.

The slide show essentially presented the idea that new buildings could be integrated into an historical community like Baptistown and that the architecure of new structures could follow similar design themes to avoid any radical contrast between the visual impact of the old and the new.

It's worth noting that Baptistown was settled prior to the American Revolution and that many homes in the community date from that time and sit on their original foundations. Contrary to one expressed position that "change is inevitable", it can be easily argued that Baptistown really has not changed very much in the past 250 years, except that now the homes have electricity and County Route 519 is paved. Homes in Baptistown generally draw their water from private wells, some which may be as old as the homes themselves.

Residents' Responses

Response by Baptistown residents to the idea of "developing Baptistown as Kingwood's Town Center" were generally negative, with many speakers supported by applause and encouraging comments. Some residents expressed strong opposition while others took more of a "wait and see" approach and were there mostly to listen and to learn, rather than express opinions before all the facts were laid out.

However, not too many facts were laid out besides the three critical issues:

note: this is how I understand them, but there's no guarantee that I got it right..
  1. Development can be accomplished using architectual styles that emulate the typical colonial architecture currently seen in the area. Such design considerations would minimize the shock of seeing currently open farmland developed into housing and commericial use.

  2. Kingwood Township is obligated by state law to create a COAH-compliance plan to account for the township's required 87 "affordable housing units" by December of this year. If this COAH obligation is not addressed, the state may declare the current zoning ordinances null, thereby opening up the possibility of a developer building (anywhere) in Kingwood without the normal constraints of a locally-administered zoning ordinance.

  3. The essentially abandoned and currently uninhabited and unmaintained 40+ acre Gamobosi farm which is located just west of the intersection at 12 & 519 has recently been placed on the market - 40+ acres of farmland - asking price: $1.5 million
The concern seems to be that some developer may want to buy and develop the land. If there is no COAH plan presented to the state, Kingwood Township may lose control of the development of this property entirely.

But although these do seem to be the three main issues to be considered, many folks had other things on their minds. There was concern that residents had not been effectively notified that this meeting would be taking place. Two responses to that were to suggest that the Township Comittee mail a postcard to all residents when a meeting which may be addressing sensitive issues is scheduled. Another suggestion was a sign to be posted outside of the Municipal Building clearly announcing any such meetings and their agenda. Committe agreed to consider both options in the future.

One speaker accused the administration of some unclear poitical agenda, others simply voiced strong opposition to the idea of the Gambosi property being developed in a way - or, for that matter, any changes being made - which would change the atmosphere and character of the Baptistown area. Environmental impact was another topic covered. A development of this scale would suggest the need for a sewer system and sewer treatment plant, neither of which would be lightly undertaken.

Reporters were there as well, including one from the Star-Ledger. As soon as we find - or receive - links to their stories, we'll post them for further reading.

now here are some of my own questions:

Is there an "Agenda" or simply a situation being recognized has having potential impact on the township?

What brought this issue up to begin with?

Does someone have an agenda and a plan they want pushed through, or did the Township Committee simply see a situation developing that required some well-thought-out response and one for which community feedback would be appropriate and would be helpful?

We don't really know yet, but this is a question on many minds. Some opinions seem to come out of political interests, some others seem to endorse a simple preservation of the status quo.

Although the point was made that some attendees only heard of this meeting at the last minute, I can attest to the fact that I was there because Committee Member Elaine Nieman took the time to personally visit homes in Baptistown and deliver a printed flyer to all residents, clearly informing us of this upcoming meeting. In addition, she took the time to discuss the matter with me and explain the issue at hand.

However, Kingwood residents beyond the Baptistown area were expected to see public notices in the Del Val News and Express-Times to be similarly informed.

From the official "Agenda" document posted on the Kingwood Township web site:

Adequate notice of this meeting was provided in accordance with the Open Public
Meetings Act by publication of the notice in the Delaware Valley News and Express
Times on June 26, 2008 and by telefaxing copies of the notice to the Courier News
and Star Ledger on June 20, 2008. Copies of the notice were also posted in the
Kingwood Township Municipal Building and Baptistown Post Office on June 20, 2008.

Nonethess, the feeling was expressed that this 'official' form of notification was inadequate to reach all interested parties and that the mailing of postcards would help keep the community informed.

Options/opinions presented:

  1. Development of a "town center" on the Gomobsi farm would require a some sort of water source and sewer system - septic tanks can handle limited waste; a sewer treatment plant might be needed to covert this farmland if it were to be developed as a Town Center.
  2. A sewer plant on the Gombosi property - or, for that matter in many areas of Kingwood Township would entail many complex obstacles.
  3. Affordable Housing to meet COAH obligations can be accomplished without developing a new residential complex near Baptistown.
  4. Residents of Baptistown - as well as residents from elsewhere in Kingwood Township - are interested and are concerned about any plans to create a "Town Center" in Baptistown and wish to be kept fully informed of any borough action on this matter.
  5. Change is inevitable and it is better to have planned change with the input of the community than to have changes made which may do some harm to the community as it is.
  6. The Township Committee must do more to inform all Kingwood residents when such meetings are scheduled.
  7. Baptistown might qualify for some sort of 'Historical Area' designation which could serve to protect the community from uncontrolled development.
  1. The current zoning ordinance requires two acres of property to build on an existing road in Kingwood Township. To build on a new road requires seven acres.
  2. The Gombosi farm fronts on Route 12 with some access from 519.
  3. The term "affordable housing" as it applies to Hunterdon County would qualify a family of four with an income of $77k or a couple with income less than $63k as of 'moderate' income.
  4. For more about NJ COAH. See: ABOUT COAH
    note: on the state's page about COAH - under the heading "The COAH Process", the website states that "New Jersey municipalities enter the COAH process voluntarily." This contrasts with the main theme of this meeting - that COAH was an unfunded mandate by the state which Kingwood Township was obligated to fulfill. This needs more clarification.

    update: Once a municipality enters COAH voluntarily it IS bound by COAH rules. We'll get some more information about this and explain it here soon.

Watch for more information to be posted here as it becomes available.

The Gambosi Farm, Baptistown, Kingwood Township, Hunterdon County, NJ
The Gombosi Farm as viewed from Route 12 West near Baptistown

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