Town Center Options Considered in Hopatcong
Land Use Board seeks input for revitalizing River Styx area.
Hopatcong officials have been discussing the future of the town center along the River Styx corridor, and are currently brainstorming ideas for adding new businesses and sustaining the current properties.
Ever since the New Jersey Highlands Council approved the borough's petition for plan conformance on Sept. 20, the borough was given official center designation.
Because the borough is part of the 859,358 acres that comprise the Highlands Region throughout Sussex, Warren, Morris, Hunterdon, Bergen, Passaic and Somerset counties, it must conform to the state regulations in building out the municipality.
Borough officials can now start to look for ways they would like to revitilize the town center along River Styx road where many businesses have become vacant over the years.
"It [the plan conformance] brings us under different rules and regulations and enables us to be more successful," Councilman Michael Francis said. "They [the Highlands Council and state] are going to help us become successful, they're going to be behind our plan."
Petillo said the Highlands have already provided $140,000 in grants to the borough for planning, and will continue to provide more funding as the process moves along.
Borough officials are in the discussion phase right now for how they want to revitalize the center. These discussions have been happening at Land Use Board meetings twice a month, where Petillo said there have been many ideas shared among architects, engineers, council members and residents.
"It is a center in need of revitalization," Petillo said. "Right now we have people that are interested in buying properties there, we have business owners who have been there for years, and we want to bring everybody together and start to have discussions about what the concept plan for that area should begin to look like."
Francis, who recused himself in the Highlands meetings involving the borough because he sits on the Highlands Council, pointed out the borough is not adding a center, and instead is just revamping it to improve the area.
"We have to look at our existing community; what have we already built, and how and where in our existing community can we make improvements so that it would make the town healthier, the businesses healthier, and better for our residents," Francis said.
Francis said the officials were drawn to the River Styx area because its access to the lake and vacant business space provides it with many opportunities for growth.
"The lake is our jewel," Francis said. "So what do we do to bring people to our town, to make it a destination, to make it worthwhile coming here? The lake is a perfect reason for people to come to our town."
Officials said some of the ideas that have been discussed are to bring in some businesses that are lacking in the area, including a barber shop, a coffee shop, cafes, an ice cream parlor, and a doctor's office.
DPW superintendent and Land Use Board member Ron Jobless pointed out that the new center would benefit the borough in many ways.
"It opens businesses into the community, they become ratables and help the taxes," he said. "You have apartments, you have people living there, you have foot traffic."
Petillo said that 95 percent of the taxes are currently on the responsibility of the homeowner because of the lack of businesses.
"The more businesses you bring in, the better it is for the homeowner because now it's shifting from residential to more commercial," she said.
Petillo said that after the discussions, officials will start to ask business owners along the River Styx corridor about what they think of the new center to get their perspectives as investors.
At the latest Land Use Meeting earlier this month, Petillo said that parking was a key issue discussed. Some possibilities would be to make a municipal parking lot so it could be a walking destination or to build the buildings high and walk underneath them.
Petillo said the Land Use Board is going to look at all options and figure out what is most convenient.
The next Land Use Board meeting that was scheduled for Nov. 6 was cancelled because it is Election Day. The board will next convene on Tuesday, Nov. 20 where they will continue to discuss ideas.
"It's a very lively discussion because people are excited," Petillo said. "It's taken a long time to get to this place. The economic development doesn't happen over night, it can take 10 years. It's a plan for our future."