HOPATCONG – In the future, downtown Hopatcong could have a neighborhood of shops, café and restaurants, homes, marinas and lakeside seating.
The main street would be wide enough for cars, bicycles and parking, flanked by sidewalks lined with awning-covered shops filled by strolling pedestrians.
That long-term vision was set in motion Tuesday with a public hearing on the draft of the reexamination of the borough’s master plan that centers on the redevelopment of River Styx Road near the bridge. The hearing drew about 50 spectators.
The plan would create an “overlay zone” of new land-use options, building uses, design standards, and streetscapes that would be put in place while the current zoning for the district would remain.
The idea is, town officials explained, that overtime, as building uses change and buildings change hands, the new standards would be implemented, transforming the underused area into a town center.
The plan includes three mixed-use zones of commercial business and housing, a residential-only area, a waterfront district and a parking zone. The design standards call for a consistency of design and material, the waterfront zone would ensure public access to Lake Hopatcong, and the roadway would be wide enough to accommodate two-way traffic, sidewalks and parking.
The 2014 Master Plan Reexamination Report and the details of the River Styx Road form based code draft plan is available on the borough’s website www.hopatcong.org.
Councilman Michael Francis, a member of the land-use board, said this River Styx plan has the support of Sussex County and the Highlands Council, which last year approved a “town center” designation for this section of the borough.
It is a plan designed not only to benefit just newcomers to Hopatcong, but current residents as well, he said.
“We can not cut anymore,” Francis said. “We can not wait for the state and federal governments to help. A proposal like this allows us to become a destination, unlike any other place on the lake. This is a shot for Hopatcong to be really special.”
Mayor Sylvia Petillo said this is a long-term plan and the changes will be slow to develop. The mere discussion of the redevelopment plan has attracted interest from developers, she said.
During the public discussion of the plan by the audience, resident Barbara Loring asked if business owners would receive help with the costs of the making over their building to meet the new designed standards.
Petillo said the borough has used several grants to make improvement to facilities in town, and business owners on the redevelopment zone could apply for grants and loans to help with the costs.
Loring also asked if the housing used in the mixed-use zones would be rental units or ownership units.
Borough engineer John Ruschke said the goals of the plan is not to create a two-business situation in a single building, for example, one business operating a first-floor retail store, while a second business owner owns and rents the housing units on the other floors of the same building.
The goal is to have the housing units be condominiums, he said.
The potential for a negative impact on some property owners was also raised at the meeting.
James Baker of West River Styx Road asked what the height of potential new buildings in the mixed-use zone would be.
They would range from 30 to 45 feet tall, he was told.
He asked if there would be any accommodation made for homes like his that now have lake views, but could lose that feature with the new development.
“You basically are promoting the loss of the one feature that gives this home value,” Baker said. “Without lake views the value of this house drops.”
Francis said the plan was still developing, but acknowledged, “there will be winners and losers.” Still, he said, the redevelopment plan offers the borough its best shot at moving forward.