HOPATCONG BOROUGH, NJ -- Borough officials are looking forward to working with professional planners to formally establish the borough’s town center.
On Sept. 20, the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council approved Hopatcong’s petition for plan conformance, which gave the borough Highlands Center Designation.
Some 2,615 acres of the borough are in the preservation area, and initially the municipality was looking only to conform for those lands, but seeking compliance for the 5,333 acres in the planning area allows them to secure the Center Designation.
Borough Councilman and Highlands Council member Michael Francis explained the borough is not going to create a new center.
The borough developed along Lakeside Boulevard down to River Styx, Francis said.
“We don’t need new boundaries,” he said, noting the corridor along County Route 607 is the natural center.
Francis said the state Department of Community Affairs determined a town center for the borough years ago, “but it was nebulous” and the planning did not go anywhere.
Although Francis recused himself from the Highlands meetings involving the borough, he said “The borough made the case to the Highlands Council that we already had a center.”
Businesses opened along the 607 corridor as summer bungalows were built on tiny lots in the Hills and around the lake.
A town center designation will benefit Hopatcong largely in terms of transportation, Francis said.
“We aren’t projecting any new development,” he said. “Just some rehabilitation and possibly redevelopment. We are built out.”
He noted the borough is working with the state’s Strategic Plan and the Sussex County Planning Consortium, which received a grant from Rutgers University.
The restoration of the Lackawanna Cutoff is important to the borough, Francis said. He also said he would like to see a bus from the borough’s park and ride.
Since the borough developed for summer tourism, concerns such as off-street parking were never considered.
“We just pulled in by Nan Pratt’s,” Francis said, referring to the borough’s iconic general store. “You couldn’t do that now.”
Jim Rilee, chairman of the Highlands Council said in a council press release, “A Highlands Center designation will help facilitate development and redevelopment where appropriate and supports the long-term health and vibrancy of the commuity. It also allows the Borough of Hopatcong to address important water and sewer infrastructure needs.”
“Approval of this petition helps the Borough of Hopatcong concentrate economic growth in areas that are already developed, which at the same time protecting the natural resources that are vital to the municipality,” Gene Feyl, Executive Director of the Highlands Council said in the same press release. “This is especially important inlake communities such as Hopatcong that have always have to strike that delicate balance between protection and growth.”
Mayor Sylvia Petillo credits the center designation as part of the reason the borough was honored by the Sussex County Economic Development Council with its Municipal Award.
Tammie Horsfield, President of the Sussex County Chamber of Commerce, and of the council attended the borough council meeting Wednesday, Oct. 3. She said praised Hopatcong for being “pro-active.” “It’s one of the few towns in Sussex County that has taken a pro-active approach to signage,” she noted.
Horsfield said the county supports a mixture of businesses, including agriculture to keep economic development vibrant in Sussex.