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Connecting Central New Jersey Communities to Help Address Flooding and Traffic Nightmares in Montgomery and Rocky Hill

By Rikki N. Massand | Posted January 17, 2024 (Updated at 5 pm)

Former Rocky Hill Borough Council Member Susan Bristol illuminated a disconnect between central New Jersey municipalities and its multiple regulatory boards during an online meeting this morning with the Delaware & Raritan State Park Canal Commission.

After the canal commission approved the application for Montgomery Promenade a 292,700-square-foot shopping center featuring retail, restaurants, and housing anchored by a Whole Foods supermarket with access via routes 206 and 518, Bristol said Rocky Hill is already inundated with traffic from the overwhelming number of new housing and retail developments taking place in Montgomery Township.

Approved in 2018, the promenade project would have 1,499 parking spaces for the many cars it will add to local roadways. The development will be equivalent to the size of Princeton MarketFair in West Windsor.

Montgomery Avenue in Rocky Hill, NJ

Montgomery Avenue cuts through a neighborhood in Rocky Hill Borough. Traffic was at a standstill on multiple days in January on account of new regional developments and a rain storm that caused the Millstone River to flood—closing several small bridges over the D&R Canal State Park in the region, and leading unhappy drivers into gridlock. Photo by Barbara A. Preston.

“Your mission is really master-planning and you look at the local and state actions that impact the D & R Canal State Park. The most beautiful thing about your commission is that you’re a regional group examining regional planning. We all know there is not enough regional coordination in the development between our communities and of our state.” — Susan Bristol, architect, Rocky Hill.

Bristol commented that Montgomery Promenade and other new developments raise “the bigger question.” How can county, municipal, and state officials better collaborate when it comes to transportation, roads, and traffic issues?

Residents and drivers suffer when traffic is diverted onto Washington Road (Rt. 518), and through Rocky Hill on account of flooding on Millstone-River Road (Rt. 533), the Griggstown Causeway, and River Road (Rt. 605) into Princeton.

There is not a “single resilient bridge for 30 isolated miles along the Millstone River” and the D&R Canal, Bristol said. As a result, all traffic descends on the tiny historic borough of Rocky Hill.

It is also a safety issue, as the gridlock at Rocky Hill makes it impossible for first responders, ambulances, and fire trucks to use the roads. The historic roads have no shoulders, and the first responder vehicles cannot drive on the narrow sidewalks.


Peter the dog trainer ad

Bristol asked, “In your master plan, has a resilient river crossing over the Millstone been approved or conceptually-identified in the vicinity of Rocky Hill/Montgomery Township?"

"We’re at the point of being swallowed up and inundated with every regional scale issue, especially flooding and traffic. The developments [such as Montgomery Promenade] also cause additional runoff," she said. "The Van Horne Brook now floods us regularly, isolating Rocky Hill and making the town an island.” 

D & R Canal Commission Vice Chairman Bruce Stout responded that the commission is in the process of redoing the Canal’s Master Plan. The current plan was adopted back in 1989. 

In the past 35 years, many new housing and retail developments — with many more vehicles — are now on the local roads.

“We’re certainly going to have more opportunities for public input [on the new master plan], Stout said. "I strongly encourage you to provide input to us and describe the issues as you’ve just done.”

Susan Bristol

File photo of Susan Bristol, former Rocky Hill Borough Council member.

Bristol also shared that in her three years on Rocky Hill Borough Council, she was the liaison to the Canal Commission. However, she was not receiving information on the monthly meetings, which are always on the third Wednesday of the month. The canal commission has shared its annual meeting notice and updates with the Rocky Hill Borough clerk’s office routinely — but a breakdown of the communication was apparent.

Stout, who is a resident of Delaware Township in Hunterdon County, has been a public member of the Delaware and Raritan Canal Commission since 2013.  He is a retired professor of criminology at The College of New Jersey and has held numerous positions in government and academia.  He advised Bristol that meeting agendas are always posted online for the public, with a full listing of all project applications that the Commission is expecting to hear and take action on.


Stonebridge at Montgomery

At the January 17 meeting, Bristol provided her email address and asked for notices and communication about the Canal Commission’s ongoing Master Plan Update.

“Being as though you’re a regional entity you should probably be including the impacted communities. Rocky Hill is not only a small community but it sits between a large development like this [Montgomery Promenade] and the Millstone River, and we have one of the primary access points to the Canal Park. I suggest as a regional entity you can assist in bringing the communities together,” Bristol said.

D&R Canal Commission Is Not Required to Notify Actual Canal Towns of Its Business or Master Plan Meetings

NJ State regulation, read aloud by D & R Canal Commission Executive Director John Hutchison, requires the commission to provide its staff reports to the county and municipal planning boards where the project is located. In the case of Montgomery Promenade, that means the commission would only have to notify the Somerset County Planning Board and Montgomery Township Planning Board

“Commission regulations at NJAC 7:45-3.4E direct a copy of a staff report for any project to be transmitted to the planning board of the county and municipal governments impacted by the project. There is requirement in the commission regulations that the surrounding municipalities be apprised,” Hutchison explained.

At its January meeting the Canal Commission approved the submission and site-specific stormwater mitigation outline for the 53.55-acre Montgomery Promenade property. This multi-use development falls within the Commission’s Review Zone B since it is not immediately adjacent to the state parkland but is within the Millstone River watershed. The Montgomery Promenade property is not located within 1,000 feet of a stream or mapped watercourse.

In its existing condition the future mall and housing development site has 3.142 acres of impervious surface (pavement) and that will increase more than tenfold with the construction of the Promenade. As proposed and approved by the Commission in January, the project would result in the creation of approximately 33.35 acres of impervious surface and about 63 acres of land would see disturbance. 

A five-page staff report provided to the Canal Commission detailed the application for constructing 1,043,613 square feet of new pavement; reconstruction of 12,434 square feet of existing pavement, and the milling and overlaying of 166,312 square feet of existing paved surfaces. 

Stormwater Management Examined

Much of the D & R Canal Commission staff report dated January 5, 2024 focuses on stormwater management proposed for the Promenade, including 10 hydrodynamic manufactured treatment devices; the exact model is Hydro International’s Downstream Defender. Four surface detention basins noted in the application would function for the drainage and stormwater mitigation. 

According to the report, one of the basins (Basin 4) would include a surface sand filter, and this would be adjacent to the south side of Rt. 518 at the northern boundary of the Promenade. Water in Basin 4 would discharge to an existing storm sewer conveyance system located within Rt. 518 (the Georgetown-Franklin Turnpike).

There was no discussion on Montgomery Promenade or the handful of other Zone B applications prior to the Commission’s January 17 roll-call vote to approve. 

With plans and specifications presented, Montgomery Promenade was determined to be in compliance with NJ state regulations for non-structural stormwater management strategies as it incorporates approximately 4.8 acres of porous asphalt pavement into the design. The application to the Canal Commission arrived complete with a Stormwater Management Maintenance Plan for the site. “The submitted plan has been prepared in accordance with the specific requirements of N.J.A.C. 7:45-8.8” as stated in the staff report. 

No construction can begin on the project until a Certificate of Approval is issued from the Commission office and put on file with NJDEP.


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