The Design of a Proposed Apartment/Retail Building Is a Nod to Rocky Hill’s Industrial Past
By Rikki N. Massand and Barbara A. Preston | Posted February 28, 2023
The Maccarone brothers started their careers as shampoo boys — David at Peppi’s Hair Design in Rocky Hill and Joe at La Jolie in Princeton.
By 2006 they had become experienced beauticians with a following. They purchased 131 and 133 Washington Street, formerly Peppi’s, from their father’s best childhood friend, Joseph “Peppi” Panzitta. Their father and Peppi grew up in Calabria, Italy, then immigrated to the U.S. They encouraged the brothers to be in business together, doing what they love doing - HAIR.
Above: Salon Azzurro at 133 Washington Street in Rocky Hill.
“We want to be here a long time,” David told The Montgomery News. He noted that their salon building has a plethora of issues. The flat roof leaks during heavy rain. The old pipes need to be replaced. And, well, it looks funny.
“We call it the Pizza Hut building,” he says.
The building has a “modern mansard-roof” added in 1975, attached to a circa 1850 house of which only the shell remains.
Considering that their property is located in the Rocky Hill Historic District, the brothers hired Rocky Hill architect Mark A. Blasch to design a new building that would reflect the borough’s historic past.
Rocky Hill ordinances prescribe certain limits intended to preserve the character of its historic places and set forth a process to obtain approval (a “permit”) for proposed alterations to structures or sites within the district. Blasch’s architectural rending of the three-story antique brick and stone building “has the look of a building you would find in an older quarry town,” David says. “It is industrial looking.”
Rocky Hill, in fact, has a long industrial history of grist mills, a terra cotta factory plant, quarries, an electric factory with a smokestack, and a brick factory.
“The Partridge, Powell and Storer Company was incorporated under the laws of New Jersey in February, 1892, and built a plant at Rocky Hill, Somerset County, New Jersey, for the manufacture of buff face brick,” according to multiple sources, including the Council for Northeast Historical Archaeology Newsletter dated March 1996. Buff face brick has a light yellow-brown to burnt sienna color that is often found in nature. Deposits of clay in Rocky Hill attracted the brick company.
Article continues after ad from our sponsor.
According to the Rocky Hill Tercentenary Committee’s Vivian Engelbrecht, Rocky Hill began on the Millstone River. The first building was John Harrison’s gristmill on the east side of the river. Another gristmill was built on the west side of the river and grew into a complex of mills. And there was Conover’s saw mill.
“By the turn of the 19th century, the textile and rubber factories were long gone from Rocky Hill, but the quarry and brick factories were profitable,” Engelbrecht writes. During the early 1900s, the NJ Copper Company, the Delaware River Quarry Company, and the Atlantic Terra Cotta Company were drawing sizable number of immigrants to the area. The Depression in the 1930s ended Rocky Hill’s business boomlet, and World War II changed the nature of the community from commercial to residential. Many lost their jobs when the Atlantic Terra Cotta plant closed in 1929. The quarry continues and operates today at Kingston Traprock.
Downtown Rocky Hill
Rocky Hill has a few successful business in town: The Rocky Hill Inn, One 53 restaurant, Rocky Hill Family Dentistry, Buy the Cup, and a post office. The Crop Walk People and the Travel Registry moved out of 127 Washington Street years ago and the two retail spaces now sit empty and decrepid. Spa Amadora at 130 Washington Street shut down in January. The Mary Jacobs Memorial Library has been closed for a while, and is expected to reopen at some point this spring with a mini library and perhaps two retail spaces.
The Maccarone brothers say that Rocky Hill could have a thriving downtown, on par with Hopewell or Lambertville. “We’re trying to make an investment in Rocky Hill. People driving on Route 518 will slow down, and want to visit Rocky Hill establishments,” David said. “We want to make the borough more of destination.” “Imagine a bakery similar to the Gingered Peach in Lawrenceville, or something along those lines.” One of the three retail spaces on the first floor would house Salon Azzurro. The brothers say they are open to ideas for the other two spaces.
About 50 people attended the first online public planning board hearing on February 14 to hear the plans for Salon Azzurro and its neighboring massage parlor property, 131 and 133 Washington Street. The application was postponed until Tuesday, March 14 at 7 pm. Deferral to March was requested by the applicants, and immediately granted by the board. Robert Ridolfi, the Pennington-based attorney for applicants David and Joe Maccarone, had questioned whether there were enough board members present and eligible to hear and vote on the case.
Planning Board Clerk Christine Witt noted that Connie Hallman, who was a Class IV planning/zoning board member, had resigned. Rocky Hill’s attorney to the Planning Board, Matthew Moench, explained there were six board members qualified to also sit as zoning board members, including: Chairman Michael Goldman, Linda Goldman, Brian Nolan, Eric Hintz, Frank Yao, and Luis Silvestre. Three other members of the planning board – Mayor Robert Uhrik, Denise Varga, and Ramin Rezvani, were all not qualified as zoning board members.
Article continues after ad from our sponsor.
Witt explained that Rezvani reached out asking if he could be appointed as a Class IV member, replacing Hallman and therefore becoming eligible to vote on the application. Moench was unsure if that was permissible and said he would need to check the legality of that immediate appointment. The mayor confirmed his intention to appoint Rezvani to be a Class IV board member, in time for the March 14 meeting. The 106-page application is available to the public on the Rocky Hill website.
The applicants seek permission to consolidate 131 and 133 Washington Street into one property. They are also applying to demolish the existing structures and to construct one new mixed-use building. The three-story building would include: three commercial spaces on the ground floor and six two-bedroom apartments on the upper floors. One of the apartments would be an “affordable” unit. Specific relief is requested from section 80-91 B (density, bulk, and yard regulations and maximum lot coverage). The applicant is also applying for a historic preservation district permit, and for any additional variances or design waivers the planning board may deem necessary.
Public Comments Session
Council member Susan Bristol said during public comments: “It is entirely inappropriate for the planning board to be asked to review a historic preservation application of a project that has multiple bulk variance violations of the bulk ordinances that would eventually require variances. “ It might be wise to ask the applicants to modify the building design so that it meets the bulk ordinance standards before the board is asked to use their imaginations and try to review it by historic standards – the project they are looking at is not even valid judging by the rest of our ordinances’ criteria,” Bristol said. Chairman Goldman said. “We will look at the application as it’s filed, and make a determination. This is essentially what the board does.”