FLEMINGTON, NJ – The Dec. 1 deadline for the Borough to sell its police headquarters to the would-be developer of the Union Hotel and surrounding properties has come and passed.
Now, Jack Cust’s Flemington Urban Renewal LLC – which is the designated redeveloper of the Hotel and surrounding properties – is seeking a closing “as soon as possible,” according to a Nov. 26 letter sent to the Borough on Cust’s behalf. The building at 90-100 Main St. here would be part of Cust’s extensive Courthouse Square redevelopment plan.
The situation creates a potential crisis for Borough officials, as noted in a recent letter to the editor from Mayor Betsy Driver. She said former Mayor Phil Greiner “failed to do some basic due diligence and math before rushing to sell the police department to Cust.” She pegged the cost of a new police HQ – for what she calls the police department that is the “busiest in the county” – at between $3.5 million and $5 million, and disputes Cust’s characterization that those estimates are “extravagant.”
Cust’s letter does offer compromise. He’s offered two choices: subdividing the property with the Borough retaining it and its parking area, or allowing the sale to proceed, but entering into a lease with the Borough for the police.
But it’s not likely any of those scenarios will be happening soon.
On Tuesday, Borough Council voted to reject the demand for a prompt closing. In a letter to Cust attorney Joseph Baumann, Jr., the Borough’s Special redevelopment attorney said multiple things prevent such a closing, including satisfying conditions of the sale that are required by the State Historic Preservation Office. A Nov. 27 report from SHPO details a string of still-unmet requirements.
Cust is “still far away” from meeting those requirements, the Mayor said. “They are not anywhere close.”
In addition, Borough’s Special Redevelopment attorney Andrew Brewer told Baumann that Cust “has not satisfied all of the conditions of approval contained in the Planning Board resolution,” rendering “the demand to close title premature.”
Cust also told the Borough that he’s willing to extend the closing until July 1, 2020 on the condition that “we would need to settle all lawsuits.”
But the suits, filed by the Friends of Historic Flemington group, are now before the courts, and there’s been no indication that the Friends are willing to accept compromise. One of the suits alleges that the entire redevelopment plan is “invalid” and charges procedural problems and conflicts of interest by some members of Council and the Planning Board.
In an interview, Driver said that Council might be willing to enter into a standstill, or so-called “tolling” agreement with Cust. That would allow time for Cust to meet the conditions required by SHPO and the Planning Board and “would uphold the interests of both sides” during that period, she said.
News on the apparent stalemate could break on Monday. Borough Council has sent notice of a special 5:30 p.m. closed-door “executive session” that day to obtain legal advice regarding the sale of 90-100 Main Street.
The special meeting will be held just before the start of Borough Council’s regular 7 p.m. meeting. The notice concludes that, “Action may be taken.”