To the Editor:

I have a suggestion concerning the Post Office Plaza Redevelopment initiative in downtown Chatham Borough. Although a resident of Chatham Township, I maintain a general interest in this initiative for a variety of reasons (e.g., SDOC, joint rec activities, Library of the Chathams, Sr. Center of the Chathams, family residence geographically closer to 54 Fairmount Ave than to 58 Meyersville Rd, family residence geographically closer to Kings than to Shop Rite, other).

I propose a somewhat formal mock debate between the members of the Chatham Borough Council concerning the various short and longer-term implications and trade-offs of the Post Office Plaza Redevelopment initiative. This exercise would help to provide the residents of Chatham Borough with a more detailed understanding of this proposed undertaking than is currently the case.

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An enhanced understanding would encourage a more robust dialogue between CBC and the public as well as amongst the public. This would be constructive to the process and would better inform the ultimate decision, whatever that ultimate decision may be.

As Mayor Harris and others have indicated, there has been substantial discussion and study over the past several years concerning the Post Office Plaza Redevelopment initiative. While helpful, these discussions have largely centered on the proposed contents of the redevelopment and its associated anticipated benefits. However, public discussion has been decidedly more muted concerning threshold issues such as whether the redevelopment could or should occur within different parameters from those currently contemplated or whether the redevelopment as currently contemplated should occur at all. The proposed debate would presumably help to incorporate such dimensions into the overall public dialogue.

This idea came to mind as I was watching recent CBC discussions concerning an entirely different issue - marijuana legalization and related topics. The members of CBC have been addressing this issue with a near policy wonk-ish level of research, analysis and sophistication (discussions spearheaded by CBC members Weber and Kobylarz and former CBC members Hoffman and Resto but with active participation by all members of CBC; as separate observation, clearly above "call of duty" for CBC members to collectively gain such in-depth understanding on this topic).

While not nearly as significant as the marijuana/opioid item, the POP Redevelopment initiative is nevertheless important in its own right. It clearly also deserves material scrutiny and timely vetting in the public domain. As referenced above, the suggested debate would contribute to this process by setting the framework for a more robust discussion both between CBC and the public and amongst the public.

A video of the mock debate could be placed on the CB website, either within the video of CBC meeting of date xyz or as a separate link. This would be a valuable resource and reference for the public because a comprehensive discussion or summary of the topic and its related implications and potential alternatives does not currently exist anywhere to my understanding, either in video or written form.

I also propose that this mock debate occur on a date prior to the public hearing concerning passage of the Redevelopment Plan ordinance by CBC.  This sequencing would enable the above-referenced enhanced public dialogue to occur prior to any rezoning within the footprint of Post Office Plaza rather than after the fact.

The proposed timing of debate is relevant because I understand that any necessary rezoning occurs in conjunction with passage of the Redevelopment Plan ordinance rather than at some later date. I also understand that once rezoning occurs, the rezoning stays with the respective properties even if the project as currently contemplated or ultimately negotiated does not move forward. I further understand that specifics of a particular project cannot be negotiated with a developer or developers until after passage of the Redevelopment Plan.

Given the rezoning item and notwithstanding the required timing for negotiation of specifics, a preliminary estimate of the anticipated benefits of permitting such rezoning can and should be compiled and clearly disclosed to and understood by the public before any rezoning occurs. Related discussion should also include the potential implications of scenario where the Redevelopment Plan is approved but the project as currently contemplated or ultimately negotiated does not move forward (e.g. market conditions change, other).

Suggestions for role-playing (no magic to these choices as all members of CBC are undoubtedly well-versed in all facets of the topic):

  • moderator - CBC member Weber (given legal background and related expertise in procedures of debate protocol; CBC counsel could of course serve in this role if CBC member Weber instead chosen to advocate a particular position);
  • lead advocate for pro-initiative as currently contemplated - Mayor Harris (given his ongoing advocacy for the initiative and its related benefits over short- and long-term to the residents of Chatham Borough); and
  • lead advocate for skeptic / not-so-fast as currently contemplated - any of CBC member Kobylarz (prior "Chatham Watchdog Group"), CBC member Mathiasen ("Our 5-Point Plan to Revitalize Main Street") or CBC member Dempsey ("Our 5-Point Plan to Revitalize Main Street").

After positions are articulated, discussion and further debate could then follow amongst the members of CBC, with CBC member Weber either continuing as the moderator or then joining the discussion.

To jumpstart the process, I have provided a few suggested areas of focus in preparation for the debate. A list is provided at the bottom of this correspondence and is by no means exhaustive:

Finally, please note that I have not referenced potential additional children in SDOC. To keep the discussion focused on threshold items such as those raised above and in bullet points below, I am simplistically assuming for purposes of this discussion that there will be no resulting impact to SDOC, either financial or otherwise.  Any associated impact would only further contribute to the “skeptic / not so fast” argument.

I am currently in the “skeptic / not so fast” camp but could be persuaded otherwise. As a non-resident, however, my view is of no concern. What is of concern is that the residents of Chatham Borough be provided with sufficient information and background to enable informed public input and dialogue leading to consensus PRIOR TO approval of the Redevelopment Plan by CBC (per above, whatever that consensus may be). The proposed debate will help to address this concern.

Thank you for your consideration and please call with any questions.

Best regards.

Stewart Carr

Chatham Township