FLEMINGTON, NJ – Officials here are expected to consider Jack Cust’s plan to redevelop the Union Hotel and its surrounding properties on Dec. 11 and – because Cust’s Flemington Center Urban Renewal, LLC is the borough’s designated redeveloper for the project – many expect Borough Council to approve the plan.
But the plan gets a shrug from Raritan Township resident Steven Romanowski.
“I don’t know how anyone can develop a property they don’t own,” he said.
And Romanowski, who’s been involved on some level with the hotel for five years, has a plan of his own that includes the historic hotel and an adjoining property, 78 Main St.
Romanowski said he once had an agreement with Cust. In January 2016, Romanowski sold Cust an option to purchase 78 Main, which is also known as the Potting Shed, or Blaher’s building, which are nods to some of its former tenants. The agreement expired and was extended, but those extensions ended in June of this year, Romanowski said.
With the passage of time, “There’s no clear path forward,” Romanowski said. “I need to move forward and develop it myself,” something he says he has the financial ability to complete.
Romanowski had loaned a previous would-be Union Hotel redeveloper – Liam Burns and Matt McPherson of Flemington Union Hotel, LLC – $605,000 towards their effort to restore the hotel. They deafaulted on the loan, leading Romanowski to pursue foreclosing on the property.
Flemington Mayor Phil Greiner acknowledged Romanowski's concept.
"This property is in a designated redevelopment zone where he is not the designated developer," Greiner said. "Any such proposal will be governed by the redeveloper agreement, and the municipal land use law as it applies to redevelopment."
Here’s Romanowski’s plan:
78 Main Street (shown as 80 Main Street on the borough’s tax map.)
Romanowski plans to re-do the front of the property and bring it into ADA compliance, keeping retail use on the front first floor. He hopes to convert the rear offices on the existing first and second floors and third floor attic into apartments, and add two stories to the building in the rear. The result would create about 14 new apartments, he said, which would be a mix of one- and two-bedroom units. Because Romanowski also owns 7 Spring St., he thinks he’d have plenty of parking to support the project.
Romanowski has filed preliminary plans with the borough, and expects to be before its Planning Board at its Dec. 12 meeting.
“It would be an informal discussion,” Romanowski said, “to discuss the concept and get feedback from board members” before filing a formal development application. Once his formal application is approved, Romanowski said he could begin construction the next day. Because the building is zoned for retail and residential use up to four floors, “I don’t see how they can say ‘no,’ ” Romanowski said.
The Union Hotel
Romanowski said he’s had two contractors inquire about buying the hotel. Both of them seek to preserve the landmark, he said, and both have been inside of the hotel to examine it, although not recently.
“I’d like to see it preserved. I hope it can survive,” Romanowski said, although he admits he doesn’t have the resources to do it alone. But he also says, “I don’t need to sell it,” and would be willing to partner with another developer.
Romanowski said he has no issue with Cust. “He’s a nice guy,” Romanowski said. “I wish him luck.”
Cust did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Editor's note: This article has been updated to include the statement from Flemington Mayor Phil Greiner, and to clarify Romanowski's foreclosure efforts.