FLEMINGTON, NJ - Don’t call it condemnation. Borough Attorney Barry Goodman said the proper term is “eminent domain.”
But whatever you call it, Borough Council may consider an action that it previously said it didn’t contemplate - using its authority to transfer control of the Union Hotel to Jack Cust’s Urban Renewal, LLC, its designated redeveloper for the hotel and surrounding properties.
Mayor Phil Greiner said at yesterday’s Borough Council meeting that Cust is “requesting us under the terms of the redeveloper agreement to pursue the eminent domain options.”
The request from Cust’s attorney was delivered by FedEx yesterday, Greiner said.
Greiner said the request may be because, “There appears to be some jockeying for ownership of some of the properties ... the redeveloper agreement allows the redeveloper to request the use of eminent domain and for the borough to consider such a request.”
The current status of the Union Hotel is fuzzy.
The hotel is owned by Flemington Union Hotel, LLC. That group was formed by investors who Borough Council designated to redevelop the hotel five years ago. But the group was unable to undertake the project and was officially de-designated in August, 2015.
Raritan Township resident Steve Romanowski had loaned those investors $605,000 towards their plan. When they defaulted on the loan, Romanowski filed to foreclose on the property. Last November, Romanowski won a Superior Court order directing the county sheriff to sell the building at auction, with proceeds going to reimburse Romanowski the money it said he is owed.
Although Hunterdon Sheriff Fred Brown scheduled that sale, it has been postponed by Romanowski multiple times, according to Brown.
Greiner said that, at the moment, the hotel “is the only property that has eminent domain attached to it.” But Greiner said Cust also asked “that we begin a study process on the other properties” that are part of the redevelopment area to determine if eminent domain should be invoked there, too.
If eminent domain were to be used, “It is more practical to do the whole area, rather than do it piecemeal,” the mayor said.
To apply eminent domain, Borough Council would have to approve an ordinance allowing it, Greiner said, “but there would be a couple of intermediate steps Council would want to take first as a way of due diligence.”
To force eminent domain on the hotel’s surrounding properties, Greiner said Council “would direct the Planning Board to study the properties and come back with a recommendation” to the governing body. If that were an option Council decided to exercise, an ordinance authorizing that would also be required.
Borough Council fielded questions from the public about Cust's request, but did not discuss it among themselves. Neither did Council set a date to consider the request.
Greiner noted that Cust’s group “has exclusive rights in the redevelopment area” in the borough.