Editor's note: This article has been updated here.
FLEMINGTON, NJ – A resolution that seeks to terminate the borough’s relationship with its attorney handling the Union Hotel redevelopment project will be on Borough Council’s agenda Monday.
The draft resolution, prepared by Councilperson Michael Harris, says that although Jack Cust’s Flemington Urban LLC was selected as the Main Street redeveloper two-and-a-half years ago, “Flemington has been sued three times because of failed procedures regarding the project.
“Two lawsuits have been settled at considerable cost in time and money; a third lawsuit remains unsettled with continuing running cost,” the resolution states. It notes that the borough hired Robert Beckelman as special counsel to represent and advise the borough government regarding the project.
Beckelman is with the Greenbaum, Rowe, Smith & Davis law firm.
The redevelopment agreement with Cust was crafted with Beckelman’s guidance but “does not afford the Borough basic protections and is full of unqualified statements and ambiguous language ... leaving the Redeveloper in control of the process,” according to the resolution.
In the resolution, Harris argues that “tactics of intimidation and isolation have become commonplace during meetings” about the Union Hotel project, and that Beckelman “has not voiced concern or offered guidance about issues that various council members have voiced.”
The borough “does not conduct business in a transparent manner and, in failing to do so, has created a pervasive environment of distrust,” the resolution states, “as evidenced by ‘secret’ meetings of two of the three members of the Redevelopment Committee.” It also claims that Mayor Phil Greiner has had “multiple private meetings” with Cust and Beckelman.
Although many local residents have asked mayor and Council to negotiate with Cust regarding the height and density of the proposed redevelopment and preservation of some of its buildings, Beckelman “has provided no advice to the Mayor and Council of the benefit of such a true and open dialog, resulting in continuing lawsuits by the public.”
The resolution, if approved, would state that officials “declare that they have no confidence” in Beckelman “to properly protect and advocate for the residents and taxpayers” and they would “seek the services of a replacement.”
Harris has criticized the borough’s redeveloper agreement with Cust because of “ambiguities” and said in an interview today that his goal is to “fix the flaws in the redeveloper’s agreement, not undo it.” Cust has said he’s willing to negotiate, Harris said, “but we have deferred negotiations” and risks to the borough and residents can’t be minimized in an agreement that’s ambiguous.
“As a legal professional, I generally do not believe it is my place to make public comments concerning the substance of possible Borough resolutions,” Beckelman said in a statement. “However, given the personal nature of the false attacks in this draft resolution, I feel that I have no choice but to at least comment that it is truly unfortunate that this resolution is filled with so many misleading, inaccurate and false statements.”
The mayor said he does not support the draft resolution or the statements that precede the conclusion. “I don’t want to debate the issue back and forth ahead of the Council meeting” on Monday, he said.
The resolution stands a good chance of being approved in some form. That’s because Councilperson John Gorman will be on vacation when Borough Council meets at 7 p.m. in the old Historic Courthouse on Main Street. Councilpersons Betsy Driver, Susan Peterson and Harris have all been critical of various aspects of the redeveloper's agreement, which could give them a majority on Monday. In Flemington’s form of government, the mayor can only vote to break a tie.
A copy of the resolution is on the borough’s website.