FLEMINGTON, NJ - The Flemington Borough Council unanimously agreed to move forward with a revised redevelopment agreement for the block that the Union Hotel sits on.
After years of negotiation, Courthouse Square developer Jack Cust and the borough came to terms with a scaled-down version of plans that were approved in 2017, in hopes of addressing residents’ concerns that the proposal was too large for the space and wasn’t in keeping with the two-story Victorian homes along Spring Street and Bloomfield Avenue which border the project.
The revised plan eliminates proposed medical and educational space, reducing the number of apartments from 222 to 206, retail square footage from 32,250 square feet to 22,000 square feet, and the maximum building height from 87 feet to just over 63 feet, while retaining the police building, 78 Main Street where the Potting Shed is located, and the former Hunterdon County Bank building. It calls for renovating the Union Hotel, which will hold 100 hotel rooms, a restaurant and pub.
The plan also calls for electric car charging stations, possibly a rooftop restaurant and space for holding outdoor events, said borough planner Beth McManus.
Shortly after the original plan was approved in 2017, Friends of Historic Flemington, a group of residents opposed to the project, filed several lawsuits to prevent it from moving forward. All but one of those suits have been resolved, said Gary Schotland, a Friends of Historic Flemington trustee.
The remaining suit, which claims that several planning board members did not recuse themselves from voting on the plan when they should have, will likely become moot when the planning board reviews the revised redevelopment plan on Sept. 22, he said.
The council is scheduled to approve the revised redevelopment plan at a special meeting Sept. 29. Monday night’s vote was the introduction of the redevelopment ordinance.
In conjunction with the plan, the borough will also undertake $6 million of water and sewer line improvements, half of which will be paid for by Cust.
Residents who attended Monday night’s meeting had mixed reviews of the new plans. Several applauded the developer for working with the borough to come to new terms.
“This second plan is excellent,” said resident Charles Pettebone. “I like to hear that Mr. Cust is anxious to get started.”
“This exceeds any expectation I had for this project,” added resident Robert Shore.
Christine Baxavane, whose Broad Street property abuts a proposed parking lot where the former Flemington Furs building now stands, wanted to know what screening would be put in place between the two properties.
"We're very concerned about screening your property to make sure you are protected,” Cust told her, adding that details are still being worked out. “There will be adequate screening to the south and east of the property line."
Lois Stewart, a member of Friends of Historic Flemington who has voiced opposition to the project, questioned the diminished rooflines, saying changes still haven’t gone far enough.
"It’s a very high structure that will block light from the houses,” she said. “It's a neighborhood of families. I just don't think it’s fair to the people who live there. They were never expecting to be overwhelmed by this gigantic thing.”
Schotland echoed her concerns, adding that in addition to the rooflines, the new plans still do not include enough plantings, particularly along Spring Street.
“It’s high-density, urban construction in a town that doesn’t have anything like that,” he said, urging the council and planning board to make further changes.
"It's hard to satisfy everyone,” said resident Rich Cornelison, who supported the new plan. “It's time we got over these tug-of-wars and moved forward."
Several local union iron workers urged the council and Cust to consider hiring union workers to build the project.
Cust said it’s still in the design phase and he doesn’t know as of yet how much of the structure will be framed in wood and how much will be framed in steel, so it’s too early to make that determination.
“You can't do the design until you have an approved plan and know what you're building," he said.