FLEMINGTON, N.J. – A divided Borough Council voted to move forward with a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) plan for the Union Hotel redevelopment project at its meeting Tuesday.
The officials also accepted the project’s draft site plan and concept plan.
That means redeveloper Jack Cust and his Flemington Center Urban Renewal, LLC can proceed to the borough Planning Board with its application for the hotel and surrounding properties.
The PILOT will be the subject of a public hearing to be held at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 9 in the old Historic Courthouse on Main Street here.
In response to questions from resident Robert Shore, Mayor Phil Greiner described the PILOT as having “about 30 pages of legal boiler plate around it, but the essence of it ... is a 30-year PILOT, and there are several components of payments to the borough.
“We get a certain amount for every hotel room, certain amount for each apartment, for every square-foot of retail, for every square-foot of education,” the Mayor said. As the project is built, the borough starts collecting payments as those parts “come online,” he said.
Revenue from the PILOT will be “about $600,000 a year into the borough coffers once the project is built out,” Greiner said, including the projected revenue from a 3 percent hotel room tax.
The Mayor said that based on today’s numbers, the revenue would be about 13 percent of the borough tax levy. If all the PILOT revenue were used for tax reduction, the owner of the average house assessed at about $275,000 would save about $350 every year under the term of the PILOT, Greiner said.
Tuesday’s votes on the plan required approving two resolutions and introducing the PILOT ordinance, and were predictably divided based on how each Councilperson has already either publically supported or criticized the plan. Councilpersons John Gorman, Marc Hain and Brooke Warden voted in favor; Councilpersons Betsy Driver, Michael Harris and Susan Peterson voted against it.
That left the Mayor – who can only vote in the event of a tie - to cast the deciding vote in each instance.
Harris said “the biggest problem here is information” and was critical of the way the project’s traffic study, infrastructure costs and financial information had been shared, sparking rebuke from the Mayor.
“You’re out of order,” the Mayor told Harris. “These are for the public hearing to debate this issue ... I’m concerned that you are taking over the agenda. You are out of order by presenting this.”
“We have voted to approve a financial agreement that we received from a developer, and we made absolutely no negotiation on it,” Harris said. “I’m going to ask you: ‘How many of you have purchased a car and made absolutely no negotiation?’ ”
The Mayor called Harris’ claim “not true.”
There was also debate about a recurring consideration that a section be added to the agenda for “new business.”
Borough attorney Barry Goodman argued against the concept. He cited the state’s Open Public Meetings Act, “which requires an agenda ... so that the public knows what’s going to be discussed,” making a “new business” agenda item “not viable.”
“To have a general new business category really defeats the purpose of the Open Public Meetings Act,” Goodman said.
“That’s standing in the way of common sense,” Shore said, because the items would be for discussion, not up for a vote or official action.
But Goodman said that if any Council member wants something added to the agenda, he can ask the mayor by Thursday before the Tuesday meeting to have it added.
If the mayor declines, each Council member has the right at the Council meeting to ask that the agenda be amended, Goodman said.
“So it’s only in emergency-type situations that any type of additional thing gets added to the agenda,” Goodman said. “That’s the way it should be.”