To the editor,
Earlier this week, I made lunch plans to meet with some potential investors interested in the Borough. We agreed to meet at Nespolo, an exciting eatery on Main Street that opened about 6 months ago. I wanted to showcase a relatively new business that had chosen to invest in Flemington. Sadly, we were unable to enjoy lunch there because it closed this week. It’s another in a steady stream of small business investors who chose Flemington and were let down by a town being held back by people who don’t see value in development that fits.
As long as we remain hostage to a small group of people using the courts and non-profit status that markets themselves as historic preservationists, Flemington simply cannot succeed. Small businesses will continue to fail, family homes (the biggest investment most families will make in their lifetime) will not appreciate in value and commercial property will stagnate.
When I campaigned successfully for Flemington Borough Council in 2017, I ran against the proposed Courthouse Square project. It was too tall, too massive, and not befitting our National Historic District, the second largest in the state behind Cape May. A year later, I successfully ran for Mayor on the same platform. During the course of the year I was on Council, the project changed very little and the designated redeveloper saw little reason to modify the project toward what the residents of town wanted because the former mayor wasn’t asking him to compromise.
Over the past nine months, redeveloper Jack Cust has worked to bring the project in line with what I think - and what I thought - was the desire of the small group of plaintiffs who continue to hold the Borough of Flemington back from succeeding. It certainly has met most of the goals I envisioned for our Main Street in this project: it saves 78 Main Street, it retains the streetscape elevation along Main Street, and it reduces the future potential traffic impact on the nearby residents. Is it perfect? No. But little in life, in Flemington or elsewhere, is perfect. We are always making compromises on what our dreams and goals are and, yet, we somehow manage to keep moving forward.
Sadly, those who have engaged with lawsuits over this project have yet to recognize that they won their noble battle. Their work is what reduced the height of project from over 90 feet to more fitting 54 feet; 78 Main will remain intact on its present footprint. The traffic concerns over a college and medical office building have been alleviated with the removal of those aspects from the residential neighborhood on Spring Street. It’s time for them to shout from the rooftops, maybe even hold a street party and let everyone know they won: they saved the Borough from a project that was not a good fit for our 1.4 square miles on earth. No one is interested in taking the credit away from where it is due. But, they need to claim it to allow us to move ahead.
Our Borough, of course, is more than just Main Street. There are other investors interested in seeing us succeed, helped along by our Opportunity Zone designation.
The Agway properties, with an existing redevelopment plan that met with wide community support when it was revealed a few years ago, was sent out twice for RFPs in recent years. This year, we finally received interest in them. On the Global Ag site on the north/west side of the parcels, a developer has presented a concept plan in line with the redevelopment plan previously approved for the site. That evening a few months ago, he was met with a chorus of “DON’T!” from the same people fighting the Main Street redevelopment. It was too many units despite conforming to the number of apartments in the approved redevelopment plan; it didn’t look old enough or Victorian enough; former Freeholder and state Senator Marcia Karrow actually stated it shouldn’t be rentals because people who rent are not a valued part of our community; people stated it shouldn’t have our state required number of COAH units, because poor people apparently are not entitled to nice apartments. The message sent was that blight is better than property that reduces the tax burden on other property owners. Despite the loud refrains of “no” from a minority of residents, the redeveloper will be back again later this month on Oct. 17 to present new concept drawings.
There’s interest in the other side of the street, too. Together, these two projects could redefine our long-blighted northern gateway into town. There is also potentially a project on the south side of Route 12 coming next year. Each of these proposals are mixed-use with exciting destination retail included. They are all on underutilized land that contributes little to the tax base. In partnership with the Flemington Community Partnership, I’ve been showcasing our Borough for other projects around town that can give stakeholders added value beyond simply residential development and am hopeful we will see exciting things come to fruition in the next year or two.
We need to make our town successful and whole again. We need to stop being a community of DON’T and become a community of WHEN? When we become a community that embraces development over blight, we might be able to support more than a couple of great restaurants at a time.
The time is now for Flemington to move forward and succeed.
Betsy Driver, Mayor