FLEMINGTON, NJ – As officials here approved the settlement of two lawsuits and voted to expand the area in need of redevelopment that includes the Union Hotel, they heard calls for healing and increased cooperation to resolve the differences in the borough.
Borough attorney Barry Goodman said the “global settlement” represents a compromise with Friends of Historic Flemington, the group that filed the suits and seeks to prevent demolition of historic properties here. The suits alleged violations of the state’s Open Public Records Act.
The settlement includes the borough paying $5,000 to the Friends group.
Under the terms of the agreement, the group agrees to reimburse the borough for Borough Clerk Sallie Graziano to perform additional record searches for it, at Graziano’s regular rate of $26.37 an hour.
Mayor Phil Greiner said that from last year through this May, the borough has spent $28,000 on legal costs related to the suits. That doesn’t include the $5,000 payment or its legal costs for last month, he said.
Borough Council voted unanimously to accept the settlement; Councilperson John Gorman was absent.
Councilperson Susan Peterson said she would “prefer a mutually advantageous way of proceeding. There has to be a better way.
“We urgently need a mediator, a healing force, not a judge to direct us,” Peterson said. “Our tools for dealing with differences have created an impasse.”
Peterson added that “more ties us together than actually divides us.” She voted in favor of the settlement because, “It does need to be paid.”
Peterson was the only Councilperson to vote against expanding the area in need of redevelopment around the Union Hotel to include properties on Spring Street.
“I do not believe it is the correct course of action for our borough, she said, adding that the reasons given for why the expansion is necessary are “weak and unsubstantiated.”
Peterson said that if the additions proposed for the back of the Union Hotel were removed from redeveloper Jack Cust’s plans, there would be “plenty of parking for a successful restaurant to flourish.
“So what if it’s BYOB?” Peterson asked. “I feel we’re willing to urbanize our town for a bar. I feel that we’re smarter than that.”
Peterson said that the Flemington Cut Glass property on Main Street should be developed before adding apartments on Spring Street.
“We need new amenities in town before we start attracting this huge population,” she said, to loud applause.
Resident Robert Shore asked Council to “convene a convention” of all those with an interest in the redevelopment of Main Street. Without it, he said he feared the Cust would be “in jeopardy.
“Council wants to forge ahead,” Shore said. “My fear is you have the possibility of further appeals, delays ... that are not in the best interest of our community.
“What is in the best interest of the community is to make it happen as soon as possible.” Pulling together all involved – including the Planning Board, Board of Adjustment, Historic Preservation Commission, Friends of Historic Flemington and others – could yield a compromise where no one gets exactly everything they want, but everyone gets what they most desire, Shore said.
“I don’t see it moving forward without collaboration with the other parties who are opposed to it,” he said. “Without all the parties coming together and working out some sort of agreement where they’re all dissatisfied ... I don’t foresee this project moving forward.”
“Convene a convention of these folks,” he argued. “Get them in a room, get a mediator and work it out. This has to happen. Flemington needs triage, not TLC. It needs leadership ... we have no more time. Flemington is crumbling. As the hotel goes, so goes Flemington.”