FLEMINGTON, NJ – When it comes to redeveloping Main Street’s historic Union Hotel here, Mayor Phil Greiner says, “You can see the finish line.”
The hotel has been closed for a decade. It was designated as part of an area in need of redevelopment eight years ago and since then, redevelopers have come and gone. The most recent – a group led by Jack Cust – has been working on a plan for more than two years. Revisions to those plans were released a year ago.
“When you look at all of the approvals that were needed to get this done, the majority of them are done,” Greiner said. Now, only a few hurdles remain, the mayor says.
Property acquisition. Cust’s Flemington Center Urban Renewal, LLC, which is the borough’s designated redeveloper, doesn’t actually own the hotel. The project also requires that Cust acquire the adjacent building known as the Potting Shed as well as the store’s parking lot, which is actually a separate property.
Although officials announced in April that Cust had reached an agreement to buy the three properties from owner Steve Romanowski, the deal never closed.
One solution – which Cust had sought in March – is the borough pursuing a forced sale using eminent domain. Borough Councilpersons don’t like calling eminent domain “condemnation,” and have long been uneasy about the issue regardless of what’s it’s called.
But, “If we have to go with eminent domain, we know there is a path to resolving that, and it would not take too long,” the mayor said in an interview this morning.
Friends of Historic Flemington lawsuits. The Friends group is an advocacy group that is seeking to preserve the hotel. It has described itself in court filings as a “group of citizens, professionals, business and property owners concerned about Flemington’s historic buildings and historic district.”
Greiner called the lawsuits the “least defined at this point” of the unresolved redevelopment details.
“We’re in the midst of trying to work with them,” said the mayor about the Friends and the suits. “If we can resolve them, that’s great. If we can’t, those things can drag on, and there’s more uncertainty about that,” he cautioned.
Despite the “uncertainty,” Greiner said Borough officials may be just a few weeks away from knowing if the lawsuits can be settled which is, of course, his hope. “If it goes to court, we don’t know what the judge might say,” Greiner said, or whether appeals might follow regardless of the outcome.
Financial agreement between the borough and redeveloper. Both parties have agreed to the terms which are now under review by an independent third party. That process is almost complete, Greiner said, and he doesn’t expect the outcome to present any obstacle.
The liquor license. Returning a liquor license to Main Street has always been a goal of Borough officials. But at the June 11 Borough Council meeting, resident Alan Brewer said that the redeveloper agreement has the redeveloper “representing that it has secured ... a liquor license.”
But, “The redeveloper does not own the license as it represents in signing the agreement,” Brewer said, because it is owned by a separate entity, Stagecoach Liquors, LLC.
“Please provide the redeveloper company with the required 30-day notice to require it to live up to what is represented in the agreement, or cancel the agreement,” Brewer told Council.
In a letter to the editor this week, Brewer called upon Cust to transfer the license to Flemington Center Urban Renewal, LLC, “so that the license is actually owned by the redeveloper as Jack represented when he signed the agreement on behalf of his company.
“It is now time for Mayor Greiner and Councilpersons Brooke Warden and Marc Hain to start putting the interest of the people first,” Brewer wrote.
Council renewed the Stagecoach liquor license at the same June 11 meeting. In today’s interview, Greiner said he is “100 percent certain that there is no problem with the current procedure” regarding the license, something he said he confirmed with borough attorney Robert Beckelman after Brewer raised the issue. A developer holding a liquor license in a separate entity is not unusual, Greiner said.
Further, the Mayor said, “We have confirmed the Stagecoach Liquors partnership is totally owned by Mr. Cust. So it would not be subject ... to other partners saying ‘We want to sell it off,’ ” and thereby leaving the project potentially without a liquor license.
Greiner remains both optimistic and philosophical.
“It’s good to step back from the minutia from time-to-time,” the mayor said. “You have to remind yourself: Why are we doing this project? Why is this project is the right project? It keeps you grounded. I’m confident we’re on the right track with this.”