'Peaceful Protest' Planned Over Union Hotel Plan

This sign is posted on the property next to the Large House, which is currently under restoration by the county Chamber of Commerce. Credits: Curtis Leeds
Credits: Curtis Leeds
Credits: Curtis Leeds
Credits: Curtis Leeds
Credits: Curtis Leeds
Credits: Curtis Leeds
The county's Historial Society has a sign posted near its Main Street entrance. Credits: Curtis Leeds
Credits: Curtis Leeds

FLEMINGTON, NJ – They are popping up on lawns and gardens throughout the borough.

On the main roads and the side streets, in front of homes and businesses, the eye-catching red signs proclaim, “STOP Demolition of Historic Main St.”

The signs are part of an effort being waged by Friends of Historic Flemington, a group organized to encourage “adaptive reuse” of the buildings that may be razed as part of Jack Cust’s Stagecoach at Flemington concept.

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The group plans a rally that will begin at 10:30 a.m. Saturday on the steps of the old Historic Courthouse on Main Street.

After the rally, “A guided walking tour will convey the history and architectural significance of the buildings that are slated for demolition,” according to a press release from the group. “Speakers will explain the economic and cultural benefits that adaptive reuse of old buildings brings to the community.”

The group and its supporters have been especially visible at recent Borough Council meetings, where officials face questioning about the future of the Union Hotel and its surrounding properties. In particular, they’ve asked Borough Council to share with the public Cust’s plans.

The plans initially called for a two- or four-year college that could be affiliated with Raritan Valley Community College or with Rutgers; a new, 100-room hotel; retail; restaurants; and 230 to 250 “high-quality residential units” that would be built above the restaurants.

Cust first publically revealed his vision for the hotel and its surrounding properties on Feb. 22 at what Mayor Phil Greiner called the most-attended Borough Council meeting in history. Since then, Cust and his team have worked with the borough’s Hotel Area Redevelopment Committee to revise the plans to address some of the concerns expressed by objectors.

Those changes are substantial, according to the mayor and others on the committee who have seen them. But because Cust has yet to file a formal development application with the borough, the borough doesn’t have a copy of the proposal and it isn’t considered public.

Objectors have pleaded with Borough Council to include others on the Hotel Area Redevelopment Committee who may have experience or a particular interest in historic properties. In response, at its July 25 meeting, council added borough Historic Preservation Commission chair Elaine Gorman, and the Planning Board chairman and vice-chair -- Todd Cook and Susan Englehardt -- to the committee.

At the meeting, Greiner promised that the revisions will be released to the public in advance of an application to the Planning Board. And while he said that the hotel facade has been redesigned from the original proposal, he cited the hotel and Main Street’s 20-year decline as a reason for action.

“How long do we continue doing this before we consider a change in direction?” he asked. The process is “not a secret,” Greiner added. “It’s the way it works.”

While Greiner and other borough officials have so far avoided actually endorsing the plan, others have not been reluctant. They include county Freeholders John Lanza, John King and Rob Walton. While they each cite various reasons for supporting the plan, they especially point to its consistency with the county’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, which is the county’s blueprint for Hunterdon's economic future.

The Cust plan seems to dovetail with several key elements of CEDS, including its support for walkable, mixed use development.

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