FLEMINGTON, NJ – The would-be developers of the former Global Agway property said the goal of yesterday’s plan unveiling was to get feedback from residents.
They got what they sought.
Captiva Development hopes to build 100 apartment units on the 3.34-acre dilapidated site .
Representatives of Captiva said its renderings – which show two buildings to be built between Walter Foran Boulevard and Hopewell Avenue but also facing North Main Street – were just an initial concept that would be refined based on community feedback and traffic studies.
As it stands now, “The site does not do anything for the town,” said architect Jose Carballo. “It’s a very difficult piece of property to develop.”
Mayor Betsy Driver said the proposal “is pretty much in line with the redevelopment plan” released by the Borough in 2016.
Many of the questions from residents during the nearly 90-minute presentation centered on two issues: Architectural style, and reliance on rental apartments, rather than owner-occupied units.
In a town noted for its Victorian architecture, “Why would you choose an industrial design?” for the project, asked resident Robert Shore.
“It’s very difficult” with buildings of this size, Carballo said.
Victorian motifs don’t work on buildings of these proportions, said the project’s managing director Eli Dresler. If you add them in, “It no longer looks Victorian,” he said. “Victorians are two- or three-story, single-family homes that have porches.”
Carballo said he looked at some of the borough’s older buildings to develop his design. The Mayor said architecture is something she’d already discussed with the developer.
“That neighborhood does have some industrial roots,” Driver said, “with the railroad there, and particularly the Egg Auction building, which is … an industrial, red brick type of building.”
For that reason, the proposed style does fit with that part of the borough “as opposed to a faux Victorian,” she said.
Resident Marcia Karrow said the borough’s Request for Proposals for the site sought “comparable architecture to the surrounding area.”
“I’ve lived here my whole life,” Karrow said. “There is nothing comparable to that in this town anywhere … When you say, ‘It’s hard to put a Victorian motif on a building this size,’ then don’t build it this size.”
Several residents asked if having owner-occupied apartments might be preferable to rentals for the borough.
“Financing for condominiums … is very limited, especially in New Jersey,” Carballo said.
“Banks today … are not lending for condos,” said Dresler. “They’re lending money on rentals … we won’t be able to finance it if we did condos.”
Carballo said the project’s one-bedroom apartments would be about 750 square feet each, and the two-bedroom units “just shy of 1,000” square feet.
He calculated that there would be an average of about 1 or 1.1 person for each one-bedroom apartment, and 1.5 to 1.7 persons for each two-bedroom apartment. Residents challenged him and questioned how he arrived at such a low population for the project. When Carballo tried to defend his calculations, laughter erupted.
“Renters are disenfranchised from a town, and we are going to be over-run by people who are disenfranchised from this town,” Karrow said. “We’ve already allowed our Victorians to be split up into apartments. If we continue to allow small, high-density units like this all over the borough, there’s going to be nobody here who cares anymore .
“They don’t have any ownership” in a community, Karrow said. “They’re not going to be part of this community. Never. And it’s a concern.”
But Flemington Community Partnership Director Robin Lapidus disagreed.
“Having 100 more people who can walk to town will help make the town feel safer, more active, more vibrant,” she said. “It will help our businesses stay in business.
“As a newcomer to this community, I do want to feel welcome here. I want to feel that whether I’m a renter or a buyer, my opportunity to contribute to this community is welcomed and valuable.”
Lapidus said residents can take an interest in a town whether they rent or own, “and I hope that’s something that we value here and find many inroads to citizenship.”
Councilman Michael Harris asked for a financial impact study to be part of the application, something that’s been an issue with the redevelopment plan for the Union Hotel.