To the editor,
Regarding Flemington Councilperson Chris Runion’s asking “What Can Developers Do For Us?,” it’s no surprise that another Flemington official assailed his critique of the good-old-boy “process” that many towns employ when dealing with land developers.
That corrupt process drove Hunterdon County headlong towards sprawl 15 years ago, until a group of residents and officials created what was known as “The 7 Town Group” to defend our towns from designation by the State as a high-density housing zone. The Group put a stop to sprawl for a decade.
But today, frightening levels of influence by developers are dominating Hunterdon. The push for phony “economic development” belies the fact that more residential development is being approved than commercial. While office and retail buildings remain empty, County Economic Development Czar Marc Saluk goes around our towns preaching that it’s bad to protect our pristine streams and that it’s good to plan for more strip malls and office buildings.
As Councilman Runion suggests, it’s time all our towns pursue a “broad, long-term comprehensive vison of quality of life,” rather than more high-density projects gussied-up as “economic development.” More important, Runion calls into question the way “committees” review the work of hired consultants and modify that work before it is presented to governing bodies and the public.
In other words, it seems Runion is concerned that special interests are driving policy in the back room. Runion is right.
Flemington Councilperson Caitlin Giles-McCormick is dead wrong when she tells Runion she’s “upset to hear your concerns about the process.” As the youngest member of the Council, Runion is a new bellwether of the future of Hunterdon County. Runion demands accountability. He insists that elected officials must be involved directly in negotiating with developers, and that they answer to their constituents. He’s right that the process is wrong.
Hunterdon County is notorious for sleepy-eyed government that is driven by private consultants who work not only for the towns, but also for moneyed land interests. They quietly make recommendations for studies done by other consultants without public input, and then use those studies to support inappropriate land use policy. A perfect example is the Hunterdon County CEDS report, which was manufactured to prop up unnecessary and undesirable sprawl.
Most elected officials shrug and say, “Well, the consultants gave us the report, we have to do X, Y and Z – we have no choice! After all, they are the experts!”
It’s refreshing to hear this young, new Councilman say that policy must reflect the public’s wishes – not the interests of developers.
“What can developers do for us?” asks Runion. Sadly, many elected officials know the answer to that question. Developers can fund political campaigns and drive policy with their powerful influence.
Citizens and politicians of Hunterdon had better pay attention to Councilman Chris Runion. He’s the “millennial” that our Freeholders and Saluk claim they want to attract to Hunterdon. Except now that he’s here, he and his young cohort are telling us our corrupt policy-making system has got to go.
“Unlike many who continue to call for more density, I do not believe more density is the answer,” says Runion. We need more elected officials like him, who insist on knowing all the details, doing the work themselves, and being accountable to their constituents.
Nick Corcodilos, former mayor