FLEMINGTON, N.J. – The borough Planning Board continued its review of the Union Hotel redevelopment plan at a special meeting last week.
The plan, by Jack Cust’s Flemington Center Urban Renewal LLC, includes the landmark hotel and surrounding properties.
The hearing included confusing questioning by borough planner Beth McManus of David Minno, the architect for the project. McManus sought Minno’s explanation of the difference between a building’s “story” and its “floor,” asking why, “On floor plans it lists floors one through seven, but on the (Spring Street) elevation, you see eight stories.”
Minno said that typically, he considers an area like the lower level garage to be “below grade from a building code standpoint, because more than 50 percent of it is below grade.”
McManus said she sought to provide “a little bit more detail” to Minno’s previous testimony that building elevations along Spring Street had been reduced by a story.
“I think what’s more accurate to state is that buildings have been perhaps lowered by the equivalent of a story, because as I review the renderings of your presentation this evening they show the same number of stories” as the 2017 redevelopment plan, she said.
“To what extent was the building height been reduced?” McManus asked.
“It hasn’t been,” Minno explained, “but the overall height of the building is in fact reduced” at the corners. It’s a lower height at the corner of both Spring Street and Chorister Place, and at corner of Spring Street and Bloomfield, he said. But McManus remained confused when Minno said, “From the main portion of the building, the height is one floor lower.”
McManus peppered Minno with questions “about design standards ... that address how existing historic buildings should be treated ... I’d like to understand if and how this application complies with those development standards.”
Minno said “those issues are referenced” in memos issued by the state Historic Preservation Office. (SHPO)
McManus asked Minno how the Planning Board could find the application is consistent with redevelopment plan “if it doesn’t have the information before it that would allow them to make those individual findings.”
“To be quite frank, at this point in the project before approval, to have a developer spend money on an archaeological survey, structural redesign of the foundation and shoring systems and structural frame for stabilization, the documentation of all the historic buildings ... is a bit presumptuous,” Minno said. “At this point in the process, that’s quite an expense to go through. We will comply” with the direction given by SHPO, he said. “We will do all those things at great expense, but not now.”
Minno added that he couldn’t answer some of McManus’ questions because, “We haven’t done the building survey yet.”
“I understand the testimony that you’re going to comply, but I have significant concerns that you’re essentially asking the board to cede its responsibility to confirm compliance with the redevelopment plan,” McManus said, “when the redevelopment specifically calls for compliance.
“I understand there are some items where it’s unreasonable for the applicant to determine ... but I’m concerned that there’s just a blanket refusal to provide significant information,” she said.
Minno answered that is wasn’t a refusal, but “just a practical nature of all the research and documentation ... it’s not going to be undertaken at this time, and that information will be provided.”
Further details will be provided with monthly reporting on the project required under the redeveloper agreement, he said.
George Dilts, an attorney representing Cust, said all requirements will be met “and will be done to the satisfaction of the town’s professionals and SHPO. It’s just not practical at this stage.”
McManus said she was concerned “non-compliance may not be realized, may not be articulated until after the approval takes place.” She asked: What happens if the developer can’t comply?
“If we can’t comply ... we have to bring it to the board’s attention, the subcommittee’s attention or the professional’s attention,” Dilts said. “Our intent is to comply fully.”
Private off-microphone discussions during the public hearing between McManus and Planning Board engineer Bob Clerico, and between board attorney William Gianos and Clerico, made following some of the public hearing difficult. Planning Board Chair Todd Cook said such private discussions are permitted.