FLEMINGTON, NJ – Those who have seen the most recent revisions to Jack Cust’s plan to redevelop downtown Flemington praise the changes and say it has evolved substantially from what was first shown in February.
Cust “is making strides in making it look like what we think Main Street should be,” said Council member Michelle Oberst at a recent Borough Council meeting.
Although the redevelopment plan is not often on Borough Council’s published agenda, it’s clearly part of the agenda for attendees, who pepper officials with questions at almost every meeting.
And it isn’t just Borough Council that’s listening to residents. Flemington resident Beryl Doyle pleaded with the county freeholders at their June 21 meeting that the county should buy the hotel and restore it, rather than let Cust demolish it as part of his project.
Polytech could manage the project as a teaching tool for the trades, she said, and the effort could be recorded as part of a documentary.
At the June 27 Borough Council meeting, Mayor Phil Greiner said Cust has made “great progress ... it looks like our town now.”
Oberst said the plan “looks like what we see now ... It may not be the existing buildings, but it look amazing.”
Others think the borough would look more like itself if the hotel were preserved.
“I can’t accept that you have to demolish all four buildings,” Richard Griffen, a resident and engineer, told council. “It doesn’t make sense from an engineering point of view.”
Greiner said that “nothing has been decided” yet about the project. He added that although Cust is trying to work existing buildings into the project, “Frankly, that’s probably not happening.”
“It’s a complex project,” Greiner said. One of the challenges in keeping the existing buildings is that construction that may tunnel under them may cause collapse, he said. Keeping the four-story hotel could mean “you have to go up ten stories somewhere else.”
Oberst said that keeping the hotel’s facade remains possible. “Trust me, people are listening” to the public’s concerns, she added.
“In the end, it will be viewed on all of the merits ... I want you to have an honest view of where things stand at the moment,” Greiner said.
Resident Lois Stewart questioned whether the redevelopment agreement with the borough has been executed, and the mayor answered that officials are still working on it. And while he promised that the document will eventually be public, Greiner said it might not be made public in advance of it being signed.
Greiner said that while officials are not “actively soliciting” another redeveloper, Oberst added, “We’ll certainly consider” other proposals.
“If they’re willing to do something, have them submit an offer,” she said.
The Flemington Historic Preservation Commission is of a mixed opinion about the project. The hotel is “is one of the most important buildings in the Historic District and should be preserved, according to the position paper it posted to its website. “The interior of the building is not as significant and can be reconfigured for new uses,” it states.
The 78 Main Street property is designated as “contributing” to the character of the borough's historic district, according to the HPC, and should be “preserved and rehabilitated.”
Property at 82 Main Street is considered “non-contributing,” and the HPC believes demolition of this property “is not an issue, as long as new, infill construction is designed to fit the character and scale of the historic district.”
A portion of the building at 90-104 104 Main Street is designated as “significant,” according to the HPC report, and, “This part of the building should be preserved and rehabilitated. A portion is designated as “non-contributing and can be replaced.”
Others support the Cust plan.
“If they own it, they deserve to do what they desire with it,” resident and business owner Robert Shore told Borough Council. He said objectors to the Cust plan shouldn’t pester elected offcials, but should be speaking with Cust himself.
“Jack Cust is an outstanding man ... I think he’s the right person for this job.” Shore said.
Cust hasn't yet filed a formal redevelopment plan with the borough and hasn't publicly released the changes he's considering.