To the editor:
I am stubborn. In many ways, when I was accepted into a Flemington family 12 years ago, this made me fit right in. Uncompromising. Loyal. Passionate. These are all things I admire about my wife and her family and are all offshoots of our stubbornness. As the two of us have aged, thankfully, our stubbornness has softened and we have avoided imploding our relationship.
As I spent more time in Flemington and then became a full-time borough resident in 2015, I noticed that these attributes could be extended to many residents of Flemington and Hunterdon County. Now I believe they are doing us a disservice. When I attended the Borough Council meeting last week, I was hoping that there could be some actual discourse and identifying with others. Yet I was appalled by the example set by Mayor Phil Greiner and our Council members. It is part of their duty as elected officials to work for this community. It is their job to lead, but also to listen. Even if Council members wanted to enter into the contract with developer Jack Cust, there were some very realistic and smart points that could have been included as amendments. Why couldn’t the agreement include a clause that returns the liquor license to the borough if development is not completed? What about clarification on the “dollar for dollar” credits Mr. Cust will receive for public works improvements? The formal agreement does not explicitly say what these credits can be used for, but I assume it will be credited towards his PILOTs. The mayor and council members may believe this is obvious from the agreement, but it is not explicitly stated and it is their job to make sure these agreements are explicit and legally sound. Questions regarding these details should not be brushed off or snickered at, but explained thoughtfully and plainly to the public. Then if there is disagreement, at least everyone has the same information to work from.
No one of us has all the answers and so we need discussion and discourse to create better outcomes. I have seen willingness to compromise or accept the redevelopment plan from many who currently oppose the Cust plan, if certain concerns are addressed. Everyone knows there is a need for redevelopment, reinvestment, and revitalization of Flemington. A “larger” project, which encompasses several properties also makes sense to me. Yet the height and overall footprint of the Cust project seems too large for our town.
Personally, I would love to see the Union Hotel completely restored, but I would accept the preservation of the facade and some key defining features. I recognize that any developer has a myriad of factors to balance and that it is not an easy job. But that is their job and it is our community. Why isn’t the council acknowledging that there are real points of concern with this plan or work to ensure that certain conditions be applied to the agreement? I ask plan supporters, don’t you want the strongest plan, one that can stand up to scrutiny and that is the most likely to succeed? If the plans go through but there is no overall draw to the town and apartments sit empty, then we all lose. The inclusion of green space, entertainment, and/or a historic feel of the buildings would all increase the appeal of the project to Millennials, such as myself.
As the details of the PILOT agreement come together, I beg the council to think through all of the complexities. How much tax revenue is currently being taken in by the properties? How much of this goes to schools? What are high and low income projections for this over the next 30 years? It is also important to remember that even if there will not be a large number of students coming from the redeveloped properties, all property owners pay education taxes because it is in all of our interest to have a strong and educated community. There are also base educational expenses that are not affected by having fewer students. Additionally, what will the impact on streets and public services be? Please share your initial impact studies with the public. Include the cost for improvements in the PILOT agreement.
As a taxpayer, I would love to be able to have a firm number of what my taxes will be for the next 30 years. I understand the desire to have this guarantee as a developer and believe that there is a fair way to create such an agreement. But the services provided to Mr. Cust should not be undervalued. Mayor Greiner and Council members, please seek out the accurate, detailed information on these complex issues, share it with the residents you represent, and respectfully address our concerns.