FLEMINGTON, NJ – Councilperson Chris Runion says he won’t support “wrong-headed decisions of the past” and said Council should pursue a “broad, long-term comprehensive vison of quality of life” rather than just looking at redevelopment projects individually.
At Borough Council’s June 24 meeting, Runion also questioned an economic study being done of the Union Hotel redevelopment project, and called the process “lacking.”
In April, Council chose Beacon Planning & Consulting Services for a $10,000 contract to study the impact of the proposed Courthouse Square project that includes the Union Hotel. It is to review projected expenses and revenue for each part of the project, and compare its fiscal impact to one consistent with the borough’s Master Plan.
Beacon’s study will first be produced as a draft to the Borough’s Redevelopment Committee, Runion said, which can then request changes before the report goes to the full Council.
But Runion said that Council should be involved with the study at the beginning of the process, “not at the end when the report has been written.”
“None of us have the time to … sit on every single committee,” said Councilperson Caitlin Giles-McCormick, who is on the Redevelopment Committee. “I’ve had some very good discussions in terms of sharing what we can in terms of redevelopment of Main Street.”
Giles-McCormick told Runion she was “upset to hear your concerns about the process” regarding Beacon, “But we are working on these issues.”
Runion said it appears that Council is allowing Friends of Historic Flemington – a group that seeks adaptive reuse of Flemington’s historic buildings and that objects to the scale of the present Cust plan – to negotiate a more desirable project.
Runion thinks officials should reach a compromise with the developer themselves.
“What about our responsibility as a governing body to negotiate and represent our constituents?” Runion asked. “Many feel this project is still too big, still too ugly, and likely still too expensive for this community both financially and (for) quality of life.”
Runion asked the Redevelopment Committee and Council to “look at other options.”
Runion’s pleas drew whistles and applause. Resident Robert Shore call it, “The most comprehensive, well thought out, poignant Council comments I have heard in the 30 years I’ve been coming to these Borough Council meetings.”
Runion also cast concern about the Borough’s upcoming Opportunity Zone summit. The July 11 invitation-only event is to promote Flemington as Hunterdon’s only Opportunity Zone.
The Opportunity Zone program offers tax deferrals for capital gains reinvested in an Opportunity Fund, which is a private sector investment vehicle that invests at least 90 percent of its capital in Opportunity Zones. Council has established a committee to help promote the zone.
The agenda for the summit includes panel discussions, a showcase of shovel-ready opportunities and “an investor-friendly planning process.”
Planning Board members and other planning professionals will provide information about zoning and properties available for development, according to the invitation. It will end with guided property tours and “a Happy Hour at Lone Eagle Brewing.”
Runion said the summit should be “an opportunity for Flemington, not for developers.
“Unlike many who continue to call for more density, I do not believe more density is the answer,” Runion said. “Flemington has the densest population in the county, while it has the lowest median income.”
Officials should ask, “ ‘What can developers do for us?’ ” Runion said, “rather than, ‘What can we do for developers?’ Better yet, ‘what can we do for each other?’ ”