FLEMINGTON, NJ - Although many development plans have stalled during the COVID-19 pandemic, in Flemington, property sales and deals are moving forward at a steady pace.
It was announced that the sale of the Main Street Bank building is ready for review.
At the Sept. 14 meeting, the council will have an amended redevelopment plan agreement for the Flemington Bank building on Main Street and a new bill of sale contract before them for consideration.
In February, a state Superior Court decision opened the door for the Flemington Bank building property, and with it the larger and even more controversial Courthouse Square Redevelopment Plan, to advance.
The appellate division court’s finding was in response to a lawsuit filed by the Friends of Historic Flemington alleging that the state Department of Environmental Protection’s approval of the sale of the borough-owned Main Street Bank building was procedurally defective and not supported by the evidence.
In their finding, the appellate court judges wrote that FHF “failed to meet its burden of proof” that the DEP's approval of the sale was arbitrary, capricious, unreasonable or otherwise defective.
That decision has led to a revised deal that Driver said is the culmination of 20 months of negotiation that included countless discussions with residents, the plaintiffs and the borough redevelopment professionals.
“I believe that this project will be welcomed by the vast majority of residents,” she said. “The height of the building has been reduced, the police station is staying and 78 Main Street stays, the elevation on Spring Street has been reduced and the original traffic-producing elements for Spring Street have been eliminated at this point.”
At that meeting, there will be a resolution addressing the redevelopment agreement and a first reading of the amended redevelopment plan and the contract bill of sale ordinance.
Prior to the council meeting, on either Sept. 9 or 10, there will be a news conference with Jack Cust and the redevelopment committee previewing the amended plan. Cust will also be giving a presentation of the plan at the meeting on the 14th.
Driver explained that town hall will be opened to allow people without Internet access to watch the virtual council meeting. In order to adhere to the governor’s executive order for an indoor gathering, which is a maximum of 25 people or 25 percent of capacity, only 10 people will be seated.
Flemington’s municipal hall meeting room allows for a maximum of 12 people to meet the standard during the pandemic. The borough clerk and a technology expert will be present during the meeting, leaving 10 open spots for the public.
A large screen television will be set up and a computer will be available for typing in questions or comments during the meeting.
However, the mayor strongly encouraged anyone that can watch from home to do so, assuring them that everyone watching from either borough hall or home will have the same ability to ask questions and make comments.
“Keeping social-distance at our borough hall meeting room is a challenge,” she said.
Anyone that needs to watch the meeting from town hall will have to pre-register for a seat with the borough clerk.
It was noted that if the council approves the amended plan and agreement, there are still multiple steps that the developer will need to take, including additional appearances before the planning board, before permits are issued. Driver said she expects the work on the project could begin before the end of the year.
Also during her report, the mayor mentioned that she and borough attorney Tara St. Angelo met with the prospective buyers of the property at 144 Main Street. The land, which is owned by the borough, went under contract earlier this year for $220,000 with Tidbits Inc. of Lambertville.
In 2008, the NJ Department of Environmental Protection determined that there had been a release of gas on the 0.25-acre property that was used as a gasoline station beginning in the 1950’s. A clean up was completed and the borough had been given a “no further action letter required” by the DEP, allowing for the sale of the land.
However, during the buyer’s inspection, two underground tanks that were previously undetected were discovered.
It hasn’t been confirmed, but it is thought that one tank was for heating oil and one was for waste oil.
The buyer, who plans to open a restaurant on the site, has not backed out of the deal, but has asked for an additional 45 days to complete its due diligence, which includes confirming that the ground is not contaminated.
After a discussion in executive session, the council voted unanimously to grant the request to extend the terms of the contract.