FLEMINGTON, NJ - Despite continued headaches over the litigation regarding the Union Hotel, the future looks bright for Flemington Borough, according to Mayor Betsy Driver in her annual borough address during Thursday’s reorganization meeting.

“Accomplishing big goals means focusing on the big picture, something I tried to do last year and will continue to do in the coming year,” she said. “Planning for the future means looking forward and not in the rearview mirror, except to learn from past mistakes.”

In 2019, Driver said, the borough saw a host of summer events on Stangl Road, with the Corn and Tomato Festival, plus the Salsa Fest, Jazz Fest and a summer of car shows.

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“Many of the attendees were from out of town, and their impression of our 1.4 square miles of town were favorable,” she said.

But, Driver said, they are looking forward to returning events to Main Street in 2020 following the streetscape project, which includes the installation of lights in the coming week, followed by benches and bike racks.

“At that time, we will be able to apply for more grant money to do the streetscape improvements on the rest of the Main Street business district,” she said.

In addition to this work, Driver said, the council designated Captiva Main Street as a redeveloper for the Global Ag property, which will see 100 units on the property, 15 percent of which will be affordable housing.

In terms of redevelopment in the borough, Driver said, in early December, a developer gained control of the Nilkanth Agway property for mixed use.

“I consider this gateway property to be one of the most important parcels in the borough, and, when the developer, Cardinal Capital Management, first reached out in the spring of 2019 asking about development possibilities, I encouraged them to look at this long vacant and blighted site,” she said. “Off-handedly, I told them that if they were able to build there, we’d throw them a parade.”

“It looks like we will have to schedule a community parade to welcome them to town once they get all the necessary approvals,” she added.

Driver said these two properties alone are important gateways to the borough, and she is proud to know that those entering the town on the north end will no longer see only abandoned buildings and empty parking lots.

“When I took office a year ago, I pledged to focus redevelopment on these blighted and abandoned properties, and I am pleased to see that both sides of the road there will be developed,” she said.

As for a big announcement at the meeting, Driver said she was pleased to tell the public that she has been in talks with potential investors about the possibility of bringing a performing arts center to Flemington.

“Those conversations are ongoing, and if I am able to bring it toward fruition, I hope to see some movement on it in the first half of this year,” she said.

In July 2019, Driver said, the borough was designated an opportunity zone, which has lent itself to many of the changes they have been entertaining over the past months. That same month, she said, the borough, with other entities, held an Opportunity Zone Summit to showcase the different redevelopment opportunities in town.

“Over 100 investors and developers came to town and spent the morning with us, including a trolley tour around town, and saw that Flemington is ready for good things to happen,” she said.

In addition, Driver said, the borough received a $100,000 grant, which will be spent on charettes to enlist and unite community stakeholders in planning for the future of Flemington.

“The results of the charettes will be used to update some of our outdated zoning codes and also as a building block toward writing a master plan in 2020,” she said.

To aid with any new development, Driver said, they are moving forward with work to pick a site for what will be Well #11 in the borough.

Infrastructure and road improvement projects are also continuing around the borough, Driver said, with the Highland-Elwood neighborhood project having started last summer. Water and sewer improvements are complete and bids were already awarded for surface improvements, which will be done in early spring.

Grant money from the New Jersey Department of Transportation has also been awarded for improvements on Hopewell Avenue and the area of Church and Main streets.

Of utmost importance, Driver said, is continued discussion about the future home of the borough’s police department.

“It’s a significant and complicated undertaking,” she said. “The best outcome would be for the department to remain where it is and negotiations are being held to consider that option.”

Driver said the borough also saw a number of changes to the retail and restaurant landscape, losing Aunt DeeDees and Nespolo, but Social Norm, at the corner of Main and Bloomfield, is offering gallery events, art classes and a mocktail bar. There is also a new tea house on Main Street, Driver said, and many more restaurants and retailers scheduled to open in 2020.

In the coming year, Driver said, she is planning to ask the council to consider more ways to make government accessible to the residents, possibly allowing for window service in the early evening, conducting more business online and increasing web and social media services.

“Government service is really all about customer service, and we need to strive to remember the customer is the residents, and they are also our employers,” she said.

Also at the reorganization meeting, new council members Jessica Hand and Jeremy Long were sworn in for their first terms.

“I am excited to serve the town,” Hand said. “I think this town has a lot of potential.”

Long echoed those sentiments.

“It is a tremendous honor to be sitting here,” he said. “I am excited to do the work it will take.”

The council also elected, by a 4–2 vote, to have Caitlin Giles-McCormick serve as president of the council for 2020. After a failed nomination for Chris Runion to serve as vice president, Kimberly Tilly was elected by a 5–1 vote to serve in the position.

Driver said she is looking forward to what 2020 will offer the residents of Flemington Borough.

“I believe that we are on the edge of a true renaissance of greatness, and on the way to having a borough that we can all be proud of,” she said.

“When people work cooperatively for the good of the entire town, the pieces line up a little bit easier,” she added. “Let’s get those pieces lined up for a successful new year for Flemington Borough.”