FLEMINGTON, NJ – This year’s reorganization of Borough Council included the swearing-in of two new councilpersons, but the need for three new nameplates to accompany them on the dais.
Political newcomers Betsy Driver and Michael Harris were each sworn to a three-year term on Council. But Councilperson Brooke Leibowitz also needed a new nameplate; she was married last month and is now Brooke Warden.
Both Harris and Driver have been critical of Jack Cust’s Courthouse Square plan to redevelop the Union Hotel and surrounding properties, so it’s no surprise that the historic building was the subject of discussion.
But Mayor Phil Greiner offered some Union Hotel news of his own. He said that the day before, the State Historic Preservation Office “advised us of their approval of the sale of the 90 Main (Street) building to the redeveloper.” The borough owns the building that is critical to the Union Hotel project, formally called the Courthouse Square plan.
The letter contains preconstruction conditions, Greiner said, and the borough has 60 days to review and accept them. They include archaeological identifications, documenting existing buildings before anything is taken down, and how work will be done inside the buildings where only the facade is preserved, the mayor said.
Driver said her concerns about the current Courthouse Square plan resonated with voters during the election. Residents recognized that the “current plans for Main Street are not what we need in our prized National Historic District,” she said.
But Driver added that “I want to make clear that opposing a large mega-development does not mean that I think all is well on Main Street or that I’m even opposed to any development. That’s simply not the case.”
What’s needed, Driver said, are “creative looks at what is going on. I think a diversity of ideas will be key to making Main Street work again.”
Harris said Main Street development “is not an all or nothing issue.”
As a school administrator, Harris said that his job is often to look for balance, and “find ways to move forward and not get bogged down. I’m looking forward to finding that balance here.”
The borough “needs to secure this asset in our community,” Harris said, apparently referring to the hotel. “It’s not an issue of something’s right or it’s wrong. We’re going to have disagreements. What we’ll be measured by ultimately is the achievements that we have, and that’s going to be by finding solutions together.”
Rep. Leonard Lance also spoke, noting his respect for municipal government, especially “in a small municipality like Flemington. I think I know the challenges and opportunities that exist here in the county seat,” Lance said. “I was raised in Glen Gardner, which makes Flemington look like a metropolis.
Lance cautioned that gray hair can be a consequence of public service. “It happened to me,” he said, and turning to Harris - who is noted more for his goatee than having hair on his head - added, “but perhaps, Mr. Harris, that might not fully apply.”
Assemblyman Andrew Zwicker, who swore in Driver, mentioned that he is the first physicist ever elected to the state Legislature.
“I don’t know what that gets me but if you have any physics homework let me know,” he said, adding that he’s happy to be of any service to constituents whenever he can.
Zwicker said the key to growing the state’s economy is to pursue an “innovation economy.”
“Science, technology engineering, mathematics, these are the jobs of the 21st century,” Zwicker said.