FLEMINGTON, NJ - The Hunterdon County Freeholder Board approved a $29,500 contract authorizing Rv3 Solutions – a firm specializing in commercial real estate consulting, advisory and portfolio assessment-related services – to conduct a Hunterdon County Corridor Parcel Study.

Marc Saluk, director of Hunterdon County Economic Development, discussed the resolution with the Board of Chosen Freeholders during its July 7. He said he was proud to introduce Rv3 Solutions as a local company based in Lebanon.

“This study is designed to provide more information about parcels of land in Hunterdon County that lay along commercial corridors,” he said. “The primary focus will be along I-78, Routes 22, 31 and 202, but county roads will be looked at as well in addition to other areas, such as along the Norfolk Southern Railway.”

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“Currently many of our communities have worked with economic development to present prospective businesses with a look into Hunterdon County, and these municipalities and communities look to responsibly increase ratables to reduce the property tax burden on their residents,” he added. “Currently though, this effort is hampered by a limitation of potential commercial sites. The study will greatly aid joint county and municipality efforts when working with commercial property site locators and others looking to conduct job-creating ratable projects in the county.”

The study is for providing information and data only when Hunterdon County and its municipalities work on agreed-upon projects.

“This does not obligate towns and boroughs to use a ‘future land mass inventory’ for its decisions, and it does not represent a plan of action or a roadmap for our communities,” he said. “This (study) is specifically a tool that can be utilized to inform land mass use decisions when the Office of Economic Development and the municipality are jointly working on a project that a town has deemed beneficial for its future and for its residents.”

He noted that Rv3 gives him great confidence in expecting excellent results.

“This Hunterdon-based company has more than 100 years of combined real estate experience among its partners, the majority of whom live in Hunterdon and have worked extensively in Hunterdon,” he said. “They know our county, its characteristics and what it’s looking for and what businesses are looking for. We feel Rv3 is uniquely qualified to consult with the county on this project.”

Freeholder J. Matthew Holt spoke about Hunterdon County’s Economic Corridor and its potential for regional expansions and growth or projects for current businesses, which could produce trickle-down economic boosts in local communities. He and Saluk each noted that the study will present “ a more complete picture” of potential commercial site locations in Hunterdon County.

Holt said that in 2014, a precursor to this study came about, with the document – “CEDS” for Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, approved by the Freeholder Board then – was focused on county ratables’ opportunities “which are one of the ways to reduce property tax burdens on our Hunterdon residents,” he said.

During the July 7 meeting, freeholder John Lanza commented on the importance of balancing Open Space and Farmland Preservation, as Hunterdon County has an existing inventory of 8,000 preserved acres with the needs for economic development and expanding the business and commercial footprints along key routes through and around Hunterdon County.

“In 2018, this freeholder board adopted our Hunterdon County Open Space Strategic Plan, which envisions adding 4,000 more acres of open space to the county’s existing inventory of 8,000 preserved acres,” Lanza said. “The plan prioritizes protecting stream corridors, establishing trail connections and maintaining forested areas which are vital to Hunterdon County’s natural beauty. With this strategic plan, and great guidance provided by Hunterdon County’s Parks Department and Open Space Advisory Committee, we must also be mindful of the parallel need of economic growth and development for our future.”

He said some areas of the county are seeing growth in property ratables where appropriate on their tax rolls (commercial and big-box retail or supply store development), as that remains entirely a municipal-level decision by local government boards and commissions’ approvals.

According to Lanza, the jobs creation hoped for by county officials is directly linked to correspondence and connections at the county, municipal and corporate or private business levels that are enhanced by the information the new study can put forward.

Earlier in the July 7 meeting, Freeholder Zach Rich, the board’s liaison to Hunterdon County’s Workforce Development Board, delivered an update on the county’s unemployment figures. The past week saw unemployment claims reach 12,323 since March 21, 2020 (when the pandemic/spike in COVID-19 cases caused massive shutdowns in the economy). At the end of February, Hunterdon County had 2,200 people on unemployment.

From this, Lanza explained how expansions of the business sector impact municipalities and residents in Hunterdon.

“To do (local-level evaluation for approvals), many communities work with the Hunterdon County Economic Development office to seek locations for potential incoming projects or for expansions with our existing corporate citizens,” he said. “This corridor study (by Rv3) will greatly aid in that process by ensuring that both parties are in fact working with more complete information when selecting appropriate project locations. As we look to Hunterdon County’s future we recognize the need for jobs. Freeholder Rich’s report tonight on unemployment in this county was staggering.”

He noted the preservation of agricultural lands, open space and passive recreational areas, and the mix of green vs. commercial footprints throughout Hunterdon County, and what benefits each will ensure for decades to come. Lanza spoke much about the need for mitigating risks and hindrance of any “expansion projects for our current corporate citizens,” as well as the steps Hunterdon has taken for protection of the environment.

As detailed by Saluk and Lanza during the board’s remote meeting May 19, hindrance to some development – in particular in the Flemington Borough/Raritan Township area – were referenced as the freeholders introduced a legal challenge brought by the County government, Raritan Township’s municipal government and the Raritan Township Municipal Utilities Authority against the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection that adds a total of 19 waterways in Hunterdon County as part of another 600 miles of Category One (C-1) level water body designations based on exceptional ecological significance and exceptional fisheries resources.

The C-1 designation is the second cleanest designation after “Outstanding Natural Resource Waters,” and property owners including municipalities and public entities are likely to be impacted “if they are planning to develop or redevelop within 300-foot riparian zones surrounding the new C-1 category waterways and their upstream tributaries,” according to the NJDEP. The three entities (Hunterdon County, Raritan Township and Raritan MUA) have hired firm Giordano, Halleran & Ciesla, P.C. to pursue the potential in a legal case.

Lanza noted the accommodations for more businesses to locate in western New Jersey, and for existing companies in the county to grow their operations and facilities.

“The steep economic recovery climb Hunterdon’s businesses are facing because of the state’s shutdowns calls for careful enhancement of the tax base,” Lanza said. “This should and will be balanced with the needs to protect our environment through land preservation and stewardship, and this corridor study is one I’ve wished to see organized for most of my time on this freeholder board, and I am thankful that this is now moving forward.”

At the July 7 meeting, Holt also commented on the Hunterdon County Office of Economic Development and its efforts in this particular initiative.

“This study will focus on future economic opportunities,” he said. “Given the disruption of the local economy due to the COVID-19 pandemic and certainly most recently with the NJDEP decision (the C-1 rule) limiting the economic development in proximity to county waterways, the study could not come at a more opportune time. This represents a great project coming from our economic development team and I applaud it moving forward.”