Western New Jersey

Flemington council gives nod to controversial Union Hotel redevelopment plan

The Flemington Borough Council approved a controversial redevelopment plan for the Union Hotel area by a 6-1 vote Monday night. Councilwoman Susan Peterson cast the lone "no" vote.

The vote concluded several months of contentious debate that divided the Hunterdon County borough. On the one side were the plan's supporters, who said the height of the buildings and number or units made the project economically viable. Critics, however, maintained that a seven-story building would be an eyesore and out of character with the borough's culture.

A vote on the project had been tabled at last month's meeting. Councilwoman Brooke Liebowitz said Monday night she was hopeful that the two sides could sit down and engage in a "conversation" about the plan.

That did not happen.

"There was no compromise," she said. "I had some hope, but I was wrong."

Prior to the vote, project developer Jack Cust issued a 15-minute prepared statement in which he promoted the project's merits and scolded critics who spread what he said was "fake news and propaganda" to besmirch the project.

"Those who attack people through social media should be ashamed of themselves," he told an audience of about 80 people who attended the four-hour meeting. Detractors, in an effort to attract interest and favor, issued "completely false and irresponsible statements."

"The reality is Flemington is on life support," Cust said. "The project will be a substantial economic windfall for the borough."

Cust also highlighted a recent deal that Georgian Court University will occupy 30,000 square-feet of the project with an academic facility. Cust said he was pleased to bring the Roman Catholic university to Hunterdon County — the only county in New Jersey that does not have an institution of higher learning.

Peterson, prior to casting her dissenting vote, said she did not think the township negotiated adequately enough for the interests of the public and that too many variables were unknown.

During a public comment session, resident Robert Shore agreed.

"We can't just ram this through," he said.

He said he feared there would be lawsuits and delays if it was approved, and he urged council to postpone a vote until January.

Other residents thought the project was a winner for Flemington.

"The area is obviously in need of development," said resident Charlie Fisher. "I think it's a wonderful thing."

The Union Hotel Redevelopment Area is a nearly four acre located in the downtown and historic district in the borough. The redevelopment plan comprises 15 lots situated on Main Street, Chorister Place, Bloomfield Avenue and Spring Street in the borough's Downtown Business Zone district. The new area is envisioned as a mixed-use commercial place.

While there were many points of contention surrounding the project, perhaps the greatest was the height of the residential buildings. The project includes 242 residential units, a 100-room hotel, an educational facility, a parking garage, retail stores and restaurants.

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