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  • Writer's pictureLee Roth

Fighting Off Condemnation

Fighting Off Condemnation — The Cost In Time and Money

I have often been referred to as a real estate lawyer or a land development lawyer. It is true that a considerable portion of my law practice time over the more than 50 years I have practiced from a Main Street Flemington office have been devoted to these activities. Today the bulk of what we do is we handle the sale and purchase of homes, something we have always done from our office.

It is also true that over the course of my practice I have dealt with issues such as the attempted condemnation of Sky Manor Airport (I helped fight off condemnation by the power company to save it from death). I represented people in the development of major housing developments such as Flemington South Estates, Concord Ridge, Stonegate, South Main Street Village, Village Commons, Coppermine Village, and a series of Woodside Estates projects around the county. I've also been involved in getting development approvals for cell towers for Bell Atlantic Mobile, for gasoline service stations for Hess, Sun, Phillips, and various owners, for fast food places such as Dunkin' Donuts, Busy Bee, and others along with simpler basic applications for regular people such as getting variances for swimming pools that encroach on side yards etc.

A New Experience

I don't think I've ever been asked to represent a developer, or redeveloper, or any individual or company, that did not already own or control the property prior to filing an application to develop it. Thus the process of redevelopment for the area across the street from my office on Main Street in Flemington is a new experience.

That redevelopment, an undertaking that started with the idea and need for fixing up the Historic Union Hotel, now encompasses the property from the Union Hotel to an office building across Chorister Place from the police station and back around Spring Street, including the Flemington Fur Company property (which I understand they want to sell). The redeveloper and government proposes a massive 7 or 8 story tall building, in a community of three story buildings, and a 800 or 900 parking lot or structure (much of it underground and none of it truly public parking) in a community with an existing 850 spaces. All of this massive project after the first two redevelopers selected by the Borough Government failed.

This redevelopment project is the first application I have observed where the developer, or re-developer, was not required to own or control the property as a condition of becoming involved with the municipality in the development of the property.

A year or more ago I was asked to represent a man who wanted to develop housing on the property known as the Agway property in Flemington. He did not have a contract to buy the property. I suggested he negotiate a deal with the owner. We would then put together a contract for his purchase. Once he had control of the property I would be happy to help him get the needed government approvals to go forward with his project, as I had done for many other projects large and small. He could not get agreement on the price and terms. No contract. Nothing has happened to date.

Government Leaders Prevent Investors

The process that our government leaders in Flemington have chosen has generally prevented any legitimate developer, or investor, from coming forward to offer to do anything with the hotel property, or the bank building property, or any other property in the new zone redevelopment. It is a new experience for me to be observing from the sidelines a situation where a proposed investor is seeking to pursue a development or redevelopment application, and as a practical matter the government has given him or his entity control of the properties without the redeveloper first having negotiated an arrangement with the actual property owners.

Obtain copies of the development application forms in Flemington, and in Raritan Township, or in any of the neighboring municipalities. You will find one of the requirements is the signature of the property owner indicating approval in order that an application can go forward. The redevelopment process in Flemington has generally ignored the owners of the properties that are being subjected to a redevelopment agreement that does not include the property owners approval or protect his or her interest.

I Have Not Heard Of This

The Flemington Government has allowed an investor to put forth a limited liability company, which shields him from responsibility, as the entity they have selected to develop properties that are not owned by that entity, or controlled by it. I have not heard of this taking place anywhere else, certainly anywhere else in Hunterdon County.

I have begun reading the first several of a series of papers that have been posted by Mr. Harris who is a new member of the Flemington governing body ( He correctly points out that it is very difficult to negotiate a fair or reasonable, or hopefully beneficial agreement to benefit Flemington and its taxpayers, once the municipality has already given up to the redeveloper by agreement all of the things he might otherwise negotiate to achieve.

As more time has passed in this process I have become more clear in my view that I do not want to see the history of Flemington destroyed. My family interest in the area goes back to 1890 when my great-grandfather took his mustering out pay from the Civil War and invested in a home in Hunterdon County for his family.

Union Hotel Reduced To A False Front

I myself arrived in Flemington, living on Church Street, as a resident in the early 1950s. I graduated from Flemington High School. My wife and I lived on Church street when our daughter was born.

I've seen considerable changes take place in the area, but several of the things that have remained consistent have been the community interest in its history and its historical structures. The old courthouse has been restored to its past glory. It is time for the same effort on behalf of the historic Union Hotel. I've seen the false fronts of buildings that Hollywood has used in creating illusions as part of their movie making process. I prefer not to see the Union Hotel reduced to a false front.

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