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  • Writer's pictureLee Roth

The Court Room, the Ballot Box, and the Market Place (4 of 4)

The Court Room, the Ballot Box, and the Market Place (4 of 4)

Throw Away Historic Significance

I observe that a substantial number of taxpayers, business owners, property owners, and other citizens are willing to throw away the value and historic significance of a substantial portion of the downtown business district for what they think, or more accurately hope, will be personal economic gain. They seek tax money from business property to cover the costs of the municipal budget. An equal number of taxpayers, business owners, property owners, and other citizens so value the historic significance of the same portion of downtown, and believe the history itself is of economic value, that they have formed a group, and employed a lawyer, and contributed their personal funds, with the goal of preserving the historic value of the same property.

Is compromise between these two groups possible? The Mayor and his supporters have chosen a redeveloper who wanted to build an eight story building in the middle of a three or four story community. He is reported to have said that he will not bid against himself by offering a compromise beyond the one story reduction he has already offered. The case in Court is between the local government and the citizens group. If the Mayor cannot induce his redeveloper to compromise there can be no comprise. The Court will decide what happens in Flemington.

The leaders of the group that wish to preserve the historic significance of downtown property have indicated that they will only accept a project that adheres more closely to the master plan in terms of height and density, and a plan that saves more than the facade of the Hotel. There is also discussion that the agreement that the Mayor and Borough have entered into with their selected redeveloper does not provide protection for the taxpayers and citizens so as to assure them of a successful project of a reasonable scope. They allege that the redeveloper is given too much authority and leverage in negotiation under the pending agreement and has provided no guarantee of performance or success. They fear being left with demolished historic buildings and a hole in the ground. I have already commented on that agreement. The Mayor has rejected the plea of three members of the local government he does not contro; who seek an independent review of the agreement. He insists on the greement he signed.

So the two groups, the Mayor and his supporters, and the Friends of Historic Flemington, find themselves in court arguing about whether the ever expanded area for redevelopment is truly of such a slum and depressed nature that there is no alternative to the existing agreement and designation. Are we as tax payers paying for the Mayor's fight or is the redeveloper?

I suspect that by the end of the year the court will be in a position to decide whether the action of the mayor and his supporters will be upheld, or whether they will have to start over again because of failings in their process, or over reaching, to get where they are today. During the same time we expect that an election will determine whether the persons pushing to exchange the historic area of town with development, that the objectors characterized as being out of scale and scope in character with the town, will be in charge of our local government or not.

The Court Or The Ballot Box

I'm not sure whether we will get our answer first from the Court or from the ballot box. The positions of the candidates facing election seemed to be well staked out. The incumbents want the massive project in town at almost any cost. I believe that they are sincere. I think they believe the change, the project they support, will benefit the town. I think they believe that it is time for change and that historic Flemington should be trashed and demolished and exchanged for a modern or contemporary and commercial Flemington. They look at some other communities they consider to be what they want to rule over, even though Flemington does not have a railroad for commuting and other facilities these other communities offer.

If the incumbents are reelected I suggest that they cancel all references to historic Flemington and any construction limitations to make it clear where they stand. They can make Flemington the rare community in New Jersey with no zoning limitations.

If the group objecting to the current project prevails in having their candidates elected, they need to immediately, following election, start the process of actively attempting to attract development that will repurpose the existing buildings in a way to preserve the historic character of the town.

All parties have to recognize that the town has changed in many ways. They have to recognize that the internet exists and retail business has changed. They will never turn the clock back 60 years. Nevertheless the citizens group, if they prevail in Court, or at the ballot box, will be following the pattern that we see in many places around the state where people have made use of their historic character as an economic attractor.

No matter what happens in Court or at the Ballot Box, the marketplace will have its say. The huge gamble of a massive project, if it succeeds in Court, or at the ballot box, and starts progressing toward reality, risks leaving us with a massive hole in the ground and buildings that reflect and symbolize our history will be gone as our movie theater is gone from Church Street and Route 31and Flemington. Once it is gone, it is gone. I wish us all good luck with how decisions are make and how this all turns out.

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