On March 13 the Borough of Flemington approved a legal agreement with its designated redeveloper, identified in the document as Flemington Urban Renewal LLC, that could lead to major construction in the town’s downtown business area, including the demolition of the historic Union Hotel. The proposal has attracted the attention of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which has named it one of the 11 most-endangered places in the United States.

Friends of Historic Flemington, a group that has opposed the plan being advanced by businessman Jack Cust, asked redevelopment attorney M. James Maley Jr. to review the 57-page agreement to provide insight into the plan’s implications.

According to a press release issued by the Friends group, the conclusion by attorney Maley is that “there appear to be many hidden municipal costs to the Borough of Flemington and to its taxpayers.”

The press release quotes Maley as saying “First, there are the costs for the water and sewer infrastructure. Section 4.4(c) obligates the redeveloper to construct water and sewer infrastructure, but it caps the redeveloper’s financial obligation at $2 million.

“The agreement is not clear as to who has to pay for any infrastructure costs that exceed $2 million. Presumably, it’s the Borough who will be on the hook.

“In addition, that $2 million investment by the redeveloper is not actually coming out of the redeveloper’s pocket. Rather, Section 4.4(c) provides that the ‘redeveloper shall receive an [unlimited] dollar for dollar credit for all public improvements to the water distribution system and sewer collection systems . . . against all water and sewer connection fees.’ And the estimated cost for these systems have not been provided to the public.

“This means that the $2 million in infrastructure improvements will end up being borne by the water and sewer users whose rates will need to increase to cover the $2 million that would have been collected from the Redeveloper in the water and sewer connection fees.”

Maley added that “there has been no fiscal analysis to determine what the impact of the proposed project will be on the schools and upon municipal services.”

In a February 14 letter to the editor of the Hunterdon County Democrat, a structural engineer who has examined the Union Hotel questioned whether the structure has to be razed, as the redeveloper has argued.

“I am very familiar with the Union Hotel building as around 10 years ago I performed a structural inspection and developed some concept designs for renovations that the owners at that time were looking to do,” wrote Richard Giffen. “This is when it was still open with a bar, restaurant and retail at the front and a banquet/meeting room and kitchen in the rear.

“Our inspection found that the front historic building was in good condition and just needed some minor maintenance. The structure is typical of buildings of its age. It’s roughly 100 feet by 40 feet in plan and has a full basement with a dirt floor and rubble foundation walls which are over 16 inches thick and extend about 10 feet below the street.

“Since a major concern with older buildings is their foundation, we excavated a test pit to examine the soils beneath the foundations. We found shale and gravel, which is as close to rock as you can get without actually being rock so we had no concerns about foundation movement or capacity.

“Above ground, the perimeter walls are brick over 12 inches thick and were in good condition. The floors and roof framing are very deep solid wood beams spanning front to back. All structural elements were robust and significantly oversized compared to that of modern buildings. There were no areas of concern structurally. We found a few cracked bricks, and some local softening of internal brick foundation walls, but no major repairs were required.”

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