Letter to the Editor by Chris Runion, published October 24, 2018 at www.tapinto.net/towns/flemington-slash-raritan/categories/letters-to-the-editor/articles/courthouse-square-getting-to-the-finish-line

To the editor:

While I have my concerns regarding the Courthouse Square project on Main Street, I understand that Flemington needs this to succeed. That is why two weeks ago when the financial agreement for the project was before council I thought it best to table that vote. Doing so would have preserved the ability of newly elected officials (and there could be up to four) to reevaluate and negotiate a better deal for Flemington taxpayers. Voting to accept the agreement, as was done, closed doors and opened the possibility of more lawsuits by concerned citizens. This politically motivated vote was only one in a series of short-sighted actions that have left me to conclude that what’s standing in this project’s way are its greatest proponents: Mayor Phil Greiner and Councilpersons Brooke Warden and Marc Hain. The process by which this redevelopment project has reached its present point will ultimately delay the product from perhaps ever reaching Main Street unless there is a change in leadership Nov. 6. Here’s why.

The process has been characterized by a lack of transparency, an absence of negotiation, an unwillingness to compromise, and an abject failure on the part of our local officials to represent the best interests of the public. While I have witnessed many examples at council meetings over the past year there is perhaps none more glaring than what took place several weeks ago. Mayor Greiner held a special meeting with the specific intent of canceling a regularly scheduled council meeting. Councilpersons Brooke Warden and Marc Hain voted with the mayor to cancel that meeting. Why is this significant? Because that canceled meeting was the only opportunity for residents to asks questions and express concerns about the Courthouse Square financial agreement prior to its vote by council. So we have on the one hand our elected officials canceling open meetings to the public, while on the other hand, a planning board holding weekly special meetings for the developer.

This along with numerous other questionable actions throughout the process have resulted in delays, lawsuits, and a divided community. The Friends of Historic Flemington, a group of concerned citizens, have issued several lawsuits against the borough. Unfortunately, this group has been labeled as a bunch of “special interest obstructionists” unwilling to compromise, when in fact, this label belongs more deservedly to our elected officials. The Friends group is representing the best interests of the public because our elected officials have neglected that very duty residents expected them to uphold when they took office. These lawsuits are ultimately what will keep shovels out of the ground for possibly years, and during that time, any number of changing economic factors could make this project untenable.

So how do we get Courthouse Square across the finish line? Negotiation and compromise. Mayor Greiner and Councilpersons Warden and Hain have displayed an inability and unwillingness to reach a compromise with concerned citizens. Even if they wanted to negotiate they have put themselves in a position to be unable to do so. Passionately supporting a project such as this and then asking for negotiation doesn’t exactly put you in a position of strength. Nor does voting to accept the redeveloper and financial agreements now and then offering up the possibility of negotiations later. Our elected officials are negotiating from weakness and Jack Cust sees this and is capitalizing on it at our expense.

The Democratic line of candidates, however, share many of the same concerns as those throughout town: size, scale, density, transparency, quality of life, and financial risks. We are listening to the public’s concerns, and we are ready to represent the community. In doing so, we are in a position to negotiate from strength and offer the best chance of removing those barriers that promise to preclude redevelopment for years to come. If you want change on Main Street, we need a change in government. Please carefully consider who will get us to the finish line as you cast a vote on Nov. 6.

 

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