Borough extends Greystone pact

Consultant to study changes to Hightstown Borough’s redevelopment plan.

By: Jessica Bowker
   HIGHTSTOWN — The Borough Council voted 4-3 Monday to extend the developer’s agreement with Greystone Mill for the Bank Street redevelopment project, a proposed mix of residential and commercial units which lately has drawn criticism from residents and council members alike.
   The council also voted 4-2 to have a real estate consultant examine Greystone’s latest changes to the redevelopment plan, which now calls for about 60 percent more residential housing than the developer had originally proposed.
   On May 2, Greystone presented plans for the Bank Street redevelopment project to the Borough Council, which included a mixture of 72 condo and eight residences in duplex buildings, and 35,000 square feet of office space. Fifteen days later Greystone decided the plans were not cost-effective, and it proposed adding more residences in place of some of the office space. The plan has been troubled ever since the additional residences were proposed. After heated discussion Monday night on whether to continue with Greystone, the council extended the agreement from July15 to Sept. 21. Mayor Bob Patten voted in favor of the agreement to break the tie council vote.
   "It’s shame on them, they shouldn’t have come forward unless they had all their i’s dotted and their t’s crossed," said Borough Attorney Frederick Raffetto.
   The revised plans angered residents as well as council members, who were not in favor of a number as high as 122 new condo residences in the borough, compared to the initial plan of 72 condos and eight residences in duplexes.
   "Hightstown is one mile across, and the impact would be long shared throughout the community, said Dan Buriak of Stockton Street. "If it goes through it will change the dynamic of Hightstown."
   "I think they’re way off the boat," said Councilman Larry Quattrone. "I will never vote for 122 units. I feel like they’re manipulating the borough."
   Mr. Raffetto assured the council the extension would not prevent the borough from switching to a different developer in the future.
   "It’s been a laborious, slow process that’s gone on way too long," Borough Council President David Schneider said after the meeting. "I want to see it be developed."
   Greystone spokesman Steve Jeffries said in an e-mail to the Windsor-Hights Herald, "Greystone is pleased that the Borough Council agreed to extend the timing for execution of the redeveloper’s agreement. We will work hard with the borough to reach agreement within the next 45 days."
   Mr. Schneider, Councilman Patrick Thompson, and Councilman Walter Sikorksi voted against the extension.
   "I think they’re playing hardball with us and we’re saying OK," said Mr. Thompson. "Ultimately it may slow the process down, and it doesn’t make sense to give an extension if there’s no extension to explore other options."
   Mr. Schneider expressed doubts that Greystone would abandon the redevelopment project if the borough refused to go along with Greystone’s proposed changes.
   "I have issues believing a person who’s invested so much time and money would walk away so quickly," Mr. Schenider said.
   In response to the council’s comments that Greystone was playing "hardball," Mr. Jeffries said, "It is not playing ‘hardball,’ but trying to come up with a plan that is financially successful for both parties. The borough only wins if the plan can succeed in the market place. We are hoping that with the independent market study, a consensus will arise on a redevelopment plan that works."
   According to Mr. Raffetto, Greystone has invested several hundred thousand dollars in the redevelopment project.
   In response to Greystone’s revised plan, and under the recommendation of Mr. Raffetto, the Borough Council voted to have a professional real estate consultant hired to look into both sides of the project. The consultant would be paid for by Greystone.
   Mr. Schneider and Mr. Thompson voted against the decision to get an consultant.
   "I’m not interested in a study," said Mr. Schneider. "I want to get the project done anyway, on someone else’s back. We should see if the developers we contacted previously are interested. It wouldn’t take long for them to get back to us."
   The consultant’s results are expected in four to five weeks, in time for the expiration of the extended redeveloper’s agreement. At that time the Borough Council will evaluate whether it is best to continue with Greystone based on the report.
   "It’s our first time going through a redevelopment plan," Mayor Patten said. "We’re wising up and starting to say, ‘let’s get some more info.’"
   Mr. Buriak said he did not understand how four council members could vote yes on both issues, and questioned the influence Greystone had on the decision to extend the redeveloper’s agreement. He also pointed out Greystone’s absence at the meeting.
   "Your vote was useless, moot, because they (Greystone) knew your vote was yes," Mr. Buriak said to the council. The council did not respond to the accusation.