Redevelopment plan returns to borough agenda

Redevelopment of former rug mill property to be discussed at Borough Council meeting

By: Vic Monaco
   Borough leaders will gather next week, perhaps by the dozens, to view a major redevelopment plan that stalled in the fall.
   Mayor Bob Patten said the proposal to redevelop the former rug mill property on Bank Street has been revised slightly but he believes it still calls for 98 residential units.
   "There’s going to be some more definitive information" and renderings, said Mayor Patten in reference to Tuesday’s Borough Council meeting to which several other local boards have been invited.
   Some of that, he said, will be an explanation of the partnership between area developer Satish Metha and Greystone Mill, the former conditional developer of the project that failed to submit an acceptable plan over an approximate18-month period.
   The revisions, the mayor said, may include changes to the sizes of the condominiums planned.
   Reached Thursday, Mr. Metha declined to comment on the revisions that have been made to the plan since the fall. He did say he is optimistic the plan will come to fruition.
   "I’m always optimistic," he said. "I wouldn’t be in this business if I weren’t optimistic."
   Mr. Metha presented a proposal in October that called for 92 condominiums and four duplexes along with office and commercial space, with an estimated cost of $26 million. However, he balked when the borough informed him that it also wanted him to renovate the nearby municipal building as part of the project.
   In November, he told the Herald that he had agreed to make a contribution in lieu of that construction in the amount of $50,000. He also said at that time that he had reduced the total number of residential units from 100 to 98 – with 80 market-rate condos, 10 affordable condos and eight townhouse units.
   Nonetheless, the Borough Council reached what Councilman Larry Quattrone called a "stalemate," as some members wanted to seek proposals from other developers, some didn’t want to exceed the 80-unit maximum called for by the local redevelopment ordinance and some refused to act before seeing a market research and marketability study the council had commissioned.
   Mayor Patten said this week that that report, done by former Planning Board member Pete Sockler, also will be presented at Tuesday’s meeting, which begins at 7 p.m. in council chambers at the municipal building. The Borough Council has invited the Planning Board, Environmental Commission, Economic Development Committee, Parks and Recreation Commission and the Hightstown Historic Preservation Commission.
   "This is the continuation of what we’ve worked on for two years and I am satisfied with the movement," said the mayor.
   One reason the plan has been off the agenda since the fall, the mayor said, was the election of two new council members – Constance Harinxma and Ryan Rosenberg – who took office last week.
   Asked if he is optimistic that this version of the plan will come to fruition," Mayor Patten said, "I’m going to wait and see. … I do think they’re qualified with what they’ve proposed in the realm of reasonable development."
   The redevelopment ordinance calls for a maximum of 80 residential units, along with the creation of new or renovated space for borough offices, but Mayor Patten has said in the past that Mr. Metha’s planned number is not a big stumbling block. If Borough Council were to approve a number higher than 80, it would require a revision to the local ordinance.
   Greystone Mill, of Paoli, Pa., presented a plan for 80 units in May but reportedly quickly raised that number to 130, which angered members of Borough Council. The firm’s deal with the borough, as conditional developer, expired in September after council had extended the deadline.
   Mr. Metha, who has worked with Greystone, said in October that his deal with the company was contingent upon the state Department of Environmental Protection approving a plan to monitor and possibly clean up underground arsenic at the site. Other issues of concern with the project have been parking and increased traffic.
   Mayor Pattten said a representative from Greystone is also expected to attend Tuesday’s meeting.
   The redevelopment plan, as presented in the fall, included a two-story addition to the municipal complex along North Main Street, with borough offices on the second floor and retail stores below, along with space for a 3,000-square-foot restaurant along Bank Street.