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Statement on Downtown Redevelopment from the 5/23/22 Council Meeting

This statement was read by Council President Chad McQueen at the 5/23/22 Council Meeting:

I wanted to address several concerns raised by the public regarding the ongoing downtown redevelopment project. Specifically, regarding the process, our progress, and questions of transparency.   

The Quimby Lane revitalization project began in the Spring of 2017. Since that time, local volunteers have donated thousands of hours guiding the development of redevelopment plans and the vision for this project, in particular the Downtown Redevelopment Committee, made up of Mayor appointed members of our community with expertise in development.  Additionally, there were multiple workshops and hearings that solicited the input of the general public before any formal plans were adopted through which hundreds of residents participated. This included Council and planning board meetings and discussions as to whether the area met the requirements as an area in need of redevelopment, Borough zoning, visions for the area, and the ultimate selection of the developer, Advance Realty.  All of these important documents and decisions are publicly available at https://www.bernardsvilleboro.org/government/downtown-redevelopment%26amp;sa%3DD%26amp;source%3Deditors%26amp;ust%3D1653400466535808%26amp;usg%3DAOvVaw1suP_-l8eYRgblL_Gke9Q3&sa=D&source=docs&ust=1653400466542292&usg=AOvVaw2CvTS78xVCNK-7EaweEZV4" target="_blank" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.google.com/url?q%3Dhttps://www.google.com/url?q%253Dhttps://www.bernardsvilleboro.org/government/downtown-redevelopment%2526amp;sa%253DD%2526amp;source%253Deditors%2526amp;ust%253D1653400466535808%2526amp;usg%253DAOvVaw1suP_-l8eYRgblL_Gke9Q3%26sa%3DD%26source%3Ddocs%26ust%3D1653400466542292%26usg%3DAOvVaw2CvTS78xVCNK-7EaweEZV4&source=gmail&ust=1653595477098000&usg=AOvVaw3aoLbq-EqSR08RtMJE3NHK" style="color: inherit; text-decoration: inherit;" rel="noopener">https://www.bernardsvilleboro.org/government/downtown-redevelopment and review by all residents is encouraged. Importantly, they have all been discussed and decided in public forums with full public disclosure and opportunities for public comment.

Currently, our selected developer is in a planning and property acquisition phase for the project. This means that the developer approaches local owners to acquire the desired Quimby lots and creates a future plan. This is predicated on current owners in this designated area negotiating in good faith and recognizing fair market value, rather than placing additional burden on our community. As part of our contract with Advance, we are expecting these concept plans soon. It is important for the public to understand that these plans, like all other decisions, will be discussed in public and will allow for full public discourse. Also to clarify, it is not taxpayer dollars which are being spent to advance this project, but rather the developer, who will earn their return once the project is complete and in use. 

It is important for everyone to understand what the borough does and does not have influence over. One primary tool we possess is our local zoning regulations governing the downtown. Over a period of 18 months, Council and our planning board diligently worked to improve our zoning laws with a goal to make them more conducive to downtown growth and commerce. One example of this was improving our outdoor dining ordinances. Links to those documents are here https://www.bernardsvilleboro.org/government/downtown-redevelopment%26amp;sa%3DD%26amp;source%3Deditors%26amp;ust%3D1653400466536643%26amp;usg%3DAOvVaw1NM4EORVk5Q-4Cb9HeYZiu&sa=D&source=docs&ust=1653400466542901&usg=AOvVaw2swyP9tSi8cDPclPOku69Z" target="_blank" data-saferedirecturl="https://www.google.com/url?q=https://www.google.com/url?q%3Dhttps://www.google.com/url?q%253Dhttps://www.bernardsvilleboro.org/government/downtown-redevelopment%2526amp;sa%253DD%2526amp;source%253Deditors%2526amp;ust%253D1653400466536643%2526amp;usg%253DAOvVaw1NM4EORVk5Q-4Cb9HeYZiu%26sa%3DD%26source%3Ddocs%26ust%3D1653400466542901%26usg%3DAOvVaw2swyP9tSi8cDPclPOku69Z&source=gmail&ust=1653595477098000&usg=AOvVaw1_t8mX-4c0FSOmGgx5oLIt" style="color: inherit; text-decoration: inherit;" rel="noopener">https://www.bernardsvilleboro.org/government/downtown-redevelopment. 

The State of New Jersey also has a tool where municipalities can designate an area in need of redevelopment.  Through this tool, municipalities have enhanced authority to direct redevelopment of already developed (but declining) areas toward a vision consistent with smart growth principles and away from allowable but not always desirable sprawl.  Our downtown, like many others, has been trending toward sprawl and would continue to move in that direction if we did not take advantage of the redevelopment option.  Specifically, redevelopment provides the Borough with: 1.) Greater control over the quality and appropriateness of design and development; 2.) The ability to identify a developer who has the expertise and experience to make the vision plan a reality; and 3.) The ability to construct tax agreements to best provide short- and long-term financial benefits to the Borough. We have two areas in Bernardsville with this designation - the Quimby village area described above, and the Audi dealership.

Lastly, I would like to address the Palmer property and the recent petition started by the proprietors at the Bagel Bin. First, I want to applaud our residents who have voiced their opinion on the future of this property, particularly in support of one of our small businesses. Concern for the future and viability of our small businesses is certainly shared by Council. However, importantly, this is distinct and separate from Quimby Lane. As everyone has been made aware, the Palmers sold their property interest to Advance Realty in a private transaction, which the borough has no jurisdiction over. The Council wants to thank the Palmers for decades of public service to this town and investment in our community, and recognizes it is their right to choose their own path. Once learning of the transaction and that Advanced Realty was the buyer, the Borough Council started the conversation to see if that area would also qualify for redevelopment designation. This was done for a very specific purpose. First and foremost, if the area qualifies, it would allow for the creation of additional retail space.  This net addition of retail space would serve as a relocation space for existing businesses and improve our local economy.  Also importantly, if the area qualifies, it gives our Borough additional control over the quality and appearance of what is built, promotes a more unified and cohesive design for the downtown, and a more orderly approach to redevelopment to the area including assessing traffic patterns and flow around that area.  As anyone that has followed the Borough Council meetings can attest, we are leading the charge to get our Borough into a better fiscal place where we can pay directly for needed improvements instead of saddling the Borough with debt it cannot afford to repay without significant tax increases.

To create this area of redevelopment designation, there are very specific criteria that must be met. This analysis will be done by our planning board consisting of dedicated volunteer professionals who have donated countless hours of their time over the past year. Our planning board does diligent and great work, those volunteers should be commended, not criticized.

As mentioned before, as a Borough, we can create the conditions for successful commerce and business through zoning, and in certain circumstances, area of redevelopment designations. What we cannot do is interfere with private enterprise, how businesses are run, and/or relationships and agreements between tenants and property owners. The Borough also cannot influence how individual businesses are run by their owners, including decisions made by these owners as to whether to enter into or accept lease agreements. This is not the proper role of municipal government. 

It is the desire of all members of the Bernardsville Council to see every local business succeed. This is one of our highest priorities when making decisions. This is recently evident by more businesses expanding their footprint inside and out, such as the Claremont Tavern, Bistro 73, the Coffee Shop, and the Station. A successful downtown full of commerce and successful business owners is our goal, and we are working towards that goal with the Quimby redevelopment project. If you have any questions, we are always happy to answer.