FLEMINGTON – George Vallone has one simple reason why he wants to redevelop Liberty Village with 140 market-rate townhomes, 55 affordable townhomes, 180 apartments and donate a building that Flemington can use as a new borough hall.
“I like the town,” he said Wednesday evening during a virtual presentation on his plans to redevelop the 24-acre outlet mall site. “I like the people.”
Vallone, a Bedminster resident who used to live in Clinton Township, said he has a "fondness" for the county seat and is looking forward to creating a project that will "reinvigorate" Flemington.
"I think it would be fun," he said, describing himself as "sort of a local guy" who used to visit Flemington "all the time" when he lived in Hunterdon. He remembered how "awesome" lunch at the Union Hotel was.
Not only did he pledge to include a park on Brown Avenue as part of the project. he also said that he would donate the "Polo Building" that now houses the Ralph Lauren store to Flemington for use as a borough hall.
The present municipal building on Park Avenue is cramped and has a "third world" feel, he said.
The market-rate townhomes would be targeted for the middle of the market with a price from $350,000 to $450,000.
The townhomes, to be constructed where the stores are, would be built in the project's first phase. The apartments, planned for the parking lot near Route 12, would be built in Phase II.
Vallone said architectural renderings of the four-story "stacked" townhomes have not been developed.
He said they would be "nice-looking" and "we’re trying to keep them as affordable as possible."
"I'm not a Disneyland developer," he said, explaining that they would not have a "fake" Victorian façade
"That would be phony," Vallone said.
Recent housing studies commissioned by the borough indicate there is a market for 1,000 more housing units in Flemington, he said, adding that getting people to move to the county seat is the key to revitalization.
"Housing is really the solution to reinvigorate Flemington," he said.
The more people who live in Flemington, he said, the more people who will patronize downtown businesses. And that will have a cascading effect and attract even more businesses, Vallone added.
Businesses on Main Street, Mine Street and Stangl Road will be within walking distance, he said.
He doesn't see Jack Cust's Courthouse Square and Union Hotel rehabilitation as competition because the downtown housing are rental units, not for sale.
With the Courthouse Square and the projects proposed for Liberty Village and the Agway site on North Main Street, Flemington could come close to having the 1,000 new housing units in five to 10 years, he said.
The townhomes would be targeted to both young people and empty nesters who no longer want the trouble or expense of maintaining suburban or rural properties.
The Black River and Western railroad would continue to operate its weekend passenger excursions to Ringoes, he said, adding that he will meet with Trans-Bridge Line to see if the company wants to maintain a commuter park-and-ride on the property
Vallone is president of Hoboken Brownstone Co. which has undertaken redevelopment projects for four decades, most of them in urban areas like Hoboken and Jersey City.
But he is no stranger to redeveloping a brownfield site with environmental problems, he said, and that's what Liberty Village is.
Because it was built on the site of an iron forge, Vallone estimated he would spend $1 million to remediate contamination that dates back a century.
"There is lots of contamination" in both the soil and groundwater, he said.
The other major environmental obstacle is the flooding in the parking lot next to Route 12 where the apartments are proposed.
About three quarters of the parking lot is in a flood zone, he said.
If the state Department of Environmental Protection doesn't approve an "innovative" plan to alleviate flooding in the parking lot and nearby properties, Vallone said he may have the build the apartments on podiums with parking underneath.
Consultants are "modeling" the flooding, he said, in developing the plan which now involves excavating 12 acres and using the material to raise the parking lot above flood stage.
When the project is completed, that could alleviate flooding on the property and downstream, he said.
Only six of the nearly 70 storefronts in the nation's first outlet mall are still open, he said.
Many times, he said, there are more workers in the stores than there are customers.
The leases expire over the next two years and Vallone said he is willing to buy them out.
He doesn't foresee the development, based on the targeted buyers, adding to the school population.
And, noting the national overall population trend with school enrollment decreasing, whatever children generated by the development would "fill up empty seats," he said.
The development would help stabilize the borough's property tax rate, he said, and should generate "little or no need" for additional municipal services.
Flemington's water and sewer systems can handle the development, Vallone said.
The next step in the process is for the Borough Council to designate a redeveloper for the site. That may happen as soon as February.
Then a redevelopment agreement must be negotiated between the borough and the redeveloper.
At that point, detailed site plans will be drafted along with architectural plans that will show the look of the buildings.
Once that is done, site plans must be approved by the borough's Planning Board and the necessary DEP approvals must be obtained.
Vallone said if everything goes smoothly and on schedule, the first townhomes could "go up" in the middle of 2023 with the first residents moving in during 2024.
"We want to get this thing going," he said.
Vallone said it is too soon to decide whether to seek a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement with the borough.
Wednesday was the second time Vallone met with residents to present his plans. On Jan. 12, the Flemington Community Partnership (FCP) hosted an in-person meeting at the Stangle Factory that was attended by about 80 people. Robin Lapidus, the FCP's executive director, also moderated Wednesday's Zoom meeting.
Participants in Wednesday's meeting had about 150 questions for Vallone, who said he would be "totally happy to meet with people who want to meet with me.".
"Questions make me think," he said.
Vallone said he is "accessible."
"I think I have a responsibility to listen to the public," he said.
Mike Deak is a reporter for mycentraljersey.com. To get unlimited access to his articles on Somerset and Hunterdon counties, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.
This article originally appeared on MyCentralJersey.com: Flemington: Environmental issues facing Liberty Village redevelopment