In responce to the Hightstown Planning Board’s recommendations to not rebuild Borough Hall on its existing site, Councilman Robert Thibault drafted a resoltution for the Nov. 5 Hightstown Borough Council Meeting in which the council rebuts the planning board’s objections with several justifications for doing so.
That draft has since become Resolution 2012-276, as it was adopted with a 3-0 vote with abstentions from Councilwoman Selena Bibens, Councilwoman Susan Bluth, and Councilman Larry Quattrone during the Nov. 19 council meeting.
A resolution, while not necessary according to Borough Attorney Fred Rafetto, was recommended to officially explain why the council intends to go ahead with a plan that is contrary to what the planning board recommends.
The planning board is cited in the resolution as objecting to council’s plan to rebuild on the existing Borough Hall site primarily due to its location within the 100-year and 500-year flood limit.
Additionally, the planning board indicated to council other factors, including the borough’s Master Plan and Redevelopment Plan as it pertains to the Rug Mill property, as well as the Master Plan goal to restore the historic character of the central downtown business district. According to the planning board, if the Borough Hall were restored to its present 1960s-era, modernist appearance, it would not be consistent with this goal.
Within the resolution are several reasons council reaffirms its decision:
Under the current FEMA flood map, the rear part of Borough Hall falls into the 100 year flood zone while the front part of the building falls into "Zone B", a lower risk area. This was borne out by Hurricane Irene, with the rear part of Borough Hall being flooded by 30 inches or more of water while the front part saw only 3 or 4 inches of water;
Under new, proposed FEMA flood maps, the current footprint of Borough Hall is completely in the lower risk 500 year flood area;
Engineering surveys of the property show the area nearest North Main Street is considerably higher than the rear part closer to the Mill property and, along with Ely House and North Main Street in that vicinit " was not flooded during Hurricane Irene;
The Borough engineer, Borough planner as well as architects consulted by the Council have all said that there are a variety of mitigation steps that can be taken to further ensure protection from and full accessibility in the event of another flood on the scale of that caused by Hurricane Irene;
There is no factual evidence that access to Main Street would make the Rug Mill property more attractive to developers. In addition, the existing Master Plan states “the Borough's services are equally accessible from almost anywhere in town and similarly, they are well situated to easily serve the entire Borough."
We believe judgments on design of any new building or restoration of the current Borough Hall building are beyond the scope ofthe Planning Board's responsibility as it relates to Resolution 2012-229;
Finally, cost was also beyond the scope of the Planning Board's review but was and remains of paramount importance to Council, Council has been informed that the Borough's insurance carrier will cover the full cost of replacing the current building only if it is rebuilt on the current site. Relocating to another site would entail significant costs to the residents of the Borough.
The resolution also initially read that the current Borough Hall site had never experienced flooding on the scale of Hurricane Irene, but rather had seen only minor occurrences of water levels of one or two inches at the far rear of the property.
However, Hightstown resident and architect Rick Pratt provided photographic evidence during public comment that this statement was false. He presented council with images from September 17, 1934 of the Borough Hall site, which saw significant flooding at that time.
“Would you want regular invasions of 3 to 4 inches of water in your house?” Pratt asked.
Planning Board Chairman Steve Misiura expressed his disappointment with the resolution during public comment, claiming council never had any intention of heading the planning board’s advise.
Misiura cited October’s Special Workshop meeting as an example of the council’s disregard for the planning board.
“Council went ahead and scheduled a workshop–so called workshop–meeting to proceed with the next steps with regard to moving forward on Borough Hall as they prescribed it in the resolution on its current property,” Misiura said
During that meeting, Quattrone had proposed that the planning board present their recommendations to the council. However, the remainder of the council contested this, saying that it was not part of the agenda, nor appropriate for that evening's discussion.
The council voted down Quattrone’s motion to allow the planning board to speak formally at the workshop, although Misiura did speak during the public comment portion of the meeting.
“I don’t know why,” Misiura said Monday night.
“I can only think that it was just to show that, ‘hey, we don’t have to hear from the planning board,’” he said.
Misiura and Pratt additonally disputed the resolution’s phrasing that there is no evidence that access to Main Street would make the Rug Mill property more attractive to developers.
Pratt said he knows a redeveloper with a client that may be interested in the Rug Mill property. He said if the property could be tied into Main Street through open space, creating a stronger visual pedestrian link, it will only enhance the value of the property.