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Hightstown Borough Council Passes Resolution Rebutting Planning Board’s Recommendations

The Hightstown Borough Council passed a resolution Monday night as a formal response to the borough planning board's objection to rebuilding Borough Hall on its existing site

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.

B November 21, 2012 at 02:13 PM
Well at least our Council is consistent! They have now officially ignored every piece of advice given to them by our local professionals, businessman and property owners.
Torry Watkins November 21, 2012 at 03:12 PM
Why didn't the three abstainers have the courage to vote "no"? If they didn't agree with the resolution, the proper response would have been to defeat it. To abstain means to have no position on an issue, How can elected officials possibly have no position on such a vital matter for the Borough?
Jake November 21, 2012 at 04:09 PM
once again quattrone went with the most expensive way to get it done. Evidently he feels we in Hightstown have never ending funds for his little jollies. Thanks again to all the weenie liberals who put him back in office.
Vic Monaco November 21, 2012 at 04:28 PM
The council has a long history of ignoring a very thoughtful, unbiased planning board. They appoint these folks to look closely at such things; they do their job; and then they get ignored. Kinda sad. I give folks like Steve Misiura and others credit for continuing in their positions. I also wonder why there were three abstentions rather than three no votes, which could have stopped another bad decision.
Rick Pratt November 21, 2012 at 04:33 PM
So short sighted... If we build the boro hall back in the same place, the rhetoric is that it is the cheapest solution. The deductible is the same no matter where borough hall ends up. And, remember prior to hurricane Sandy the amount of sand bags placed around the water plant and along the downtown businesses. This is largely public works overtime, with help from volunteers. No one sand bagged borough hall because it is vacant. But, when it is occupied again, the "cheaper" solution will require sand bagging every time there is a hurricane threat, and lifting up all the desks and files as the council has stated that the front of the building "only" saw 3 to 4 inches of water. Would this be okay in your house? Our borough engineer has stated that the borough hall site WILL flood again. Princeton University and MIT have stated that storms have been and will continue to occur more often. So, Mr. Quattrone's looking out for future spending rather than the possibility of regular water in the building, sand bagging regularly and our emergency services regularly threatened. makes much more sense to me.
Eugene E Sarafin November 21, 2012 at 04:59 PM
One has to realize that three voting for the resolution have become experts in all phases of Borough Government even though after elected they had to be given directions as to the location of Borough Hall. Any new location of the hall would probably be overwhelming to minds so filled with expertise and hatred. This cabal of elected council members treats all employees and experts with total disrespect if their views differ from their passion to locate Borough Hall in a flood plain. It is not comforting to know that we have Council Members who reject all suggestions and think they can change the flood plain by changing lines on a map and ignoring the reality of flood water penetration. It is frightening that we have Council members so arrogant, so unkowning, so paranoid, so devoid of respect for their employees, and so unbelievably nasty that they would insult every expert, employee, business, and resident of our town with their hatred of opposing viewpoints. The abstentions on the vote reflect how meaningless the resolution was considered by the there sane council members. There was no need to recognize such a meaningless resolution against valid input from experts. Our thanks to Susan Bluth, Salena Bibbons, Larry Quatrone and Mayor Steve Kirson for opposing the ignorance and hatred of these three small minded officials constantly put forth to justify stupidity. NO TRAILERS AND NO NEW BOROUGH HALL IN A FLOOD PLAIN when we can rent space paid for while we decide.
clara November 21, 2012 at 06:13 PM
Reasonable people can disagree on issues and regardless of which facts you use to determine the next borough hall's location, I am turned off by the hateful, nasty personal attacks made by those who support the move to the Lucas property. When critics resort to personal vilification of those with opposing views, it tends to undermine their credibility. What are the facts put forth by the experts recommending purchase of the Lucas property? I have read their attacks on members of council with whom they disagree, but no cogent, fact-based reasons supported by objective criteria/evidence.
Eugene E Sarafin November 21, 2012 at 06:38 PM
Adding bel to your Clara for Clarabel, Howdy Doody's clown, is an appropriate response for you with your straw man remarks. There were no facts put forth by experts except to say the Lucas property is a available and should be looked at as a temporary location for Borough Hall. The only opposing views are the location of a building in a flood plain and the rebuilding that building in the flood plain. What you deem as attacks in your world of fantasy are citizen comments about a bad, mindless, response to the future of Borough Hall by Council persons that have spent six months telling us a flood plain does not exist if they redraw the flood plain map with the borough Hall outside the flood plain. I think pilloried rather than vilified would be a better choice of words for people who should not be on council making bad decisions. Furthermore these three are not reasonable in any way or can be classified as reasonable people since their facts are fantasies as is your complaint.
Leslie Bianczik November 21, 2012 at 06:40 PM
Is the Hightstown Council capable of doing anything besides passing resolutions that keep things the same?
clara November 21, 2012 at 07:02 PM
From reading the resolution, I learned that the borough's insurer will absorb the full costs of rebuilding on the current lot but will not cover costs of same at a different location. Why would a private insurance company do this if rebuilding at the current location was such a guaranteed liability? According to your reason then, Eugene, the insurance company cannot be classified as reasonable and should also be pilloried. So, let me know who else you disagree with so I know who is deserving of being slurred and attacked. Given the abstentions, your attacks appear to working, so keep it up but may I send you my property tax bill to cover what it will cost to purchase another location and build a visionary borough hall heralding unprecedented growth and econmic renewal?
Rick Pratt November 21, 2012 at 07:27 PM
Clara, the words in the resolution are only about half the story. The half that they want you to hear. The other half is as interesting, and from what I have been told, would make some of the other locations look more promising. A true workshop meeting should be scheduled without most of them hiding behind a table with a gavel.
G November 21, 2012 at 07:58 PM
I will admit that I've only been following this in the news, so there could be stuff I'm missing, but why did so many people focus on the lucas building right away? Was it just because it was available or is there something that hasn't been written about because I read the article from Rob Thibault and it does seem like that property wouldn't be right. The other thing that I don't get is why no one is talking about the water plants. The police and fire departments didn't seem to miss a beat after Irene, but it was at least a few days before we got water from East Windsor and I think weeks before the plant was back online. I don't remember about the sewer plant and don't really want to know if and where they might have had to dump untreated sewage. If anything I think moving those two plants out of the flood zone is much more important than borough hall.
G November 21, 2012 at 08:01 PM
What other locations? See my comment below about Lucas, but I thought the council looked at other places too. I know they talked about Shangle and Hunt but I heard that was bought by someone else and then there was talk about the Rug Mill but that didn't seem to make sense.
Rick Pratt November 21, 2012 at 08:04 PM
G, see latter part of my blog... http://eastwindsor.patch.com/blog_posts/letter-to-the-hightstown-council-use-your-heads
abracadabra November 21, 2012 at 08:11 PM
Our council is an embarrassment.
Hightstown Irregular November 21, 2012 at 08:21 PM
Maybe people have an axe to grind or something but that article says one of the reasons the council gave was that the engineer, planner and several architects said that there were things that could be done to protect the building from flooding and make sure it's accessible. The other thing is that, okay, the area flooded in 1934 and then in 2011, so that's 77 years between floods. That's more often than once every hundred years, but hardly "regularly".
Eugene E Sarafin November 21, 2012 at 08:32 PM
Where is Harry Potter when you need him. Wish we could say abracadabra with its magical powers and bring reasonableness instead of rigidness to the future of Borough Hall. East Windsor would be where it should reside. So take our insurance money, tear down the existing structure, make the area a parking lot for downtown business traffic, and spend the rest adding on to East Windsor Municipal building for our offices. Our governments for our communities would be in one location with sharing of services such as the court and police in the future. This would be planning for our future by beginning now instead of returning our future to the past with Borough Hall in a flood plain.
Rick Pratt November 21, 2012 at 08:50 PM
Raising everything seems reasonable, with one snafu. The police cars are either trapped on an island high and dry, or they can't return to their island once the water has risen.
B.Bennett November 22, 2012 at 09:00 AM
For Hurricane Sandy, the lake was lowered and the floodgates open. Why wasn't this done for Hurricane Irene? Think the Mayor and council forgot to do this for Hurricane Irene and resulted in the flood. They need to take responsiblity for this. Nothing gets done in this town.... The rug mill, Minute Maid, the borough hall....they will talk about this for years and do nothing.

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