BERNARDSVILLE – Looking for a partner or partners in the redevelopment process, the Borough Council may have them selected later this year. A consultant retained by the borough is continuing to work on a plan containing standards and specifications for the so-called Quimby Village area, according to Mayor Mary Jane Canose.
The same firm, Newark-based Topology, was granted a separate $6,500 contract by the council on Monday, March 9, to draw up redevelopment standards for the former Bernardsville Audi property at 65 Morristown Road. The plans will lay out specifications for items such as facades, building height, setbacks and parking. Once both sets of specifications are completed, which Canose said could be in the next month or two, the council will have the framework to negotiate with and select a redeveloper for each area.
The borough received three different Quimby Village redevelopment concepts when it sought proposals last year. They were resubmitted by AST Development of Lavallette, Advance Reality Investors of Bedminster and a collaboration between Melillo Equities of Bedminster and Claremont of Far Hills.
A fourth firm has now entered the picture. Canose said that Hampshire Management Co., which is owned by the Hanson family, has also expressed an interest in the redevelopment effort. Hampshire owns several downtown properties, including The Bernards Inn and The Station Pub and Grub.
Canose said it’s possible that the borough will end up working with more than one Quimby Village redeveloper, with each taking on different properties in the downtown renovation area. “I think what we’re looking to do is consider the whole plan and look at ways to stage it,” the mayor said.
In another issue affecting the borough’s downtown business district, Mayor Canose said the owner of the vacant building at 65 Morristown Road, the former Audi dealer site, has a contract buyer for that property. The borough’s newly formed Redevelopment Committee will eventually have discussions with the new owner about the intent for the former car Audi dealer site. Canose noted its relatively narrow shape, which might hinder certain types of uses. “I’m not sure what they plan to do with it,” she said. “Hopefully, we’ll get something everybody likes.”
The former auto dealer site has been vacant now for several years. In light of that, the borough conducted a comprehensive review of the property last year and designated it as a site in need of redevelopment. The designation included the right for the borough to acquire the property through condemnation.
While she anticipates redevelopment decisions being made in 2020, Canose said several factors make it difficult to predict exactly when they’ll occur. The council must approve the plans being compiled by Topology, then select one or more redevelopers. The builder selection will involve a negotiating process, Canose said. “There have to be concessions on both sides to get the things you want,” she said.
Former Councilman Joseph DeMarco was retained as the governing body’s redevelopment attorney. Canose said DeMarco is experienced in the process from working in other municipalities. “Joe has done quite a number of these,” she said. “He knows the ins and outs and how to get things done.”
One factor in the redevelopment decision-making pace is ongoing coronavirus concerns and how they affect public meetings. The council may hold remote sessions, which would allow for business to be conducted, Canose said, but hinder certain things like presentations.
Canose is confident the borough is on track to finally achieve a long-desired downtown revitalization. “We’re making good progress,” she said. “What’s important is we follow the process. We’ll get there this time.”
– Charlie Zavalick, Editor