Published On: Fri, Apr 10th, 2020

Environmental group seeks to postpone consideration of Lambertville development project

Initial concept of multi-income housing at the current police department site

The New Jersey Sierra Club this week sent letters to the state Attorney General’s Office and Department of Community Affairs asking for their help in delaying action on a development plan for affordable housing in Lambertville until the covid-19 crisis has eased to allow for wider citizen participation in the process.

Of immediate concern to the group is consideration on April 23 of an ordinance that would set in motion the redevelopment of the city’s current police headquarters into an affordable housing complex. Critics of the move believe the resulting need for a new police facility, along with the imperative to rehabilitate City Hall and the public library, will lead to the consolidation of municipal facilities into a single new building, a concept that drew fire from some local residents when introduced in February. At around 30,000 square feet and a cost of up to $14 million, critics said the proposed structure would pose an environmental threat to the city and spoil much of Lambertville’s historic charm.

“Even though we’re in the middle of a public health emergency, the City of Lambertville is moving forward with their controversial development project,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “People are concerned about the health and safety of themselves and their families, but Lambertville is using the coronavirus as a cover to push this through without public participation.”

Tittel believes that considering the ordinance during the April 23 city council meeting, which is being held remotely, is unfair and unnecessary.

“The meeting will be streamed via Zoom, which is discriminatory and doesn’t allow for public testimony or participation,” he said. “What’s worse is that the City’s Attorney has said that this project is allowed under the ‘essential business’ law because the law doesn’t define what is ‘necessary’ for running the government.”

Lambertville Mayor Julia Fahl said that Tittel’s assertions are untrue, and that the city continues to ensure the entire development process is accessible, including a dial-in option for participating in the April 23 meeting.

“The City of Lambertville has been working on a new settlement agreement for an affordable housing alternative long before the coronavirus was ever an emergency,” she explained. “The claim that the city is using this public health crisis in an opportunistic way is untrue and irresponsible. Gov. Murphy announced in executive orders that affordable housing is essential ongoing work, and the city has gone above and beyond any of our statutory requirements to ensure public participation in our public process.

“Ultimately, we expect that covid-19 will limit public gatherings for the foreseeable future,” continued Fahl. “My administration is committed to ensuring that our city functions and moves forward, while allowing for the type of public participation that I made a cornerstone of my election. The city is committed to ongoing conversations about our facilities needs through the community advisory teams, and through open public forums. We made the choice to have this conversation as early and as transparent as possible. That commitment has not changed simply because we now have to meet digitally.”

The mayor also made clear that moving forward on the affordable housing ordinance does not make construction of a consolidated municipal building a fait accompli.

“While the city’s amended settlement agreement with Fair Share Housing Center calls for redevelopment of the police site, it does not obligate the city to move forward with full consolidation of municipal services or the construction of a new building,” said Fahl. “Redevelopment of the police site will necessitate that we find a new home for the police. The city is in the first steps of considering how best to address our facility needs. That could look like a few services consolidated in a current city facility, a new building with limited or full consolidation, or just a new police site. We are still early in the process.”

Tittel concluded his letter by asking for the state officials to intervene in what he believes is an unfair process.

“The Attorney General and Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver must stand up to stop this development project from moving forward at this time,” he said.  “This is a low move to push forward a project that will change the character of the town for future generations during a period when the public has virtually no ability to comment on it. This is a violation of due process and the intent of the law that allows towns to carry on essential business for dealing with the coronavirus, not take care of developers.”

“I am shocked that a national progressive organization like the Sierra Club would come out publicly against affordable housing in our city,” commented Fahl. “This organization has had multiple opportunities to engage with the city in the planning process to ensure any environmmental impact would be mitigated. Instead, they have chosen to spread misinformation in our community in a time where trusting your government is life or death. I’ve reached out personally to Mr. Tittel and to many others members of the public who’ve expressed concerns, and my door is always open and my cell phone number is on the website.

“I hope that we as a community begin to engage in these types of difficult conversations with open hearts and minds and a sense of respecting your neighbors,” Fahl concluded. “This letter fails on all three of those.”

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- “Once you can accept the universe as matter expanding into nothing that is something, wearing stripes with plaid comes easy." - Einstein

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  1. Appletreebee123@ymail.com' Herb says:

    This mayor is a real politician with an agenda and a bright political career ahead of her. She needs to fulfill promises to her friends in Trenton and the people of Lambertville are in her way. She is pretending to listen and carrying on with her plan. Don’t be naive, she has everything to gain by building this unnecessary project and will tell you anything to see it through. Look out!

  2. If something has to be fixed turn things back the way it was -we don’t need changes like what they are proposing!

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