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Purchase of Closson property, street sweeper repair considered at Lambertville city council meeting

Closson property in Lambertville

By Karen Taylor

Mayor Fahl opened Monday night’s meeting by expressing her dismay at the rancorousness of recent online commentary. Attendees speaking at various points in the meeting indicated support for the mayor, and there appeared to be a consensus that the comments were unacceptable.

The Bills List and Consent Agenda were approved unanimously. Among them was a resolution to cancel a previous resolution authorizing $23,300 to fix the street sweeper. The vendor had indicated that repairs would take three weeks. This would have made the street sweeper unavailable during November, and left it repaired but unused all winter when sweeping isn’t possible due the low temperatures.

The most significant issue during the meeting was a second reading of Ordinance 14, which authorized the purchase of the Closson property, including its historic Washington’s Headquarters. Mayor Fahl stated that this was an unprecedented opportunity to preserve a culturally and historically important property, which is also the second largest parcel of open space in the city. She expressed her commitment to preserving approximately six of the eight acres as open space, and the City is working with experts from New Jersey Land Conservancy and Hunterdon Land Trust.

The financial aspects of the purchase were presented in a series of graphs to be posted on the city website. Money already collected through the voter-approved open space tax will be used for the down payment. The city plans to bond $3,725,000, which will create annual debt payments of $206,750 from 2026 through 2051. This includes funds to pay for studies. Because of the timing and structure of the bond, money already budgeted for debt service will be used to pay off the bond, since Lambertville will have moved past the critical time period involved in paying off our current debt. There will be no direct impact on taxpayers, according to the city, and the figures presented do not include possible credits and grants for historic preservation and open space.

Nearly all of the many public comments indicated support for purchasing the Closson property. Among the questions asked were concerns about the cost of moving the police station. The mayor stated that the city will need about $700K for the move, but much of this may come from the sale of the land where the police station currently sits. That estimated cost has been partly based on expenses that Delaware Township incurred in moving their police station.

A resident asked if costs for maintenance, sewers and other services have been considered, and requested that the city hold a referendum in March. Mayor Fahl said the open space tax will be used for maintenance and, since the Closson property is on the open market and the owners have received at least one other letter of interest, it isn’t possible to wait for a referendum. Another resident asked about the risk of losing the down-payment. The Mayor said it is refundable for three months, followed by a loss of $25K for each two months delay.

Most speakers in the audience spoke of their desire to save the historic site and maintain open space in the community. The ordinance passed unanimously, as did a supporting ordinance to fund professional services and commission work associated with the purchase.

Also passing unanimously on second reading were Ordinance 13 and Resolution 148 which supports it. These are tools to assist municipalities which received no funding to deal with covid. They enable towns to spread costs of the pandemic over five years.

Ordinance 18, adopting the police station tract redevelopment plan, was also passed on first reading.

Mayor Fahl announced that Lambertville is moving its employees back to working remotely because of a spike in covid in the community. She also expressed concern about the tree and menorah lightings planned for later in December. There is a possibility these may become virtual events.

The mayor is still accepting applications for openings on commissions, boards and committees. Interested parties should email the mayor or Councilwoman Asaro.

During the public commentary portion of the meeting, a representative of Lambertville United claimed that council had ignored a survey the group provided regarding purchase of the Closson property. Councilman Sanders and Councilwoman Urbish both stated that they had not ignored the survey, but felt it did not provide those surveyed with basic information, and that construction of such a survey requires professional training to produce accurate results. CAT Chairperson Sarah Gold said she acquired the training to create surveys as part of her PhD, and that her team will soon be creating a survey which will require addresses of participants to make sure they live in Lambertville, and which should produce more accurate results.

Another resident raised the issue of the lawsuit which former Business Manager Alex Torpey filed against Lambertville. He asked how an employee could acquire 57 days of paid leave while working for less than a year and a half. The city won’t comment on ongoing litigation, but the mayor stated that the employee handbook and other documents relevant to this issue are available on the city’s website.

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