Work is about to begin on River Mills at Frenchtown, the mixed use project to be built in the empty lot next to the Frenchtown Inn and on Bridge Street. Developer George Michael has invited the community to a ground breaking ceremony there on August 1 at 6 p.m.
Due to the recession and the collapse of the housing market, the lot stood vacant for years, long after Mr. Michael had gained approvals from the Planning Board and Borough Council. Many residents and business owners were lulled into thinking that this day would never come. To be fair, some hoped it would not — their hopes bolstered, no doubt, by Mr. Michael’s generosity in letting the community use his property for our celebrations and festivals year after year.
The developer is going forward now because he faces a late September deadline from the state Department of Environmental Protection to complete soil disturbance and ground work. That deadline was imposed when the DEP issued the permits years ago.
The Planning Board and Borough Council met with the developer on July 11 to hammer out additional agreements — and impose new conditions — allowing him to begin tree removal, filling and grading.
Mr. Michael will immediately transfer to the borough ownership of property along the Delaware River north of the bridge keeper’s house. He also will accelerate payment of sewer hookup fees to the borough. Both were to occur much later in the project. He will also provide the borough with a current construction schedule so we can know his plans and monitor his progress.
Contrary to what you may have heard, Mr. Michael must post financial guarantees before doing any work other than cutting trees. He will provide an amount — determined by our Planning Board’s engineer — to cover the work to be done now. And he must post additional guarantees before doing any other work. Other conditions of the redeveloper’s agreement signed last year remain in effect.
The work that is to be done now will enhance the appearance of the property greatly, particularly north of the Frenchtown Inn, which often stays wet for long periods and is a haven for mosquitoes and other pests. At present, the developer intends to build three of the planned seven buildings, those that are closest to Bridge Street. He has tabled, for now, the residential buildings between Second and Third streets. Mr. Michael will seed and maintain the property against possible erosion.
The project is intended to strengthen and blend into the existing commercial district. The community has a crucial need for a downtown public space and the Planning Board’s efforts resulted in the town gaining a valuable, permanent riverside park site at no expense to taxpayers. We’ll hold a series of Town Hall meetings this fall to plan for its use.
Borough Council also worked hard to get the river bank property transferred now rather than when building permits are issued. And receiving the sewer hookup fees earlier in the project will help defray costs of the new sewer plant that otherwise would have fallen to the rest of us. River Mills also represents a significant increase in Frenchtown’s tax base; that helps us all.
As River Mills at Frenchtown becomes part of the fabric of Bridge Street — and as we grow to love our new riverbank park — I believe we will come to welcome the developer’s contribution to the town.
I hope to see you August 1.