Zoning to be Changed to Permit Restaurant to Take Over Building

9 September, 1992

Zoning to be Changed to Permit Restaurant to Take Over Building

Borough Council last Thurs-day night took several giant steps forward toward the sale of the Chambers Street fire-house.

It selected Coldwell Banker Schlott to set up the auction, which will probably be held in late October, and it agreed to a change in zoning law which would permit a restaurant to come into the firehouse with-out the need either to provide parking spaces or obtain a parking variance.

Coldwell Banker’s Joseph Zidek told Council that his firm has been doing real estate auctions as a company since 1982, and that they were familiar with the State statutes that govern auctions of municipal property. The Chambers Street firehouse is owned by the Borough. Proceeds from its sale will be used to fund the newly constructed firehouse on Witherspoon Street. The circa-1930s brick building in the Central Business District will be empty when Engine Co. No. 3 moves into its new firehouse, the first to be built in Princeton.

“We have sold everything from small buildings to a former zinc mine in the Borough of Ogdensburg,” said Mr. Zidek. “We have been able to generate interest in properties.”

In return for a fee of five percent of the sale price upon transfer of title, the firm will take complete charge of the auction, including advertising, marketing, and the selection of an auctioneer.

“The only thing the municipality must do is the legal noticing and the providing of space to conduct the sale,” Mr. Zidek said. He added that, if no bid is accepted, there will be no cost to the municipality.

Councilman David Goldfarb said that, during a recent meeting, Township Committee had felt that whoever was hired to run the auction should be qualified as an appraiser.

Difficult to Appraise

“This is a very difficult property on which to do an appraisal,” said Mr. Zidek. “There are no comparables to deal with.” The best way  to proceed, he said, was to do an extensive marketing campaign, with everyone competing on an equal basis. “The amount of the bid will be the best appraisal,” he added.

Seeking a range of values was a suggestion offered by Borough Administrator Thomas Shannon. Mayor Marvin Reed said Mr. Shannon might want to talk to Township Committee about these ranges.

“I have tried to discourage them (Township Committee) from coming in with a magic price,” said the Mayor. “It could skew the sale. I would like the auctioneer to get the price up there.”

Mr. Zidek agreed. “The idea of the value is best kept in executive session so as not to taint the sale,” he said.

Mr. Shannon had sent out four rfp’s (request for proposals) for the auction. Coldwell Banker Schlott was the only firm that responded.

“I spoke to other municipalities he [Mr. Zidek] serviced over the past year, and I was very satisfied with his ability and expertise,” said Mr. Shannon.

Zoning Change Proposed

Council was expected in the zoning law at its Tuesday, September 8, meeting that would permit restaurant use in all building in the Central Business District that are under 5,000 square feet. This would apply to the firehouse, as well as to 11 other properties. Of these, two first-floor tenants are banks, two are offices, five are retail, and two are public uses.

Mayor Reed said that if auction were held under cur-rent zoning law, those people who want to use the building for retail or office space would not have to provide parking. A restaurant would have to provide about 2l spaces, or get a zoning variance.

“The people who want to use it as a restaurant would have to hedge, their bids,” said the Mayor, “because they wouldn’t know what the Zoning Board would do.” He said he felt a restaurant was the best use, and that it would be a benefit to have an eating and drinking establishment at the site. Over the past few years, the majority of inquiries about the firehouse have come from prospective restaurateurs.

The ordinance changing the zoning law will have to be approved by the Regional Planning Board. Council felt confident this would happen because, said the Mayor, the Planning Board is already predisposed to encourage more sit-down restaurants in Princeton.

The change in the zoning law could be adopted at the September 22 Borough Council meeting, if it is approved by the Planning Board at its September 17 meeting. This would trigger the advertising of the auction, in such publications as Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, and would lead to a likely auction date of October 27, said Mr. Zidek.

Council voted 9-0 to have the new ordinance drafted and introduced September 8.

Mayor Reed said, after the vote, “I think that this is going to do it in terms of giving us decent specs for a good auction.”

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