After months of escalating tensions, a controversial plan to reimagine the Stockton Inn appears to be dead in the water.
Stockton, NJ, attorney Michael Butler announced during the borough council’s June 14 meeting, which was presented on Zoom, that the New Hope-based Avon Road Partners had formally withdrawn its proposal to redevelop the 310-year-old inn and its surrounding area, including the old Stockton School and the Stockton Borough Park.
The announcement was first reported by TapIntoFlemington/Raritan.
According to Butler, Avon Road Partners’ attorney sent an email to the borough on June 11 saying the firm was not going forward with its purchase of the inn.
The borough’s planning board had already begun an investigation into whether the inn property should be designated a redevelopment area, a move that was initiated by a 5-1 vote by borough council on February 8. Though, Butler noted, such an investigation was not considered a necessity.
In December, Robert Berman, of Avon Road, presented the firm’s plan to reimagine the restaurant and inn, which has been closed for four years. It included restoring the five existing buildings on the two-acre site at the heart of downtown Stockton and erecting two new structures, a 17,000-square foot, three-story hotel with 28 guest rooms on the north side of the property and a 1,500-square foot, two-story “connector” that would link the new building to the existing inn.
The most sensitive part of the $15-million plan revolved around a 780-seat tented amphitheater that would sit at the center of the property, and host more than 40 performances a year from May to October, according to the firm’s website.
“The vision for the rebirth of the Stockton Inn lies in a big and bold idea,” says the narrator of a nearly six minute-video that was made available last winter. “The master plan envisions a recreation of a sense of place that will re-establish a multitude of past and new venues, which will include a full repositioning of the existing inn, maintaining the integrity of the interiors, furnishings, and fine art. This restoration plays a vital role in re-establishing the inn as the place for the village.”
Berman told the borough council that the amphitheater was necessary for ensuring the sustainability of the inn.
Despite a sensitivity to maintaining aspects of the inn – the historic murals and woodwork inside the building would be preserved, the project’s architect, Mario LaGuardia, told borough council – the plan was met with strong opposition by many area residents.
A grassroots organization called “Protect Stockton” was formed to fight the plan, and more than $12,000 was raised through a GoFundMe page dedicated to legal expenses.
“Keep the historic character of Stockton,” commented one donor who pledged $150. “This kind of development is inappropriate for such a small town.”
Upon disclosing the news of Avon Road’s withdrawal during last month’s borough council meeting, Butler, according to TapIntoFlemington/Raritan, said, “Unfortunately, I think that the process at the moment regarding the potential redevelopment designation of this property at Stockton Borough is at its end.”