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MONMOUTH STREET’S EARLY START ON ’08

Img_1097Charlotte Scherer, left, and Ambra Talarico prepare to load a painting from Art Forms into a car.

It was late on a chilly, gray, drizzly Sunday afternoon, a quiet time on the eve of New Year’s Eve.

But three Monmouth Street stores were buzzing, as their owners sought to get a jump on big changes for 2008.

Charlotte Scherer was moving out, shutting down her Art Forms gallery after 24 years in town. redbankgreen scoop: Another gallery is taking over the space. The Asher Nieman Gallery, owned by Scherer’s soon-to-be stepaughter, Emily Asher Nieman, is slated to open Feb. 1, Scherer tells us.

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MENNA CUTTING FOUR FROM PENSION ROLLS

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All the same professionals hired by Red Bank last year will likely be reappointed when the borough government reorganizes tomorrow, says Mayor Pasquale Menna.

But four of them currently participating in the state Public Employee Retirement System through the borough will no longer be covered, Menna tells redbankgreen.

The four are municipal prosecutor James Butler; Public Defender Kevin Wigenton; Planning Board attorney Michael Leckstein; and Zoning Board attorney Kevin Kennedy.

“They will no longer be employees,” Menna says.

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SLEDGER CRITIC: ‘NEPTUNE CITY’ IN TOP 10

Atkins_121107Nicole Atkins and the Sea at Jack’s Music earlier this month.

Among rising global acts such as Arcade Fire and Amy Winehouse, Neptune singer-songwriter Nicole Atkins finds her major-label debut LP “Neptune City” in the top 10 of the year as chosen by pop music critic Jay Lustig of the Star-Ledger.

Not making the list: old warhorse and stay-at-home dad Bruce Springsteen, whose record “Magic” was only good enough for an honorable mention. Which is saying something, given the way the Sledger drools over his every move.

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SEA BRIGHT LANDS SKATEPARK DOUGH

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Sea Bright’s proposed oceanfront skatepark caught some air earlier this month, when Monmouth County came through with a $153,000 open space grant.

Now, says Mayor-elect Maria Fernandes, comes the trick of raising the remaining $214,000 in estimated costs and clearing whatever obstacles the state Department of Environmental Protection might throw up as part of its coastal permitting process.

The borough was one of 11 towns awarded a total $2 million in the latest annual round of Monmouth County Open Space grants. Nine more towns had proposals rejected, including Fair Haven, which sought $250,000 for the cost of new ballfields, lighting and other improvements at Fair Haven Fields.

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BURGLARY SUSPECT ARRESTED, OUT ON BAIL

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A suspect whose escape in the Dec. 10 burglary of a Catherine Street home was said to be witnessed by neighbors has been arrested, according to police Capt. Steve McCarthy, head of the detective bureau.

Milo Rainey, 28, who police said lives in both Red Bank and Keansburg, was arrested by Red Bank Ptl. Juan Sardo on Dec. 20 and charged with burglary, theft and criminal mischief.

Municipal Court Judge William Himelman set bail at $55,000, and Rainey was released on bond the same day, McCarthy said.

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COMING SOON: OPERATION GOLDFISH

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The place is something of a mess, frankly. Puddles. Dust. Display cases out of place.

But that’s what you get when you dismantle a business that’s home to tons of bagged pet food, dozens of rabbits and other mammals and hundreds of pretty little fish.

And do it while still catering to customers, at a busy time of the year.

Soon though, with luck, the disruption will all be a memory. Fins and Feathers owner Helen Davis is determined, come hell or unfiltered water, to move her entire store in one or two breathless days this weekend and start settling into a new space at 134 Monmouth Street.

It’s a big job. So big that longtime customers and friends are asking what they can do to help.

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WHERE HAVE I SEEN THIS?

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Sometimes, Mrs. redbankgreenman stumps redbankgreenman with the photos she brings back from her ‘Where’ scouting expeditions. That was the case with last week’s entry.

Cathi Swett, though, knew it right off.

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STILL FIGHTING FIRES AFTER 57 YEARS

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Frank Sole has been a member of the Red Bank Independent Engine Company 93 for 57 years, and still responds to up to three-quarters of the alarms each year from his home in the River Plaza section of Middletown.

Today’s Asbury Park Press has a nice piece about Sole.

Each time Sole hears the fire horn blare or his pager emits a beep alerting him to a possible fire, he’s out the door and on the go.

“I try to make every call, if I can,” said Sole, 79, who recently received the Red Bank Firefighter of the Year award during a special ceremony at the Shadowbrook Inn in Shrewsbury.

And:

Except for a stint in the U.S. Army when he served in Korea (1950-1952) during the war, Sole has been a mainstay at Company 93.

Sole knew from the time he was a boy that he wanted to be a firefighter. His aunt would take him to visit some of the firehouses in Brooklyn, N.Y. If he was lucky enough, he got to slide down the fire pole.

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HOVNANIAN: NOT YET THAT SUNK

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Today’s Star-Ledger takes a look at the “dismal” year that Red Bank-based Hovnanian Enterprises has had. And the coming year doesn’t look at lot brighter.

But to make that point, the page-one story kicks off with an an anecdote that appears to confuse, or perhaps conflate, members of the Hovnanian family:

The Hovnanians have been building homes in New Jersey for almost a half-century, but the measure of their success was never more indelibly stamped than in a 1992 mishap, when the family’s 123-foot yacht sank off Cape May.

Outfitted with teak paneling, gold-plated fixtures and other luxuries, the $10 million sport-fishing boat seemed more worthy of an oil sheik than crafters of humble condos.

In the years since, Hovnanian Enterprises has grown into the nation’s sixth-largest homebuilder, snapping up smaller businesses and expanding into a total of 19 states. Riding the great housing boom of the past decade, the company built developments as fast as it could, with homebuyers queuing up overnight to sign sales contracts like groupies camping out for Hannah Montana tickets.

The credit crunch and a glut of unsold homes has put an end to those glory days, however. And this time, it’s the Red Bank company itself that’s taking on water.

But the yacht belonged to Hirair Hovnanian, a brother of the man who founded and controlled Hovnanian Enterprises.

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TOWN NEWS, WITH A BIT OF CHEESE

Samantha_lee_2_1207Samantha ‘Sam’ Lee at Fair Haven borough hall

By LINDA G. RASTELLI

Samantha ‘Sam’ Lee knows from customer service. She’s tended the fresh farmhouse cheeses at London luxury purveyor Harrods and assembled gift baskets at Sickles Market.

But if Fair Haven residents have recently noticed that their town newsletter is brimming with helpful information and the borough website makes other towns’ sites look like fossils from a predigital age, they may not be aware that it’s Lee who’s behind this transformation.

Lee combines her understanding of customer service and her analytical problem-solving skills — no doubt honed by her two law degrees (one is undergraduate, she patiently explains for those unfamiliar with the British university system) — to municipal government, a place not exactly famous for innovation.

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GIFTING AGAINST THE CLOCK

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It’s crunch time, fellow proscrastinators.

But if the thought of Christmas shopping this weekend leaves you looking a little like Tootsie and Twinkle here, don’t despair. A quick spin through downtown Red Bank is all it takes to start you checking names off your holiday gift lists.

redbankgreen was able to assemble this assortment of affordable gifts in less than hour; the last suggestion below didn’t even require us to step away from our keyboard. All it takes is a little hustle, an open mind, and a little bit of green.

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RUMSON DOC FACES POSSIBLE DISCIPLINE

A Rumson physician who was indicted in October on federal drug charges is facing a possible loss of his medical license, the Asbury Park Press reports today.

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The New Jersey Board of Medical Examiners took up the administrative case of Dr. Philip Eatough in Newark yesterday and adjourned without announcing a decision, the Press says.

Separately, Eatough faces criminal charges of possession of controlled substances with intent to distribute and related counts following a six-year investigation into a pain management practice he ran in Keansburg.

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PERSEPOLIS: THE WORLD IN BLACK & WHITE

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“Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel:” the phrase itself is loaded with the suggestion of graphite.

So it’s fitting that “Persepolis” the new film version of Satrapi’s bestselling story, is also almost entirely in black & white, exploring as it does the absolutes of regimes, both political and religious.

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DELAY FRUSTRATES ANSORGE JUDGE

Re Bank Municipal Court Judge William Himelman expressed frustration this morning over delays concerning evidence in the DWI case of local publisher Claudia Ansorge.

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“It’s now too long” since a Monmouth County Grand Jury decided not to indict Ansorge last April in the 2006 death of pedestrian Robert Lisowsky and kicked the matter back to the borough court for adjudication of a drunk-driving charge, Himelman said. “I want this case to get tried.”

At issue is printed documentation of a State Police analysis of a blood sample given by Ansorge following her arrest. Borough Prosecutor James Butler told the judge he has asked the State Police to put a rush on the request, but that it could take another 30 days.

Himelman gave Butler 45 days to obtain and turn over the documents to the defense. If it doesn’t happen, Himelman said, he may disallow the analysis as evidence.

“If it’s not received in 45, I’d seriously consider not allowing the reading” in as trial evidence, Himelman said.

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WHERE HAVE I SEEN THIS?

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It took two weeks to find a winner, and a tentative one at that.

Even though he or she framed the answer as a question — “Is it the side of the French Restaurant on the corner of Wharf Avenue and East Front Street?” — we’re crediting IslanderE2 with the correct answer. Because it is indeed the alleyway behind Bienvenue, run by Frederic and Audrey Vidal.

This weekend, should you be interested, the special on the menu is Crèpe Périgourdine, described as a whole wheat crèpe stuffed with duck confit, mushroom, shallot and béchamel sauce, gruyere cheese gratin and wild mushroom sauce. Price: $16 as an appetizer, $32 entree.

Saucy!

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TWO EATERIES MAKE SLEDGER TOP 10 LIST

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Two local restaurants — Thyme Square, on Broad Street, and Nicholas, on Route 35 in Middletown — are included in the ‘ten best’ list of those visited this year by Star-Ledger reviewer Art Namendorf, who goes by the nom de blog The Artful Diner.

“There is absolutely no question in my mind that Nicholas is the most superlative dining experience the Garden State has to offer,” Namendorf gushes from the get-go in his entry on that eatery.

Before he’s done, he’s also waxed on about “the electrifying interplay between cinnamon jus and tincture of quince that accompanies the incredibly moist braised suckling pig.”

As for Thyme Square, Namendorf begins:

Even in a restaurant rich community like Red Bank, there is always room for an establishment that serves up first-rate, casually creative cuisine at reasonable prices. And this is surely the case with Rona & Steve Rosenstein’s Thyme Square. Chef James Corona, the power behind the stove, cooks up an appetizing array of superb bistro fare with Mediterranean flair that is decidedly innovative but still manages to maintain a comfortingly homey touch.

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OFF-YEAR OR NOT, MENNA SAYS HE’LL RUN

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Mayor Pasquale Menna may live to regret his pledge to axe borough health benefits for himself and future mayors.

Last night, in what appeared to be an off-the-cuff retort, Menna said he would run the George Sheehan Classic, a somewhat grueling — Tower Hill, anyone? — five-mile race to be held June 14.

The promise came during light debate over a proposed resolution to reauthorize the annual borough-based race, which shuts down Broad Street for several hours on a Saturday morning and takes about 3,000 runners into Little Silver, Rumson and Fair Haven.

“I support the race. It provides another vital resource to the town,” said Councilman Michael DuPont. “But I would make it a condition that the mayor run in it.”

“I’ll take that challenge,” Menna said, without hesitation.

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BIFANI BIDS ADIEU AFTER 14 YEARS

Img_0730Councilman R.J Bifani

The best part, hands down, he says, is what was accomplished in the realm of housing on the West Side.

At his last meeting as a member of the Red Bank Borough Council last night, R.J. Bifani was lauded for his efforts in shaping up a number of departments and programs, including public works and roads.

But “the best thing I was involved in,” he told his fellow council members and a modest-sized audience, was housing rehabilitation — using grant money and funds from a 2004 Regional Contribution Agreement with Manalapan and other sources to fund repairs on dozens of homes owned by low-income taxpayers.

After providing the “nuts and bolts” basic services of local government operations, Bifani said, “that’s what I think we should be doing here as a council.” The programs, he said, enable seniors and the working poor to hold onto their homes.

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ANOTHER NEWBORN EXITS AT 109

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For the second time in three months, a woman has given birth in her car near Exit 109 of the Parkway.

Timothy Van Orden Jr. was delivered by emergency medical personnel shortly after 1p on Dec. 12 on Newman Springs Road, according to a press release from Middletown Township.

Police and rescue personnel were alerted after someone in the car in which Mary Beth Van Orden was riding along the Parkway twice called 911 and hung up before giving any information; after the second call, the dispatcher dialed the incoming number back and learned that a woman in the car was about to give birth.

The press release doesn’t say if the mother was a passenger or driver of the car or if she made the call.

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LAST LEAVES

Img_0556Public Works employees Douglas Howard, left, and Angelo Cleffie Jr. remove leaves on Madison Avenue this morning.

Leaf season was short and sweet this year. The little skitterers held fast to the trees until late in the season and then came down in whoosh, aided by the onset of frosts early this month.

Then came last weekend’s wind storm, which pretty much scoured the deciduous trees of their last leaves.

It made life easier for the Red Bank Public Works department, which is wrapping up its leaf collection efforts this week.

But more than the weather, acting director Gary Watson is giving kudos to borough residents, who he says “really stepped up” to new rules governing what can be put out on the curb.

“They’re not contaminating leaves with brush and branches, they’re not putting the leaves out in bags,” Watson marvels. “Change isn’t always easy, but the residents have been great.”

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GRANTS BOOST FIRE SAFETY IN TWO TOWNS

Grants of $25,000 each from an insurance company will put cutting edge technology in the hands of firefighters in Red Bank and Rumson.

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Red Bank Fire Marshal (and Business Administrator) Stanley Sickels says the borough’s volunteer fire department will use the money to buy two thermal imaging cameras, which can be used to pinpoint the location of firefighters or trapped victims inside burning structures.

The department will also buy defibrillators, which are useful because heart attacks are the leading cause of death among firefighters while on the scene, Sickels says.

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HOVNANIAN: LOSS QUADRUPLED IN 4Q

Hov_hq_81206File photo of Hovnanian’s Red Bank HQ, as seen from the foot of Maple Avenue.

Amid a widespread credit shutdown, Hovnanian Enterprises said its fourth-quarter net loss quadrupled over year-ago results.

The Red Bank-based homebuilding company yesterday reported a net loss of $469 million in the quarter, compared to $118 million in the fourth quarter of 2006. Contract cancellations rose to 40 percent, from 35 percent in the third quarter. Revenue for the year was down more than 22 percent, to $4.58 billion, from $5.9 billion in fiscal 2006.

As a result, the company said it won’t pay a dividend this year on a class of preferred shares.

Still, the company saw a glimmer of better days to come after the fiscal quarter ended.

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BEST LIQUORS HEARING DELAYED

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A state hearing on the fate of Best Liquors‘ booze license has been pushed back until March.

An administrative law judge with the state Alcoholic Beverage Control division granted a request, submitted yesterday by the store’s attorney, asking for an adjournment. The hearing was to have been held tomorrow.

Lawyer Samuel ‘Skip’ Reale Jr. wrote to Judge Joseph Martone that he has been “retained to defend a law enforcement officer in a high profile matter” and would be unable to make tomorrow’s hearing. He said he had been unable to find a replacement to stand in for him.

In a reply, Martone said he was “surprised” by the request and noted that the Dec. 18 date had been “difficult to obtain.” Nonetheless, he slotted the hearing for the next available date, March 5.

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