MENNA: GIVE PARKING WAIVER MORE TIME

A fee moratorium has helped fill vacant spaces downtown, and should remain in effect through the rest of the year, the mayor says. (Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

Rcsm2_010508Four months after proclaiming that a waiver on fees for new businesses with parking shortfalls had done its job and should be allowed to expire, Red Bank Mayor Pasquale says he has changed his mind.

Menna led a move at Wednesday night’s borough council meeting to extend the moratorium by six more months, through December 31. The motion passed on a unanimous vote.

“I’m not infallible,” Menna said afterward, when asked about his changed view. “I’ve listened to people who are trying to come in and genuinely improve our business climate.”

The extension is the second granted to the measure, which was enacted in August, 2010 and was originally set to expire at the end of 2011, when it was renewed through this month.

The moratorium put a stop to fees, often amounting to tens of thousands of dollars in upfront costs, that new businesses were required to pay the borough when they obtained variances for parking space deficiencies. Restaurants were particularly hard hit because of the intensive use of their floor space.

Menna raised the prospect of allowing the moratorium to terminate at a planning board meeting in February, when he told the owner of Char Steakhouse that the sunset on the moratorium “probably will be soon.” He said that measure had worked as intended, filling up street-level stores and restaurants, as well as offices on upper floors.

That, he said, raised the potential that a parking shortfall would hit the East Side lots if buildings such as the structure at the corner of Broad and Monmouth streets, which is vacant except for a street-level branch of the Valley National Bank, are ever leased.

On Wednesday, though, Menna said he’d listened to potential downtown tenants who persuaded him that their money was better spent on capital improvements and inventory than on a borough fund.

In any event, Menna said, leases are being signed at a rate that “I don’t think there’s going to much empty space after December, so that would solve that question.”

Nancy Adams, who heads the downtown special improvement district agency Red Bank Rivercenter, said the moratorium had “definitely helped us level the playing field in attracting businesses to Red Bank.”

The mandatory contribution to the fund, she said, “serves as a deterrent, and when a business is choosing a location, figures into their project costs in a negative way. With all the vacancies in downtowns and malls across the state, adding costs to a businesses’ project makes it more difficult to convince them to come to Red Bank.”

The agency’s board, she said, hopes the waiver continues not only until this year’s end, but beyond.

Adams said the downtown vacancy rate, which peaked at 10 percent in 2009, had fallen as low as six percent, but recently edged up to about seven percent because of delays in opening by tenants who have not yet occupied spaces they’ve leased.