The parking lot at Maple Cove, as viewed from the library property on West Front Street. Below, Councilwoman-elect Cindy Burnham with borough Administrator Stanley Sickels at a recent fire department event. (Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
Cindy Burnham may have broken the Democratic lock on Red Bank’s council, but she hasn’t abandoned the pet cause that got her there, or her style of defending it.
At several borough council meetings since winning election in November, Councilwoman-elect Burnham has stood at the commenters’ microphone and sparred with nearly all of her future colleagues on the governing body over the fate and history of Maple Cove, the town’s sole public Navesink River access. Burham is widely credited with having saved the site, at the north end of Maple Avenue, from possible development.
As she has for years, Burnham insists that the incumbents secretly want to sell the property to Hovnanian Enterprises, which owns abutting real estate. The latest evidence of the council’s intent, Burnham says, is the administration’s scheduling of a public forum on Monday, December 30, over whether to remove the site and another one at the public library from the town’s Recreation and Open Space Inventory, or ROSI.
One by one, as they have in the past, the Democrats insisted they do not, and – despite her repeated claims to the contrary – never have had plans to sell the site.
“Once it’s off the ROSI, it’s available for sale,” Burham said at the December 4 meeting, drawing sharp retorts.
“It will not be available for sale,” Mayor Pasquale Menna said flatly.
“It has never been offered for sale. It has never been considered being offered for sale,” borough Administrator Stanley Sickels told Burnham.
When Burham disputed that, Councilwoman Sharon Lee – who Burnham beat in the election – said that while Menna had once proposed the lot be appraised for possible sale, the council had voted the idea down.
“It has not been for sale. You keep repeating it. It has not been for sale,” Lee said. “People may want to buy it, but it is not for sale and it has not been for sale.”
When Burnham countered that Lee alone among her council colleagues had opposed a sale, several voices rose up from the dais as in a chorus.
“That is not true. You were not here. Stop spreading rumors,” Councilwoman Kathy Horgan shouted.
What’s now called Maple Cove was listed on the ROSI years ago, as part of an application for Green Acres funding. Now, pressed by the state Department of Environmental Protection, the borough is hoping to resolve a conflict: Green Acres sites may have parking lots, and meters, but that parking must be restricted to use by visitors to the Green Acres sites.
At issue are the parking lot adjoining Maple Cove and the parking lot next to the public library, just up the hill. According to correspondence from borough Engineer Christine Ballard, the borough is seeking to remove the entirety of those two properties, not just the parking lots – the library itself is on a separate lot – from the ROSI, because having to subdivide the sites would impose an economic hardship on the town.
According to the DEP, Red Bank must resolve the matter or risk losing Green Acres funding. The agency has already withheld Green Acres payments to the borough pending resolution of the matter, including funds for the artificial turf installed at Count Basie Fields.
The issue came to the fore, perhaps ironically, as a result of Burnham pressing the DEP in 2011 to force the town to remove parking meters at Maple Cove, which she says is mainly used by kayakers, canoeists and others attracted to the site for its water access.
Officials at the DEP, after looking into the matter, decided that the use of the property for parking, and charging fees to do so, did not violate rules under the Green Acres Program. But the agency said that allowing non-users of Maple Cove to park there would constitute “a diversion of use” from the original intent.
That was a surprise to town officials, said Sickels. The fact that Maple Cove parking lot might be restricted to Maple Cove visitors was “purely an unanticipated consequence” of the council placing the site on the ROSI, Sickels said.
Now, “the [December 30] hearing is to discuss the removal of those lots from the ROSI,” Sickels said, but “the main focus of the hearing is to eliminate any restriction on the use of the parking spots. We don’t want to restrict it to one use, as opposed to general use. We don’t care who parks there.”
The standard under which a property can be removed from ROSI, according to the DEP, is if it was listed there inaccurately in the first place. Earlier this year, DEP compliance officer Nancy Lawrence wrote to borough officials to say that Red Bank’s “situation appears to meet the bona fide error standard for ROSI amendments… and agrees with the borough that the listing of the entire Lot 1 [at Maple Cove] and the listing of Lots 4 and 4.01 [adjoining the library] appears to be in error.
Burnham, in recent weeks, has railed about the timing of the hearing, which will be held by a committee that has no voting power and will simply report back to the council, after gathering public comment on the matter, according to Menna.
In Burnham’s view, Monday’s hearing comes at “just a terrible time, between the holidays, when most people are away,” she told the council on December 4.
“It’s kind of sneaky,” she continued, to an eruption of protests from the dais. “It’s in poor taste. It looks like you’re trying to do something fishy.”
Council members downplayed her objection.
“I haven’t heard anyone objecting to that date,” said Councilman Mike DuPont, adding that no official action would be taken at that meeting, and additional comments could be made when the council formally decides how to respond to the DEP.
The town’s changes to the ROSI must take the form of an amendment to an ordinance, according to borough Attorney Dan O’Hern, a process that requires separate advertising and hearings. But first, Monday’s meeting, “is for the convenience of those who want to make a comment” at the DEP-mandated hearing, Menna told Burnham during an interruption-filled exchange.
By the time the matter reaches the council, Burham will be one of six council members voting on it, Menna said. The mayor votes only in the case of a tie.
Meantime, the DEP’s assertion that the Maple Cove parking be used only by Maple Cove visitors has called into question the borough’s reliance on Marine Park for parking revenue as well.
“Use of the Marine Park and Maple Cove parking lots for reasons other than park use constitutes an unauthorized diversion of park land,” the DEP wrote to the town on November 25, the Asbury Park Press reported earlier this month. Town officials said that was their first inkling that Marine Park was of concern to the DEP, and that they’re hoping to resolve the issue in meetings with the state.
Monday’s hearing, in the council chambers at 90 Monmouth Street, is scheduled for 6 p.m. For those who wish to weigh in on the matter but cannot attend, the DEP is accepting written comments through January 13. Here is the correspondence and other documentation related to the proposed ROSI amendment that the borough has posted on its website: RB ROSI HEARING 123013