RED BANK: WALGREEN’S GETS GREEN LIGHT

walgreen's 021914 1Walgreen’s developer Marc Steinberg greets neighborhood supporters after winning plan approval. Below, the revised site plan, at left, called for a smaller structure than the prior proposal, at right. The building was also  moved slightly from the property lines along Garfield Place and Broad Street. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

walgreen's 021914 2After six months of hearings and a close call with defeat, a proposed Walgreen’s store won approval from the Red Bank planning board Wednesday night.

The 6 to 2 vote came after store developer Marc Steinberg revised his  plan by shrinking the proposed building and changing its placement on the site of the former Rassas Buick auto dealership on Broad Street, at the southern gateway in the heart of town.

The vote also followed passionate pleas by neighbors, one of whom said Steinberg had “bent over backwards” to address their concerns, while others called the changes “token” measures.

The revisions, following a January planning board session at which the proposal was clearly facing rejection, now call for the store to come in with a footprint of 10,120 square feet, or about 1,100 square feet smaller than previously proposed. A planner for Walgreen’s noted that both were smaller than the now vacant Rassas showroom and repair facility, at 12,057 square feet.

Mark Development Inc. also increased the proposed Garfield Place setback from the property line to 16 feet, up from the 4.6 feet originally proposed, but short of the 50 feet required under the zoning ordinance, triggering the plan’s most critical variance request. (The zoning requirement was misstated at an earlier hearing at 15 feet.)

The developer also shortened the length of the building along Garfield by 10 feet, to 129 feet, hoping to quell one of the more prevalent complaints by nearby residents.

Those changes and others persuaded some neighbors to favor the plan.

Melissa Grieves, who had organized the original opposition to the plan, told the board that she’d had “extensive dialogue” with Steinberg, and came away “so impressed with how many hoops he’s jumped through” to address the neighbors’ concerns.

“I shudder to think what will come [to the site] if this not approved,” she said. “I just can’t imagine a deal this good coming again.”

But Paul Kinsella and George Ward characterized the changes as “token,” and said the “park-like” neighborhood adjoining the property would be overrun by customers trying to reach the store from points east.

“I see a terrible threat to the neighborhood,” said Ward.

Board vice chairman Dan Mancuso, who nearly derailed the plan in January with a motion to reject, led the charge for approval this time. Acknowledging the concerns of neighbors, he said Walgreen’s had made changes, some of them significant, to mitigate its adverse impacts.

“Something is going to get built there, and no one knows what else it could be if not this,” he said. Another car dealership drawing much more traffic than Rassas could come in with a plan that doesn’t require variances, “and they could open tomorrow without having to set foot in this room,” he said.

Along with Mancuso, board members John Cash, Len Calabro, Linda Cohen, Lou DiMento and John Goode  voted to approve. Borough Administrator Stanley Sickels and Councilman Ed Zipprich voted no, without comment.

“We won’t let this community down, and we won’t let Red Bank down,” a beaming Steinberg told the board.

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