RED BANK: GATE MAIN ISSUE IN CHURCH PLAN

rbpb 032014 3Hudson Avenue resident William Hartigan discusses the church’s plan for fencing at Thursday night’s planning board meeting with neighbor Kevin Moss. Below, a rendering of the proposal. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

211 broad 032014The proposed conversion of a steepled Red Bank church into an office complex – with provision for a dramatically shrunken Sunday worship space – drew a full house to the planning board Thursday night.

Nearly all the concerns and objections to the plan for the First Church of Christ, Scientist house of worship on Broad Street were focused on one element: a gate on the Hudson Avenue side of the property.

Allowing for the gate, instead of sealing off access to Hudson, would surely result in more traffic on the residential street, neighbors said.

The 62-year-old church is pursuing the plan because it no longer needs its expansive worship space, church board of trustees president Nancy Crabbe told redbankgreen. So the institution reached out to Bob Silver, of Bravitas Group, after learning that he’d converted a Christian Scientist church in Montclair into offices.

Silver worked up a plan for the Red Bank church that calls for a 13,500-square-foot complex that will turn the church auditorium – the Christian Science name for what other churches call the sanctuary – into more than a dozen rentable offices of 500 to 1,500 square feet. A drop ceiling will be removed, exposing long-covered trusswork, an architect testified, and the steeple will be retained.

A 55-year-old annex to the church would get a second story and be used in part as a 50-seat house of worship and Sunday school, according to the plan.

Silver said he expects the project to be the first LEED-certified property in Red Bank, complete with charging stations for electric cars.

Neighbors appeared generally supportive of the conversion. But the inclusion of a 17-foot-wide back gate, which would be used only for maintenance and emergency access, was the subject of nearly every comment from the public.

“What these people want to do is quite admirable and a necessity,” said Marjorie Forino, of Hudson Avenue. “But why do you need any traffic of any kind on Hudson? Is it really that necessary, since you have a nice, wide driveway in the front?”

A planning expert hired by Silver sought to assure neighbors that the gate would be locked except for snow plowing and other maintenance, as well as fire department access in the event of an emergency. But that didn’t appease them. Two-time ex-fire chief Tom Doremus said that, even as a member of the fire department, he’d rather see that rear of the property closed off entirely.

“Any time you have a door, somebody’s going to leave it open,” he said. In this case, that would result in office users exiting onto Hudson, even though the existing ingress on Broad would be converted to an ingress-egress.

Board member Sharon Lee, however, pushed for leaving the gate in the plan in case of a fire. Silver agreed that as a condition of approval, the gate would not be used for maintenance access, and instead only for emergencies.

If the plan is approved, the property would be moved onto the tax rolls – even the portion used by the church, Silver said.

Testimony on the plan was scheduled to continue on April 3.

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