RED BANK: CHURCH PLAN UPSETS NEIGHBORS

hartigan 1 033114William Hartigan notes the proximity of a church garage to his family’s outdoor dining area. Below, the church as seen from Broad Street; the wing at the left would get a second story. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

rb church 033114It’s a story as old as the concept of property rights: a couple settles into  their dream home, and then the folks next door do something on their patch of heaven to disturb the idyll.

When William and Kathryn Hartigan moved to Red Bank from Jersey City four years ago, they never imagined that the church that abuts their Hudson Avenue property would be anything other than a house of worship, quiet and unnoticed except for the bells pealing in the steeple on Sunday mornings.

But the proposed conversion of First Church of Christ, Scientist on Broad Street into an office complex has Hudson Avenue neighbors alarmed about traffic, and the Hartigans about the impact on their dream.

rbpb 032014 3William Hartigan at the March 20 zoning board meeting on the church proposal. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

The 62-year-old church, its congregation having dwindled, has proposed a conversion of its auditorium – the Christian Science name for what other churches call the sanctuary – into a 13,500-square-foot complex, with more than a dozen rentable offices of 500 to 1,500 square feet.

A 55-year-old one-story 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. A garage just a few feet from the Hartigan’s yard would have second-floor offices.

The primary concern of most neighbors at a March 20 zoning board hearing on the proposal was whether a gate on the Hudson Avenue side of the church property would dump added traffic onto their residential block. By meeting’s end, that issue appeared on its way to resolution, as developer Bob Silver, of Bravitas Group, said he would consent to keep the gate locked except in case of emergency.

But for the Hartigans, the church plan means an encroachment on their family life, they say. More cars in a parking that runs along their side yard, with increased possibility that one might drive through the fence, said Kathryn Hartigan. Office workers looming above the family’s back deck in the former garage. Light from parking lot lamps flooding their yard and home.

Silver, they said, has offered to expand the buffer along their sideyard and install a fence, but Hartigan said the fence doesn’t match the one running along two sides of his property. There’s been an offer to screen the side of the offices and addition with tall shrubbery, but the prospect strikes him as an obvious attempt to hide something.

“We don’t want to nitpick,” said Hartigan, who works as a container inspector at Port Elizabeth. “But you want to be here forever, and then something like this happens, and then what do you do?”

“We planned to be here forever,” said Kathryn, who takes care of the couple’s two young children and is due to give birth to a third in early July. “Now I don’t want to be, with that,” she said, pointing toward the church.

The Hartigans also worry the changes will adversely affect the price of their home should they try to sell. According to tax records, they paid $715,000 for their property in early 2010.

Hartigan said he had reached out to elected officials, who told him that by law they could not interfere in the board’s deliberations.

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 is scheduled to continue Thursday at 7 p.m. at borough hall.

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