RED BANK: CHURCH PLAN WINS FULL BLESSING

rb church 033114Developer Bob Silver, below, hugs congregants of the First Church of Christ, Scientist, above, after gaining approval to convert the 62-year-old structure to offices. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

bob silver 040314The proposed conversion of First Church of Christ, Scientist in Red Bank into an office complex was praised to the heavens Thursday night, even by a couple of neighbors who’d previously expressed wariness about it.

Developer Bob Silver, who previously converted a Christian Scientist church in Montclair into offices, won kudos for preserving one of Broad Street’s architectural gems while yielding to concerns about traffic. His project, dubbed “Two Eleven Broad,” was also lauded for “saving the home” of a shrunken congregation, which will continue to use a portion of the building, and for touches including electric-car rechargers and bike racks.

Silver is “the best possible neighbor that the neighbors could want,” said abutting property owner William Hartigan of Hudson Avenue, whose concerns about the plan were spotlighted by redbankgreen earlier this week.

Under the plan, the 62-year-old church will be turned into a 13,500-square-foot office complex, with more than a dozen rentable offices of 500 to 1,500 square feet. The steeple will remain.

A 55-year-old one-story annex to the church is to get a second story for use 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 will have second-floor offices.

Silver appeared to have muted the fears of Hudson Avenue residents when he agreed to keep the gate on that end of the church property locked except in case of emergency. At a March 20 zoning board hearing on the proposal, a number of neighbors expressed concern that leaving the gate open or unlocked would dump traffic on their their street. No such complaints were heard Thursday night.

Hartigan told redbankgreen that after the story about his worries ran on redbankgreen, Silver agreed to improve buffering between his house and the church parking lot, and to install a nicer fence than previously offered.

The board’s approval was unanimous, and continued when acting board engineer Ed Hermann called Silver’s sensitivity to the neighbor’s concerns a “model” of how a developer should proceed.

“The most important part of the hearing process is hearing,” Hermann told redbankgreen, pointing to his right ear as Silver collected hugs from church members and others.

Even though the church function will continue, the entire property will go onto the tax rolls – even the portion used by the church, Silver said.

Silver told redbankgreen he expects to start work on the project in June and finish up in 11 months.

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