RED BANK: THEATER ADDITION APPROVED

A rendering of the proposed addition to the left of the existing theater and fly tower at center, as seen from the northeast. (Rendering by Kaplan Gaunt Desantis Architects. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

Red Bank’s Two River Theater won raves from neighbors, and zoning board approval, Thursday night for a plan to expand its non-performance space.

But West Street residents pressed for, and failed to obtain, changes to aspects of the plan that they worry will direct more traffic onto their block, some of it from motorists using the theater lot simply to avoid street traffic.

The plan includes the addition, marked with a star, and a new driveway onto West Street, at right above. Below, the addition as seen from the east. (Click to enlarge)

The plan calls for the construction of a three-story, 36,000-square-foot building in the theater’s existing parking lot to house backstage facilities for rehearsal, costume-making and scenery building. No additional performance space was proposed.

Nor would there be any increase in parking demand, TRT managing director Michael Hurst told the board. Instead, the plan called for the addition of five parking spaces, to bring the total to 105.

That would be achieved by the demolition of two buildings the theater owns on the east side of its irregularly shaped, 2.4-acre property, and the creation of a new arm of the parking lot, with a new driveway onto West Street.

The driveway prompted concerns from nearby homeowners. They voiced concerns that it would encourage cut-throughs by motorists, increasing traffic on their street, as well as headlight glare into homes.

“Why not put a gate there for emergencies?” asked Richard Honymar of Long Branch, who owns a house on West Street and called the new building “an outstanding architectural structure.”

Several residents, including Jim Thomas, noted that there’s an existing driveway used by theatergoers that empties onto West Street alongside Tubby’s Auto Center, and suggested that should suffice.

But TRT officials said the theater doesn’t own or have rights to use that driveway. And “what you don’t want to do is make a dead end” on the east side of the new parking area, because there’s not enough room to provide a vehicle turn-around, said theater planning consultant Jason Fichter.

“It is very important to emergency services and internal circulation,” he said, “so putting a chain up there would conflict with that,” he said. “But we really don’t expect a significant amount of traffic to be operating there.”

Damon Murtha asked if patrons of the yet-to-open Triumph Brewing Company restaurant in the neighboring West Side Lofts would be allowed to park in the theater lot when no shows are running.

“I really don’t know yet,” Hurst said.

Former Mayor Ed McKenna, a member of the TRT board of trustees, said the theater’s employees “have always striven to be good neighbors,” and promised residents that “if a promise arises, we’ll figure something out.”

The expansion is needed, Hurst said. in part because the so-called Chavant building, where scenery is now constructed, is inadequate, with a ceiling height of just 12 feet, whereas many set pieces need to be 25 feet tall,  He also described the difficulty of moving completed pieces to the theater itself, a process that’s weather-dependent.

The new structure would be 50 feet tall in part to accommodate that need.

The project needed variances for exceeding the 44-foot height limit in the zone. The 10-year-old theater, a portion of which is 75 feet tall, was built with a height variance, and the Galleria office and restaurant complex on the opposite side of Bridge Avenue also exceeds the limit, witnesses said.

“You can see how the existing building and the proposed structure really blend together” on either side of the 75-foot-tall fly tower, used to raise and lower scenery and curtains to the stage, said Fichter.

The board approval of the plan was unanimous.

After the meeting, Hurst told redbankgreen that a start date for construction was unknown, and that a plan to accommodate programming during construction was being developed.

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