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WET OFF THE PRESS: THE WATERFRONT PLAN

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After a series of discussions over the past couple of years about how to improve access to and the usability of the Swimming River and Navesink River shorelines, the Red Bank Waterfront Plan is finally ready.

Have at it, folks. It’s at the borough website. Hard copies are available at the borough clerk’s office.

The 110-page paperback plan, prepared by the urban planning and architecture firm of Wallace, Roberts & Todd of Philadelphia, is filled with color photos, aerial shots and blue-sky concept drawings of what might be done to turn inaccessible patches of riverside into strollable and explorable stretches.

Given the state of the borough’s wallet, it’s clearly a kind of Christmas wish list. But Lou DiMento, chairman of the borough environmental commission, says it has value.

“The benefit of the document is it gives people a sense of, ‘What if they got really ambitious — how could we make some very significant waterfront improvements?'” he says.

The first half of the document provides an inventory of existing conditions: how the land is now used, slope and vegetation, historic sites and such. It then groups riverfront properties into four distinct “basins:”

• The Navesink Basin, extending west from the Fair Haven border to the Cooper Bridge

• The Bridges Basin, from Cooper Bridge to Hubbards Bridge at West Front Street

• The Bellhaven Basin, from Hubbards Bridge to the nature preserve at Bellhaven Park

• The Swimming River Basin, which runs from Locust Avenue to Newman Springs Road and includes Red Bank Primary School and the borough recycling center on Sunset Avenue.

The meat of the document is a series of concept plans for what might be done with those basins. One suggestion: “looped trail segments” that could eventually be linked up in the form of trails and boardwalks to run the entire waterfront.

From the document:

Along the Swimming River Basin, there are no existing or planned trails. With a number of large, publicly owned parcels in this basin, there is an opportunity to create a new trail network that connects other public amenities — Bellhaven Park, the Red Bank Primary School, new open space at the Recycling Center site, boat tie-ups behind Chapin Avenue, and swimming access behind the Avante nursing home.

More ambitiously, the plan serves up land-usage ideas such as a “community green” along the northern end of Shrewsbury Avenue, starting at about the location of the Senior Citizens’ Center.

The comunity green is envisioned as a ‘central park’ along the waterfront — larger than the other waterfront parks, with a direct relationship to the arts corridor, with the potential to create direct visual access to the river, and at a critical gateway location.

Also proposed is a modified berm around the Primary School, where “activities could be built into terraces on the side of the berm;” stabilization of the bluffs off Leighton Avenue; and development of publicly subsidized housing in the area of the recycling center property.

The plan book “commits us to realizing an ideal,” says Mayor Pasquale Menna. But the town alone can’t finance much of what’s called for, he says. “The local taxpayers don’t have the wherewithal to support that type of infusion of captial,” he says.

Rather, Menna says he’d like to see a regional contribution approach, and endorses a statewide referendum on the November ballot that would infuse $200 million into the state Department of Environmental Protection for land and historic-property preservation.

Meanwhile, Red Bank can continue to move forward more modestly, Menna says. “Riverwalk is the place to start,” he says. “We have the easements for most of it. I think we have a climate where we can still push forward for that.”

The plan resulted, in part, from the landing of a $125,000 state grant and a series of “visioning” meetings held in recent years, culminating with one held at the Primary School in April 2006.

Of the recommendations, DiMento says the environmental commission “will probably zero in on one of them and try to encourage that at least some aspect of it be done, so that this resource we have is more available to people.”

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