Img_1798Visiting actors would stay rent-free at 81 Shrewsbury Avenue under a plan pitched by Two River Theater founder Bob Rechnitz.

“Everybody loves the Two River Theater,” says Red Bank Zoning Board vice chairperson Lauren Nicosia.

But the board’s reviews aren’t yet in on the question of whether the theater should be allowed to house up to five actors at a time in a Shrewsbury Avenue home.

Under a proposal before the board, theater founder and executive producer Bob Rechnitz and his two children would buy the single-family house at 81 Shrewsbury Avenue — opposite the borough Senior Citizens Center — and lease it for $1 a year to theater solely for the use of visiting actors.

The thespians would stay, rent-free, for up to eight weeks at a time, during rehearsals and stage productions. They’d have their own bedrooms and share in the house’s four full baths. No children, spouses or other visitors would be permitted to stay overnight, according to theater officials.

Still, borough Planing & Zoning Director Donna Smith Barr has determined that the concept as outlined meets the definition of a boarding house, which the borough has been gradually ridding itself of in recent years. And because such facilities aren’t allowed in the business and residential zone in which the house is situated, Rechnitz needs a use variance for his plan.

Last night, board members questioned Rechnitz and TRTC managing director Guy Gsell on the rationale for the idea. Gsell said that, under contract with Actors Equity, TRTC is obligated to provide housing to any cast member who lives more than 50 miles away. Usually, he said, that means putting up actors at the Molly Pitcher Inn or in homes the theater has rented for that purpose in Long Branch and Bradley Beach.

Since the arrival of Aaron Posner as the theater’s artistic director in late 2006, TRTC has begun attracting actors from all over the country, Gsell said, and the house would be an added talent magnet.

“This would be a big advantage, and would be a big thing that agents look at” in advising their clients on available roles, Gsell said.

Several board members heaped praise on the theater and in particular on its current, boffo production of ‘Macbeth,’ which appears on track to be the biggest grossing production in the 14-year history of the company. But they were guarded about the longterm effects of allowing the proposed use.

Should the deal between TRTC and the Rechnitz-owned Gemini Group LLC be terminated, the property could not be used as a boarding house afterward, Gemini’s lawyer, Gordon Litwin, stipulated to the board last night. He said he’d write that restriction into the deed.

Addressing a long series of questions about who would use the house and how its rules would be enforced, Gsell, told the board, “This is not a frat house in any shape or form.”

At one point, board chairman Tom Williams told Rechnitz, “this is a very troubling application for me.” He then asked Rechnitz if he wasn’t a partner in the West Side Lofts project planned by developer Metrovation for the corner of Bridge Avenue and West Front Street and abutting the theater property.

Rechnitz said Gemini had purchased the former Blaisdell Lumber property and “conveyed half to the theater and half to MW,” but otherwise neither he nor the firm was a principal in that project.

By his questions, Williams appeared to be suggesting that actors’ housing would be better located in the lofts project, which calls for below-market artists’ living and retailing spaces. Rechnitz replied that asking Metrovation “to give up more units in a charitable way is not something I think is going to happen.”

The hearing on the Rechnitz plan is scheduled to continue March 6.

The board had a packed agenda last night, but barely made a dent in it. Postponed until March 6 were hearings on plans for:

• James Parker One & Two, a townhouse project on Drs. James Parker Boulevard at Willow Street

• 24 apartments at Monmouth and Pearl streets at the site of the former Circles Skate shop (the project was formerly called South Beach and is now tagged “Siros at Monmouth”

• Extensive interior and exterior changes at the Colony House on Riverside Avenue, which is moving to condo ownership from rental.

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