Img_4366Michael Gilson Jr., 7, gets a kiss from his father after the Chubby’s owner won zoning board approval to erect a new restaurant on the West Front Street site.

A plan to replace the seen-better-days Chubby’s Waterside Café on West Front Street with a combo restaurant and sports bar topped by two luxury apartments won unanimous approval from the Red Bank zoning board last night.

The thumbs-up came after Chubby’s owner Michael Gilson ponied up a parking plan under which his customers will be allowed use the Riverview Medical Center garage on East Front Street, which turns out to have up to 300 empty spaces most afternoons, nights and weekends.

He also secured parking permits for his employees, and promised to run a shuttle for customers.

The approval, though, came with a hefty price tag: $120,000 that Gilson will have to contribute to the borough parking fund, as per a parking deficiency ordinance.

Gilson said afterward that he would ask the borough council to waive the fee in light of his unusual efforts to reduce the impact of his the new eatery, to be called The Bank, on downtown parking demand. He’s also expected to make the case that he could have rebuilt his building without seeking any variances, but went through the approval process for changes he said would improve the the project and the streetscape.

Gilson and his partners, brothers George and Taso Lyristis, “could just slap a coat of paint on the building without variances,” attorney Rick Brodsky told the board. “But these are are applicants who are in it for the long term, not to do something quickly that’s destined for failure.”

The details of the parking plan appeared to fully defuse lingering objections that board members had expressed at several prior hearings on the matter.

Through Brodsky, Gilson told the board he had won a commitment from the hospital to allow his customers to park in the deck, and he promised to reimburse them through discounts on their meal tabs up to the $5 per day cost. He said he’d also won a promise from Red Bank RiverCenter for up to 50 parking permits that would allow his employees to park in the Globe Court lot just south of the parking deck. Use of the lot would be a condition of employment, he said.

A shuttle bus or van will run to both locations, as well as to office buildings whose occupants would like to have lunch or dinner at The Bank without having to hunt for parking, Gilson said.

Brodsky said his client had made all these arrangements notwithstanding the fact that he didn’t have to.

“The overriding majority of restaurants in town do not have [their own] parking and do receive variances for parking deficiencies — it’s just part of the downtown concept,” he said.

Brodsky got backup from RiverCenter Executive Director Nancy Adams, who showed up to throw the business district marketing agency’s support behind the plan.

Downtowns like Red Bank’s, Adams said, were largely laid out before the advent of the automobile, “so applying parking requirements to businesses in downtowns is a little unfair,” she told the board. “It’s something every business district has to deal with.”

She called the proposed new building “a real boost, and a real improvement over the existing use.”

The tide had turned, though, when board member Karen Waldman, who expressed surprise at the surfeit of spaces at the hospital garage — a former municipal facility — endorsed the Gilson project.

“What the town needs is a waterfront restaurant,” she said, eliciting applause from an audience of about 20 business owners and building experts hired by Gilson. “I think it’s a lovely project.”

Gilson will own the buidling and the Lyristises, owners of the Bistro at Red Bank on Broad Street, will operate the restaurant and sports bar.

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