Courtyards_at_monmouthA view along Monmouth Street of the proposed Courtyard at Monmouth project. The entrance to the underground garage is on West Street, seen at right.

An eyesore parcel of Red Bank that went through several development plans and bitter litigation in recent years may finally have shed its curse.

Now, all the owner has to contend with are a sewer-hookup moratorium and an economy that has rarely been more hostile to residential real estate interests.

Still, would-be developer George Coffenberg was relieved last night to have finally won planning board approval for his plan to build 20 luxury apartments over streetfront stores on Monmouth Street a block east of the train station.

“Everybody’s who’s touched it has had bad luck, it seems,” Coffenberg told redbankgreen. “But I believed in the town.”

The board’s unanimous approval came as an anticlimax to an argument over one last issue: how many, if any, of those 20 apartments must be set aside as cut-rate affordable units. Because of widespread uncertainty about what laws will apply as a result of an historic state Appellate Division ruling that dashed affordable housing determinations last year, hundreds of towns throughout New Jersey are awaiting new regulations from the Council on Affordable Housing.

Borough Administrator Stanley Sickels, who sits on the planning board, contends that the borough can require developers who obtain planning approvals in the interim to comply with whatever affordable housing obligations exist at the time they seek their building permits.

“Whatever we’re required to do at the appropriate time, we’ll do at the appropriate time,” Wayne Peck, Coffenberg’s attorney, told the board.

In fact, the same issue came up earlier in last night’s meeting, when developer Anthony Busch asked for what he might have thought of as a routine extension of an approval he won in 2006 for a residential project called Riverwalk, on Mechanic Street. Instead, the discussion turned somewhat heated when Sickels told him that he, too, might be required to set aside more affordable units if the rules change before he starts construction.

“I think it’s inappropriate to be reaching back,” Busch’s attorney, Gordon Gemma told the board. “But we’ll see what happens.”

Under current ordinances, Coffenberg’s affordable housing obligation “will never be less than two,” board attorney Michael Leckstein told Peck.

Coffenberg might have had a harder time. He’d originally planned to tweak the last plan, which he acquired from Building and Land Technology, a development entity whose 2003 plan for the site was approved by the board but kicked back for a do-over by a Superior Court judge after a ruling of a potential conflict of interest. That plan called for residential development only on the parcel, at the southeast corner of Monmouth and West streets.

But when Red Bank RiverCenter was expanded from the downtown to a portion of the West Side last year, Coffenberg said he was excited by the opportunity to offer street-level retail that would fit with the RiverCenter’s objective of extending storefronts along Monmouth.

“We wanted to do a conforming project,” or one that would require as few variances as possible, he said.

In the end, Coffenberg’s project, now dubbed Courtyard at Monmouth, required variances only for the setback distance from the street and about a dozen parking spaces.

“How many other projects of this size have so few variances in Red Bank?” said engineer Bryan Luoma. “None.”

Coffenberg said he will seek a waiver from the Two Rivers Water Reclamation Authority for sewer connections, based on the number of existing connections from the site and other factors. If approved, he said, he’s ready to start construction by summer.

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