Img_5198Cindy Burnham checks out a tax map at the foot of Maple Avenue prior to last night’s council meeting.

Despite protests from boaters, environmentalists and others, Red Bank officials have not ruled out a proposal to sell one of the town’s last points of direct access to the the Navesink River.

Mayor Pasquale Menna appeared to backpedal a bit from his proposal of last month, telling an audience at last night’s bimonthly council meeting that no firm decision to sell the riparian parcel has been made.

While citing a need to patch a gaping hole in the pending budget, Menna said “there’s no action pending” on the Maple Avenue parcel. Though an appraiser has been hired to establish a market value for the site, “whether we [sell] it or not — different story,” he said.

But opponents to a sale have mobilized to save the tiny lot — 57-foot-wide stretch of overgrown riverbank on the east side of the Maple Avenue cul-de-sac that’s now home to a crumbling, little-used parking lot. And their effort could take a fresh turn with word that there’s $210,000 sitting in an account just waiting to be used by Red Bank to provide public access to the Navesink River.

And it’s been there for more than 15 years.

Borough Administrator Stanley Sickels confirmed redbankgreen that the funds were paid to Red Bank by Riverview Medical Center around 1992, when the town ceded rights to a public dock at North Washington Avenue, now part of the hospital complex.

The money “is on deposit in a trust account for use in developing a boat ramp elsewhere,” he said.

But Sickels cautioned that the funds and the Maple Avenue lot aren’t necessarily a match made in heaven. Vehicles towing watercraft could have difficulty fitting into and navigating the street and lot, he said.

But Cindy Burnham, a Fair Haven resident who owns property in Red Bank, says the site is ideal for canoeists, kayakers and parents who want to explore the riverbank with their children.

“To sell this is just a sin,” she said late yesterday afternoon, shortly before the council session, while touring the site. “It’s a complement to the Navesink River Rowing Club,” which is housed on the opposite side of Maple, on Hovnanian Enterprises property. “All it needs is to be graded a little bit.”

Reading from two waterfront usage plans, one prepared in the early 1990s and one last year, Burnham says they are both emphatic that public access to the river be fostered at a place withe the right conditions, including a gentle slope.

Does the Maple Avenue property qualify as a gentle slope, redbankgreen asked Burnham.

“I just walked it in heels,” she said.

Other residents joined Burnham to form a chorus of opposition to a sale at the meeting.

“It’s a breach of public trust to use this property as anything other than public access,” said Greg Held, of Spring Street. “It would be a travesty if you take that last piece away from us.”

No residents spoke in favor of a sale. Anc Councilman Joh Curley objected to the sale as one-time measure. “I don’t think we should be selling assets and living off” the proceeds by paying down debt or reducing taxes, he said.

But Menna, citing fiscal conditions that are “tough and going to get worse,” indicated that the idea is still on the table, along with program cuts, layoffs and a tax increase.

Burnham says her research shows that the borough bought the parcel, and another one that extends from the nearby public library parking lot north to the riverbank, for $25,000 in 1993.

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