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ZONERS ON SIROS CONDOS: “TOO DENSE”

WALDMAN, karenZoning board member Karen Waldman mulls her position on the Siros plan.

The developers lopped a whole floor off their proposed building and reduced the number of condo units they wanted to build by a third.

The moves left them with a surplus of parking, instead of the usual shortfall that builders seek variances for. And they pitched their project as the most realistic opportunity to jumpstart a thriving
corridor of stores, businesses and new homes along an ‘eyesore’ stretch of Monmouth Street.

Nobody on the Red Bank zoning board disagreed.

Still, a clearly torn board couldn’t bring itself to allow 16 condos and 6,000 square feet of retail to replace a former filling station at the corner of Monmouth and Pearl streets Thursday night.

The stores they had no problem with, members said. But citing recent discussions by the planning board on how far to extend a proposed high-density zone from the Red Bank railroad station, zoning board members voted 4-2 against the proposal by Siros of Monmouth LLC.

The problem: even with the reduction in the number of proposed units from 24 to 16 on the half-acre lot, the project was “just too dense,” in the words of board member Kevin Moss.

“It’s a hard decision,” said vice chairman Tom Williams, who had
first passed when called on to vote so he could have more time to think. “I don’t know why the planning
board decided what they did. But I feel hard-pressed to vote against
the planning board’s decision.”

Monmouth Street is viewed as a vital link between the two portions of the RiverCenter special improvement district — the original, downtown piece and the portion of the West Side north of the train station, added in 2007.

As part of a master plan re-examination completed in February, the planning board recommended that the borough council change zoning laws to permit densities of up to 35 units per acre in the vicinity of the train station. That zone, though, would extend just one block in each direction from the rail stop.

The Siros property is outside the proposed zone. The council has not yet acted on the recommendation.

The Siros plan has been on the zoning board agenda on and off for a year. After the most recent hearing, in December, when it became clear the board was concerned about the number of units, Siros partners Anthony Busch Sr. and Jr., Patrick Nulle and property owner John Chimento decided to shave one floor off their four-story concept.

That reduced the number of units per acre to 34 — the property is little more than half an acre. But current zoning permits only four units per building above retail stores, said borough engineer Christine Ballard.

And a planning board recommendation that the figure be changed to a maximum 16 units per acre above stores would still put the Siros proposal at twice the density that policymakers envision, Moss noted.

“The elephant in the room is density,” he said.

But there was a second elephant in the room: the desire of board members to see a transformation of Monmouth between Maple and Bridge avenues get underway after a number of false starts.

“I really do want to see that corridor start being built,” said board member Karen Waldman. “It’s an eyesore.”

Karl DeAngelis, a lawyer representing the Brownstone Cleaners opposite Monmouth Street from the site, called the Siros plan “fantastic” and said it would prime the pump of investment into an area “that really cries out for that sort of development.”

Voting in favor of the plan were and Ray Mass and Waldman. Like Williams, Waldman first passed, and then hemmed and hawed over her vote.

“I’m having a hard time,” she said, deciding in the end that she wanted the project to go through.

Moss, Rosemary Minear, board chairwoman Lauren Nicosia and Williams voted to reject the plan.

Afterward, outside borough hall, Anthony Busch Sr. pointed toward the gas station property one block away as crowd streamed into the Count Basie Theatre for last night’s Johnny Mathis concert.

“Now, it’s just going to continue sitting there,” he told redbankgreen.

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