doris-crissonAtrium resident Doris Crisson, 88, speaks in favor of the valet-parking plan at last night’s hearing. (Click to enlarge)

For the second time in four years, one of Red Bank’s more prominent blights — a triangular, asphalted lot at the fork of West Front Street and Riverside Avenue — has won a makeover.

The first, in 2005, called for an office building to be erected on the site. That never happened. Last night, the borough zoning board greenlighted a new plan to turn the one-acre property into a spruced-up valet-only parking lot to service the Atrium at Navesink Harbor , a luxury senior-citizens’ high-rise and an addition on the opposite side of Riverside Avenue.

The unanimous approval, after a three-hour hearing, was granted over the objections of Sean Byrnes, an attorney for the condo association at the neighboring Riverside Towers high rise. He argued that the Atrium’s owner, PHS Senior Living of Princeton, had underestimated the demand for parking from the site, which he said would add to rush-hour traffic that already rates a failing grade.

“It sounds like a great place to live, but I think they’re bringing their cars,” Byrnes said of the residents. “That lot is going to be a busy place.”

atrium-lotThe former car dealer’s lot, foreground, will serve the Atrium high rise, at left in background, and a planned addition immediately to its right.

But in other quarters, the approval raised hopes that one of the uglier properties in the business district would be prettified with a new sidewalks and a scrim of landscaping while also freeing up much-coveted parking elsewhere in the area.

After construction of the 98-car lot, PHS officials said they would terminate leases on some four dozen parking spots scattered throughout the neighborhood, enabling their owners to make those spaces available to other users. That would still result in a net gain of 56 spots available to Atrium residents and employees. PHS officials insist they have a surplus of parking spots even after accounting for the full 12-story addition.

The valet plan will have “a profoundly positive impact,” said downtown property owner Jay Herman, speaking for himself and as a representative of the downtown promotion entity, Red Bank RiverCenter.

“Our town is probably short 1,000 spaces,” he told the board. “We can quibble about the number. But how lucky are we to have a private property owner to create 100 of those spaces, at no cost to the town?”

Much of the two nights of hearings on the plan focused on the routes that valet drivers would use to bring cars back to their owners from the lot, which was designed to allow right-turn-only entrances and exits to and from Riverside,  and the same on West Front.

In an effort to avoid adding any traffic to Allen place, a residential street, the board insisted that the valets stick to two specific routes, or be fired from their jobs if they don’t.

One, for cars exiting from Riverside, would have them loop around the City Centre strip mall, bound by West Front, Water Street and Maple Avenue. Those exiting from West Front would have to travel to Bridge Avenue, and then north to Riverside Avenue, which is also Route 35, just below the Coopers Bridge, for the return leg to the Atrium.

Those routes, and a deed restriction prohibiting the lot from being used for anything other than Atrium parking, are expected to be woven into final approval for the plan. So, too, would a board insistence the crowd-drawing special events at the Atrium get approval from the borough special events committee.

On a related topic, PHS officials said they had asked the board to delay hearings, scheduled to begin in November, on a plan to add six more floors to an approved but not built six-story addition to the Atrium, to be sited immediately next door to Riverview Towers.

PHS chief operating officer Chuck Mooney told redbankgreen that the non-profit builder of senior housing would look into the feasibility of redesigning the proposed addition to accommodate the concerns of Riverview Towers residents, who had complained the current proposal would cut off views from their homes.

A hearing on the plan is tentatively scheduled for February.