By DUSTIN RACIOPPI
Going into Wednesday night’s Red Bank Planning Board meeting, it appeared that a few questions might finally be answered concerning the gas station-turned-private-parking lot across the street from borough hall, the biggest being: when might an approved store and apartment project be built there?
Not anytime soon, was the answer.
At issue though, was the matter of whether to allow the property owner, Stavola Leasing, to operate a parking lot on the site in the interim. And the matter turned into a subject of a heated exchange between board members and Stavola representatives.
In 2006, Stavola won board approval for the development of a four-story, mixed-use retail and project with 30 apartments and underground and surface-level parking on the site, the former home of Tubby’s Shell Station.
As it did with so many other projects, the economic downturn put a crimp in those plans, and in recent months, Stavola instead has been making use of the site as a parking lot for Red Bank Catholic students and faculty while the school constructs a new student center.
Until the economy comes out of its funk, a parking lot it’ll stay. Stavola doesn’t foresee getting its intended project off the ground for at least another two years, and possibly four, said President Gary Vialonga.
In the meantime, the company wants to continue operating a private parking lot likely keeping its agreement with RBC during the day and working out an agreement, possibly with the Count Basie Theater, at night, he said.
But the existing parking lot was created before approvals were granted, and borough requirements for obtaining those approvals clearly chafed Stavola officials last night.
One issue is landscaping. Board members said they weren’t satisfied with how the lot’s been kept, and want to see it spruced up until the apartment project can start. Stavola agreed to place small bushes at the corners and along the Maple Avenue side of the lot, but board members said it wasn’t enough.
“It is really ugly,” said Lou DiMento. “I’m not going to vote for this as it is now.”
And don’t even get board vice chairman Daniel Mancuso started on a pair of clothing donation bins, which have been at the lot for about two months, according to Stavola attorney Marty McGann.
“You’ve got this lot chained and filled. How can people even get to the containers?” he said. “Those containers are a bad idea overall and they look ugly. In fact, we’re going to pass an ordinance banning the containers.”
Mancuso said since the parking lot is temporary, the board would ease up on its normal requirements, like having 10-foot wide landscaping as a buffer to abutting properties, but not to the extent Stavola wants.
“We’re flexible, but not to zero,” he said of the landscape requirement.
Stavola maintains that after it razed the filling station, it wasn’t required to pave the lot and make it look as nice as it does now with the plant life, which it did it at the request of the borough. Vialonga said the board’s demands for further improvements were unfair for a temporary use. He threatened to pull the application and let the property go unused and without any further improvements.
“The bottom line is that we came in and cleaned up a property at the request of numerous officials in town. At this point we are simply trying to help the town and help ourselves,” Vialonga said just before he threatened to “withdraw the application and leave [the site] as-is.”
Rather than let the conversation degenerate, both sides agreed to carry the discussion to the board’s next meeting on February 17.