YMCA EXPANSION PLAN FAILS

cymca-plansSketches  for the proposed Community YMCA expansion, which the zoning board rejected Thursday night. (Click to enlarge. Photo by Dustin Racioppi)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

Though it got more votes in favor than against, a proposal to nearly double the size of the Community YMCA facility on Maple Avenue in Red Bank isn’t going to happen anytime soon.

After months of back-and-forth over design plans and the Y’s acceding to some concerns of the borough zoning board — to the degree that every board member praised its efforts  — the plan failed to win the votes it needed to move forward.

The board voted 4-3 in favor of the plan, but because a use variance was at issue, the YMCA needed a supermajority of five or more votes, said board attorney Marc Leckstein.

Board chairwoman Lauren Nicosia had recused herself over a conflict of interest and Chris Ferrigine was absent.

cymca-hearing

A crowd sat through three hours of discussion and testimony that focused on tree preservation, solar panels and parking. (Click to enlarge)

Hearings on the proposal went on  for months, with the Y’s architects starting over nearly from scratch after board members complained the initial building concept looked too “futuristic,” with large glass windows. It didn’t fit in with Maple Avenue’s existing homes and businesses, they said.

The redesign also moved an entire section of the building to accommodate the request of the Shade Tree Commission to save a few trees and created more parking, including handicapped and “courtesy” spaces.

The YMCA had commissioned traffic and parking studies, and their plans brought forward Thursday conformed to all the recommendations of those experts, said lawyer Marty McGann, who represents the YMCA. Every potetntial condition of approval voiced by board members was greeted with the same answer by McGann: “We will do that. We are not adverse to that.”

The plan appeared to have solid support from an audience that sat through more than three hours of testimony and comments.

Samuel Rennard, three of whose four daughters learned to swim at the Y, got rousing applause when he said to the board, “I don’t care if you knock down every single tree. I don’t care if you take away all the parking spaces,” he said. “It doesn’t matter. We need to take an ounce of common sense and think about this. It helps the community.”

Still, there were those who said the expansion was bad for Red Bank, and more specifically, bad for Maple Avenue.

Joe Buzzanco, a dentist whose office is near the Y, said he’s a member and supporter, but opposed the expansion, mostly for traffic reasons.

“Maple Avenue is a catastrophe,” he said. “It’s the main corridor into Red Bank. This is surely going to make it significantly worse.”

In the end, though, it still came down to what the building looked like relative to its neighbors.

Vice Chairman Tom Williams and first alternate Rosemary Minear  voted against the plan. Williams said the building design was a “stumbling block” for him. A borough ordinance saying that a business or home must essentially blend in, or not interrupt, the existing area, haunted him, he said.

“This is something I kept referring to during the application and for me, it was never addressed,” he said. “I came here tonight with an open mind and now comes time to make the decision. While we’re all going to have to live with it, and I am still stuck on this, I’m not against an expansion, but it’s an inappropriate expansion.”

After the decision, McGann was the closest thing to a loss for words as a lawyer can be. He pondered, walked around a bit, and as reporters circled him awaiting some comment, said, “I don’t know how to characterize it yet. I’m disappointed. I thought the applicant addressed every concern that the board had.”

Williams said the proposal can come back in two ways. The YMCA can appeal the decision, citing capricious action from the board, to state Superior Court in Freehold, which could force the board to re-hear the matter. Or the YMCA can bring in a new plan, completely different plan.