MORE YMCA DISCUSSION? Y NOT?

poku-councilWilliam Poku of Bank Street addresses the council. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

What would a municipal meeting in Red Bank be these days without at least a little talk about the Community YMCA?

Shorter, for one.

The borough council, despite tabling a YMCA-related item on its agenda to a later date, gave attendees a chance to opine on the matter Monday night.

council-meeting Residents both in favor and opposed to a YMCA expansion showed up to Monday’s Borough Council meeting. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi)

Locals obliged with more than an hour of questions, suggestions and comments relating to the council’s recent push for a zoning change that would lay out an easier path for the Y to return with an expansion plan.

The facility’s plan to double the Maple Avenue facility failed to gain the supermajority vote needed for approval at the zoning board in February, and the planning board followed last week by shooting down a request for a re-wording of the zoning law to all the expansion to proceed.

Still, the council had planned on holding its first reading of an ordinance amending regulations controlling professional office zone district in which the YMCA is situated as a conditional use. Because of the planning board’s decision that the Y plan does not conform to the goals of the town’s master plan, a council supermajority will be required for passage, lawyers say.

The ordinance, if passed, would make the YMCA a permitted use, thereby clearing the way for the re-introduction of its expansion plan without having to deal with the hassles of obtaining a use variance.

However, the reading was tabled because the council still has not received a formal opinion from the planning board.

The council allowed the public to comment on the ordinance, though. And like all things Y-related lately, the issue drew comments from people touting the benefits of an expansion and others voicing concerns about it.

On the pro side was Sam Rennard, who says he uses the Y every day and feels that making the facility bigger will equate to more business while benefiting the locals.

“The YMCA brings people into Red Bank. With the expansion it’s going to be more of a destination. We want that,” said Rennard, a father of four. “I implore you, please, to look into the expansion. It makes sense.”

To others, it doesn’t.

Kevin Donohue, who is also a Y member, said he’s in favor of working out some sort of plan with the nonprofit, but not a large expansion. He said he’s concerned with how much traffic will be added to Maple Avenue, one of the main arteries through town.

“It’s already a dangerous road. It always has been,” Donohue said to the council. “It’s not really a piddling issue, and I think the solution probably lies in negotiation.”

Others came with specific interests in mind.

Roberta Kaufman, who sits on the building committee of neighbor Congregation Beth Shalom, urged the council to maintain a provision in the ordinance that prohibits recreation facilities from being within 200 feet of an existing school or church.

The proposed ordinance does away with that language and replaces it with requirement of a minimum two-acre lot size for a a recreation facility to get that close. Kaufman said the congregation and YMCA have had a long-lasting relationship for decades because of that specific provision. Removal of it, she said, will have “removed our seat at the table.”

“We have no objection to the Y expanding, per se,” she said. “What we do object to is the removal of protections that has have served the congregation so well.”

Zoning board member Rosemary Minear, who voted against the Y expansion in February, told the council she feels its making the ordinance change specifically for the YMCA and is practicing what she called “spot zoning” by doing so.

“In my opinion this is an obvious attempt to undermine the position of the zoning board,” she said.

Councilman Art Murphy said that even if the ordinance does pass, the YMCA would still be required to go through all the necessary steps to gain final approval for expansion — minus the variance approvals, of course.

“It’s not carte blanche that they go ahead with the expansion,” he said.

Mayor Pasquale Menna said he anticipated the planning board will render its formal opinion before the council’s next meeting April 12, in which case the first reading will take place — as will more public comment.