ZONING CHANGE FOR YMCA ADVANCES

ymca-facadeThe Community YMCA could get another shot at expansion if the borough council approves a proposed zone amendment. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

The official opinion is in, and now it will be in the hands of the Red Bank Planning Board to determine whether a stretch of Maple Avenue should permit recreational facilities that already has one: the Community YMCA.

Borough Planner Richard Cramer writes in a report that the borough council’s recent introduction of an ordinance amending the borough’s zoning law to allow recreational facilities such as the Y to operate on Maple Avenue fits in with the borough’s Master Plan, said Mayor Pasquale Menna.

Currently, the YMCA is nonconforming and operates as a variance in Maple Avenue’s professional office zone. The nonprofit’s pushed for the zoning amendment after a losing bid to expand the facility last month.

“It is consistent with the master plan,” Menna said. “It makes sense to not discriminate against the Y.”

After failing to gain a supermajority vote from the zoning board in early February, YMCA representatives urged the council to consider changing the ordinance to allow the Y as a permitted use.

They argued that not even a mile away on the same street the Atlantic Club is permitted, yet the YMCA must seek variances to operate. A change to the ordinance, as proposed, would likely pave the way for representatives to return to the borough with its expansion plan, or a different version of it.

Now that Cramer’s opinion is in, Menna said it’s up to the planning board to review it and decide whether the ordinance change is, in fact, consistent with Red Bank’s master plan. If so, then the council would likely take action on the ordinance at its meeting at the end of this month, Menna said.

When the council introduced the ordinance, it was met with some controversy among the public and even an appointed board member in town.

Rosemary Minear, who sits on the zoning board and voted against the Y expansion, asked the council why it didn’t change the ordinance a long time ago rather than now, so quickly after the expansion was shot down.

“Why now do you feel it’s so necessary?” she asked at the meeting.

Menna on Wednesday said the reason was simple: When the borough was re-examining its master plan, the YMCA was in the process of hearings with the planning and zoning boards. Tinkering with the master plan regarding that property would have interfered with the jurisdiction of those boards, he said, and could have resulted in legal action.

Now, he says, is the appropriate time to let the planning board decide if a change to the ordinance is in order. And it’s only fair to have the governing bodies in town look at issues that affect the public, he added.

“By and large, a lot of people are saying, ‘let’s take a look at this in a very objective way,'” Menna said. “Let’s either approve it or disapprove it.”

Another issue raised at last week’s meeting came from Steve Fitzpatrick, a well-known borough hall watchdog. Fitzpatrick charged that there’s a conflict of interest involving several public officials over the sale of 51 Monmouth St. to the YMCA’s Children’s Cultural Center a decade ago.

Of the group he pointed fingers at — Councilmen Art Murphy and Mike DuPont, Menna, as well as borough attorney Ken Pringle — only DuPont conceded a potential conflict and recused himself  because he has been a Y member for 25 years and admitted an “affinity” for the facility and organization. Though his firm had previously been removed from dealing with matters involving 51 Monmouth, Pringle determined that there were no other conflicts, and Menna said Wednesday, as he did at the meeting, that he is satisfied with Pringle’s professional opinion.

The planning board’s next scheduled meeting is March 15. The council’s final meeting of the month is a week later, on March 22.