BANK EYES FORMER HOVNANIAN HQ

old-k-hov-hqIt’s been a few years since anybody’s operated in there, but a bank hopes to make the old Hovnanian home base its new digs. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

For the first time in four years, the former headquarters of home builder Hovnanian Enterprises has a serious candidate to take up residence in the Middletown building overlooking the Navesink River.

Neighbors don’t want it.

Valley National Bank, which is listed as the owner of the 27,000 square-foot, four-story building, has submitted plans to build a drive-through at the Route 35 location and use the other three levels for already-zoned office use.

The Wayne-based bank chain, with branches nearby in Red Bank and Middletown, is in the midst of zoning board hearings as it seeks a variance to use the property for bank purposes, said Jason Greenspan, Middletown’s planner.

valley-bank-sketchA sketch of the proposed drive-through at the former home of K Hovnanian Builders. (Photo by Dustin Racioppi)

The board still has at least one or two more hearings and testimony from experts on how traffic will be affected and the feasibility of fitting a drive-through at that location, which doesn’t appear to have much space to spare.

“That’s what they’re trying to figure out,” Greenspan said, when asked whether a drive-through would fit.

The drive-through is proposed for the east side of the property, where there’s currently little extra room, but Greenspan said developers intend to restructure the base of the building to accommodate the two-lane proposal.

A report submitted on Valley National’s behalf claims that traffic would have a “minimal impact” on the nearby residential neighborhood.

Michael Marchese and about 20 other homeowners disagree.

Together they’ve formed a group, the Lake Shore Lincoln Crescent Neighborhood Committee, named for the streets next to the building, and hired an attorney, to refute the bank’s arguments that neighbors won’t be adversely impacted by increased traffic.

Egress at the property has always been a bit of a hassle, according to planning records.

Because of the building’s proximity to the barrier-divided Route 35 and Cooper’s Bridge, only a right turn, heading toward Red Bank, is allowed out of the lot’s eastern entrance/exit. Traffic heading north must exit onto Lakeshore Drive, and to avoid long waits to make a turn, drivers also use other residential roads, Marchese said.

“It’s going to raise a lot of safety issues with the traffic,” he said.

Reports show that Hovnanian — which moved its HQ to the Red Bank side of the river in 2006 — had between 200 and 250 employees at the location, all of whom were required to exit the same way. But with the bank operating all day and into the evening, Marchese argues that the traffic will be an ongoing problem.

Marchese tells redbankgreen there are a lot of children in the area and no sidewalks, so his group doesn’t want to see a bank, a fast food place or anything that increases traffic in or is going to compromise the neighborhood’s quality of life.

“It’s a recipe for a lot of accidents,” he said. “There’s no need to have a bank and it’s ill-conceived to have a bank with a drive-through that’s exiting next to a neighborhood like this. Hopefully the zoning board will realize that.”

The next scheduled zoning board meeting is April 26.