light-mass-marks-070110As Ray Mass (background) and Deborah Marks listened, zoning board member Vincent Light details his objection to granting variances for the proposed Courtyards at Monmouth housing project, below. (Click to enlarge) courtyards-at-monmouth

Less than a year after a new zone was created at Red Bank’s train station to encourage a mix of high-density housing and retail activity, the borough zoning board last night greenlighted a plan that could put even greater density, but no stores, on a vacant Monmouth Street lot.

The move, on a 5-2 vote, was driven by a desire to see something built on a lot frequently described as an eyesore and the belief that adding retail space in a town with numerous store vacancies was the wrong way to go, said board members who favored he plan.

“Yes, it’s a very dense project,” said board chair Lauren Nicosia. “But this is a property that hasn’t been developed and that Red Bank needs to be developed.”

Amboy Bank, which owns the property, had asked the board for variances to allow it to build up to 57 housing units on the site, which is bounded also by West and Oakland streets. Twelve of the units would conform to state guidelines for affordable housing, and all would be priced below $300,000, bank representatives said.

In giving their approval, several board members alluded to testimony by real estate expert Jeffrey Otteau, who said a new “economic reality” made adding retail square footage in town unwise, despite the view of town officials who last year touted a mix of retail and housing as the key to sparking vitality in the train station district.

After hearing Otteau, “I came to believe that retail would not be sustainable,” said board member Tom Williams.

Member Manny Carabel noted that the Amboy plan had the backing of Red Bank RiverCenter, which had previous made the inclusion of retail in the train station overlay zone a priority.

Board members Rosemary Minear and Vincent Light voted against the variances.

“I think this flies in the face of the recently adopted ordinance of the council for the overlay zone,” Minear said. “You’re asking for three times the density that’s allowed. That’s a lot.”

“This is the zoning board of adjustment,” said Light. “This is not the zoning board of rewriting. This application would be much stronger with retail or open space.”

The approval marks the third time in less than a decade that a housing project has been approved for the site, but Amboy still has to gain approvals forĀ  detailed site plans before it can start construction. Neighbors last night pressed for more open space, lower rooflines, shared parking with non-residents of the project and the inclusion of space for a food market.

Bank officials pledged to provide an overall mortgage to a developer of the 1.24-acre site, or to joint venture with one, to ensure the project gets built. They also pledged to make mortgages on every unit sold.