Public comment on a proposed settlement of a long-simmering dispute over the former Red Bank police station was temporarily halted Wednesday night after a resident questioned whether the issue had been properly advertised.
But not before borough officials outlined the terms of the deal with the Community YMCA that will cost borough taxpayers $125,000 over five years and not before residents began castigating it as a no-win deal for the town.
“We are not getting anything in return,” Hudson Avenue resident Steve Fitzpatrick told the mayor and council. “We’ve given money away and we’re going to give more money away. We have nothing to show for it at all.”
“It just seems weird that we’re going to be paying money to get rid of this,” said Ben Forest, of Locust Avenue. “I mean, how did this happen?”
Borough officials, however, countered that rather than getting nothing from the deal, the town was getting a 99-year lease on the attached Relief Engine Company firehouse, related parking spaces and Veterans’ Memorial. The $125,000, they said, is to reimburse the Y for renovations made to the firehouse nearly a decade ago, soon after a predecessor nonprofit, Kidsbridge, acquired the entire property from the borough for $1.
In court papers, the Y had maintained that the borough’s contractually agreed-to share of the renovation costs was nearly $600,000, said John Bonello, a Long Branch lawyer hired by the town to handle the case.
“There was a chance we could have lost” at trial, he said. “This compromise took that into consideration.”
Under the terms of the settlement, the Y may sell the property to its neighbor, St. James RC Church/Red Bank Catholic High School, but with a title restriction that prohibits it from ever being sold to a for-profit or commercial enterprise. The exterior of the historic structure also can’t be altered “without prior approval of the Borough of Red Bank,” according to a proposed resolution that would have memorialized the deal but was tabled.
The settlement, if approved, would put to rest one of two issues over which the Y and the borough have locked horns in recent months: whether the agency can legally sell the 118-year-old Italianate building. At the heart of the matter was a question of whether the provisions of a so-called “reverter clause” that was dropped during sale negotiations in 1999 were still in effect, giving Red Bank the power right to block a sale by the Y, which put the building on the market for $2.55 million in February 2008. Bonello contended the missing clause was superceded by state statute, which he said protected the borough’s right to reclaim the building should the Y try to sell it to a for-profit entity.
The other suit, filed by the Y after a zoning and other officials shot down a planned expansion of the institution’s Maple Avenue health facility earlier this year, moved toward resolution last week, when a scaled-back version of the expansion won zoning board approval.
The 51 Monmouth settlement appeared headed toward a vote until Fitzpatrick, raising a host of objections, argued that last night’s meeting was taking place just five days after a public notice of the session ran in the Asbury Park Press. State statute requires two week’s advance notice, he said.
After a 35-minute closed-door discussion among council members, Mayor Pasquale Menna announced that the governing body, while disagreeing with Fitzpatrick’s reading of the law, would err on the side of caution and table the matter until two-week notice could be given. The settlement will probably come up at the council’s first regular meeting in January, said Administrator Stanley Sickles.
Fitzpatrick, though, had already launched a critique of the pact, even though its terms are publicly available only in outline in the form of a resolution. He argued that the borough was “relinquishing” an asset without compensation.
“We already relinquished it 10 years ago,” Bonello replied, adding that, had the borough tried to take back the building, courts would have surely required the town to pay the Y some or all of the more than $2.7 million it had invested into the decaying structure.
“All we’re paying for is what went into the firehouse,” Sickles added. “We’re protecting a public purpose for 99 years. So where’s the problem?”
Lisa Christian, the Y’s new executive director, declined to say how much the Y expected to get for the property. Because of the pending litigation with the borough, “we haven’t signed everything yet,” she told redbankgreen, though the Y is expecting to partner with St. James “so we can keep the community going in and out of that building.”
After the meeting, borough officials declined to make copies of the proposed settlement available to reporters. They said the document would be available at borough hall after the ad for the next meeting on the settlement runs. Here’s the resolution: 10-257draftresolution