YMCA GETS OK FOR SHRUNKEN PLAN

harrisonCongregation Beth Shalom, led by Rabbi Dovid Harrison, won concessions from the Community YMCA. An architectural plan, below, shows the south face of the proposed remodeling (top) and east facade along Maple Avenue. (Click to enlarge.)

elevationsAfter months of contentious hearings that prompted a lawsuit against the Borough of Red Bank, the Community YMCA finally won approval to increase the size of its 40-year-old Maple Avenue health facility.

After a four-and-a-half hour hearing that was light on objections from the public, all seven members of the zoning board voted to approve the plan, which would increase the size of the facility by 56 percent, to 86,000 square feet.

It would also, for the first time, allow traffic to exit the facility directly onto busy Maple Avenue, which doubles as state Highway 35.

But not on the Sabbath.

mcgannYMCA attorney Marty McGann reviews plan documents while engineer Jeromie Lange testifies at Thursday night’s zoning board meeting. (Click to enlarge.)

As a result of a hasty deal struck with the neighboring Congregation Beth Shalom during a break in the hearing, the Y agreed to close the proposed Maple Avenue exit from Friday evenings to midday Saturdays, as well as on 12 days of Jewish holidays, so as not to create noise during prayer services. Instead, motorists would have to exit the property as they do now, via the Pearl Street side.

The Y also agreed to move the new two-way driveway so that it is no closer to the temple than the existing one-lane, one-way driveway.

Last February, an earlier plan to build the facility out to 96,000 square feet fell short of a supermajority vote required for the type of variance the Y sought. That led to a lawsuit filed in May. The plan presented Thursday night emerged from settlement talks with the board to address objections that included the appearance of the building and other issues.

The approved plan calls for liberal use of red brick, replacing an earlier design that one board member said made the structure look like “a spaceship.” Board member Vince Light called it “a vast improvement.”

Nearly all of the objections raised had to do with cars. Dentist Joe Buzzanco, whose Maple Avenue office is nearby, complained that the new exit would encourage, rather than discourage, on-street parking, which would “make it impossible” for his patients to get out onto the street. He also said it would make it harder for pedestrians to cross the busy roadway.

But board members rejected his logic. “I think the right-turn [exit] is one of the most important things in this plan,” said vice chairman Tom Williams. Not only would it encourage use of the Y lot, but it would alleviate traffic flow through the Pearl Street and Chestnut Street residential area, he said.

Y member Andrew Homack of Middletown, however, said one concession to the temple was a mistake. “Blocking the exit on high holy days creates a greater danger,” because it forces traffic through that neighborhood, where there are many pedestrians, Homack said. ” I think it would be a danger to the community as a whole to blockade that,” he said.

Y officials said the settlement talks resulted in an improved plan, one that shaved 9,800 square feet off what was to have been a 40,000 SF addition and eliminated plans to develop a vacant parcel to the south of the synagogue for parking and highway access.

Lisa Christian, who became the nonprofit’s executive director five months ago, after the lawsuit was filed, said the expansion would enable the Y to consolidate its “wellness” gym offerings while adding lanes to “oversubscribed” swimming pools.

“This plan really eliminates square footage that was comfortable but not really needed,” she told the board.

Afterward, Christian told redbankgreen that the approved plan would cut the estimated cost of the expansion from $16 million to $10 million, reducing the sum that would have to be raised from donors.

She said the Y had raised about $2 million so far, but no timetable for construction has been set. “We really got stymied” by the battle over the proposal, she said.

The facility will remain open throughout construction, she said.