hampton-inn-siteThe zoning board’s decision exempts the former filling station site from an ordinance that appeared to limit its use to residences. Planner Roy DeBoer, below, testified for the developer. (Click to enlarge)

deboer-051911A plan for a six-story, 76-room Hampton Inn hotel on the Red Bank anchorage of the Cooper Bridge advanced Thursday night.

Asked solely for an interpretation of a 2009 land use law that allowed only single-family housing along once-stately Rector Place, the borough zoning board unanimously ruled that the ordinance was not intended to apply to the proposed hotel site, long home to a gas station, and had been mistakenly included by the town council.

The plan, however, still faces substantial procedural hurdles, including requests for height and density variances, as well as a glaring question: should a site that the state Department of Environmental Protection says is too contaminated for housing, schools and hospitals have a hotel on it?The question of zoning turned out to be a mere speed bump for property owner Rbank Capital LLC, which bought the former ExxonMobil station site from the bankruptcy of convicted swindler Solomon Dwek for $842,000 in 2008.

Rbank, led by principal Larry Cohen, sought the interpretation in light of the fact that a separate ordinance included the property in a Waterfront Development overlay zone, which permits hotels, motels and other commercial uses.

The Navesink riverfront property is also contaminated from decades of use as a filling station, said borough Engineer Christine Ballard.

Rbank planner Ro DeBoer identified a number of reasons to believe that the mayor and council did not intend, and could not have intended, to include the property in the 2009 ordinance change.

“As a planning matter, the 2009 restriction doesn’t make any sense,” DeBoer said, noting that, “environmental issues aside,” highway traffic noise and difficulty getting onto and off the site from busy Route 35 made its use for homes impractical.

Rbank attorney Marty McGann also noted comments made at the February 14 council meeting, at which Mayor Pasquale Menna, reflecting on the 2009 law, said: “I don’t think anyone envisioned that that property should have been included. That property isn’t really on Rector.”

The one-acre parcel has 44 feet of frontage on Rector Place and 384 feet on Route 35 South, DeBoer said.

“I believe it was an oversight by the council to include this property,” said board member Tom Williams, whose comments were echoed by other board members.

But McGann also introduced a document that may prove problematic for his client: a deed restriction entered into by ExxonMobil and the DEP in 2008 that prohibits for 50 years numerous uses, including homes, schools, nursing homes, and hospitals. In a pact with the DEP, ExxonMobil also agreed to remain responsible for well-monitoring of the site, no matter what might get built there and even though it no longer owns it, according to McGann.

But “If they don’t allow schools and hospitals, why will they allow hotels?” asked board member Ed Poplowski. McGann, though, said that question would be addressed at a future hearing.

Borough resident Stephen Mitchell, who has been rallying opposition to the hotel plan, said in an email Friday morning that he agreed with the board’s decision. Noting the deed restriction, however, he added: “This begs the obvious question – if the site is restricted from having residences and hospital beds, then why are hotels allowed?”

Rbank is next expected to seek height and bulk variances, which, if approved, would be followed by a request for site plan approval. No date for the next hearing was set.

Here’s the ordinance: 2009-35