By MOLLY MULSHINE
Red Bank’s biggest bodega yet is on its way to Shrewsbury Avenue.
The borough’s zoning board approved Juan Torres’ application to bring a 5,310-square-foot grocery store to the area after a hearing on Thursday night.
Torres owns Juanitos restaurant and Juanito’s Bakery, both on Monmouth Street, as well as El Guero grocery on Shrewsbury Avenue.
The new store will be approximately four times the size of the typical bodega in town. To move plans forward, Torres needed a variance to permit a retail food establishment exceeding 2,000 square feet, as well as a parking variance.
The zoning board’s main concern on Thursday night was parking, which objectors say is scarce. Occupied for 25 years by Red Bank Antiques, the property, at the corner of Catherine Street, would have four off-street parking spaces, one of which meets Americans with Disabilities Act standards for accessibility to the handicapped. Traffic consultant John Jahr estimated five additional cars could park in the vicinity of the bodega, and called this arrangement “much more than adequate.”
Jahr presented the findings of a parking study covering 21 hours spread over three days in mid-August. He said he analyzed how much parking would be necessary for the bodega by observing comparable establishments in town.
“I strongly feel there is probably no need for parking at this location,” Jahr said. “Probably close to 100 percent [of customers] are going to walk to the store.”
Lawyer Kevin Asadi attended the hearing as an objector on behalf of La Chapparita owner Jose Camargo, whose smaller bodega rests two lots down from where Torres’ store will be.
Asadi questioned Jahr on the possible hazards of allowing cars to back out of the Catherine Street parking lot, as drivers will not be able to turn around in the lot. Jahr compared this to tenants or homeowners backing out of driveways in the area, saying there are “no unusual maneuvers required whatsoever.”
In his closing argument, Asadi posited the new bodega will have a detrimental effect on conforming businesses in the area. Also, allowing variances will bring that area of town out of conformity rather than keep it in line with current zoning rules, he said.
Torres’ attorney, Martin McGann, argued that a grocery store up to 2,000 square feet is a permitted use in that part of town, and the only thing bringing this application out of conformity was the proposed bodega’s size. The new bodega will enhance the neighborhood and kick-start revitalization there, he said.
Zoning board members Tom Williams and Kevin Moss voted against the application. Williams said he voted no simply because the zoning rules restrict this use, while Moss said he was uncomfortable with patrons backing up into the street out of the parking lot.
Torres said he was happy to see his application pass, and hopes to have the bodega up and running in a few months.