By JOHN T. WARD
Opponents of a proposed proposed 72-room hotel in Red Bank seized on a claim Monday night that the seven-story structure would offer improved, albeit “filtered” views of the Navesink River for passersby.
They also began whittling away at arguments made in favor of a dozen variances or waivers needed for the Hampton Inn to be built on the site of a disused gas station on Route 35, at the foot of Cooper’s Bridge.
The challenges highlighted what foes consider numerous shortcomings of the plan, which is beset by questions about size, traffic, parking and environmental contamination issues not to mention a pending lawsuit over whether the borough planning board ought to be considering the proposal.
In the latest of a series of hearings that began in the summer, Roy DeBoer, a planner hired by the hotel’s developer, RBank Capital LLC, testified that the proposal advances the goals of the town’s master plan, in part by converting a non-conforming use ”almost a blighted gas station” to one that’s allowed in the waterfront development zone in which it sits.
DeBoer also argued that the plan contained “a significant improvement” to existing traffic flow issues, with an exit that would allow for left-hand, northbound turns onto Route 35, and that the hotel would add a ratable one that’s subject to a borough tax on lodgings to the town’s books.
Hoping to begin unraveling those arguments, foes first latched onto the claim about river views.
Connor Walby of Middletown pressed DeBoer to explain how a hotel that rises nearly 90 feet from ground level could improve river visibility over the existing one-story shell of a gas station.
DeBoer said that the first-floor lobby of the building would be narrower than the upper stories, and that 13-foot high passages on either side would allow for clear sight lines to the river.
Stephen Mitchell of Red Bank, the plan’s most vocal opponent, did not speak, leaving his lawyer, Ron Gasiorowski, to launch what’s expected to be an extended cross-examination of DeBoer.
Gasiorowski pressed DeBoer to explain how someone standing on a sidewalk on Route 35 or Rector Place would be able to see the river behind a row of cars parked beneath a proposed 50-foot-long canopy extending nearly to the hotel’s property line.
He also noted that the plan calls for the western side of the hotel to be just 17 feet from the property line whereas the zoning ordinance calls for 25 feet, thus creating a narrower gap than necessary.
DeBoer had previously testified about the logistical challenges to designing a hotel on the one-acre, three-sided lot, which has a steep slope to the river.
Gasiorowski also grilled DeBoer on the hotel’s swimming pool, which Gasiorowski maintains should need a variance because, as a “commercial” pool, it is within the 50-foot distance from a sideyard line.
DeBoer, however, argued that the pool is not a commercial pool, but an accessory use to a commercial operation.
“In order to access the pool, you have to pay for lodging, don’t you?” Gasiorowski asked.
Questions about the unnamed party who is said to be financing Mitchell’s legal campaign, which had dominated the last hearing, went unasked Monday night.
The session ended with more questioning of the hotel’s experts expected. The next round was scheduled for December 19.