By JOHN T. WARD
In a decision widely seen as replacing a busted cylinder in downtown Red Bank’s economic engine, the borough planning board approved a handful of variances for Char Steakhouse Monday night.
The restaurant, which plans to occupy the space long held by Ashes Cigar Bar at the corner of Broad and Mechanic streets, encountered only light resistance over questions of whether changes to a two-story extension of the original 19th-century building complied with historic district guidelines.
Mayor Pasquale Menna brushed aside such concerns, likening a pair of two-story, rectangular windows on the 1960s addition to I.M. Pei’s once-controversial installation of a glass pyramid to bring light into the depths of Paris’ Louvre museum.
“I see your attempt to infuse rays of light” into a dark space where his mother once worked as a seamstress, Menna said. “That is a very creative use and recycling of a property.”
Most of the board’s brief discussion of the plan was taken up by talk about aesthetics after town Engineer Christine Ballard said that historic district guidelines about colors and facade treatments applied.
Menna was instantly dismissive of the concern about colors.
“Who are we to tell people what kind of color they should have, whether it’s historic or not?” he asked, to some applause from the audience.
“The proposal does dramatically alter the historic look of that corner,” said board member and Councilman Ed Zipprich., who said later that his eye “does get stuck on these long glass windows.”
Menna and board member (and borough Administrator) Stanley Sickels, though, said they agreed with architect Scott Prisco, who argued that the simplicity of the design given to the proposed facade of the two-story part of the building enhances, rather than detracts from, the historic character of the original three-story structure, which is about 140 years old.
“The proposed treatment accentuates the historic building,” said Sickels.
Board vice chariman Dan Mancuso hinted at the fungibility of historic considerations in the face of economic ones.
“If Apple wanted to open a store downtown, tear out a building and make it all glass, we’d all be on our way home right now,” he said.
In its unanimous approval, the board granted a parking variance, allowed the use of an undulating “Tuscan orange” awning and cleared use of the top floor for residential use.
Jeff Cahill of Cahill Studio in Tinton Falls did the non-architectural design elements.
Char owner Matteo Ingrao told redbankgreen afterward that he has already applied for necessary building permits, and expects construction to take five months.
“It’s quite a large project,” he said.[A full set of Cahill Studio’s renderings of the design changes for the building may be viewed in an album at redbankgreen‘s Facebook page. Registration required.]