A CHANGE OF ADDRESS FOR PLANNED HOTEL?

Hampton Inn attorney Marty McGann cross-examines opposition witness Gordon Gemma, center, as lawyer Ron Gasiorowski looks on Thursday night. (Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

The developers of proposed 72-room Hampton Inn in Red Bank insist the property on which the hotel would be built is not on Rector Place.

Problem: they previously agreed that it was.

Easily the most multifaceted and complex case to confrontĀ  borough land use officials in years, the hotel, which would be built on the site of a closed Exxon station at the foot of the Cooper Bridge, has spawned three lawsuits and long-running, simultaneous sets of hearings at the planning and zoning boards.

At issue at the zoning board is a challenge by borough resident Stephen Mitchell, backed by a competing hotel group, who has asked that the board determine whether the main case was mistakenly sent by officials to the planning board. By his reckoning, the proposed six-story hotel violates the height limits of the waterfront development zone, and thus needs variances from the zoning board.

Mitchell’s challenge has led to three sessions resembling a trial, with lawyers for the opposing sides frequently clashing over rules of evidence and the relevance of questions in cross-examination.

On Thursday night, the thing got even more bizarre, as a witness for the hotel testified its property is not in any way on Rector Place.

Though borough tax records, the post office and a flurry of legislative activity over the property in 2009 all identify the site as 80 Rector Place, an engineer for developer Rbank Capital LLC insisted Thursday night that not only does the site “front” on Route 35, but that it has no frontage whatsoever on Rector Place.

His proof: agreements between the borough and the state Department of Transportation, as well as a finely detailed roadway jurisdiction map. All, he said, show that a 40-foot stretch of the property long identified as being on Rector actually fronts on Route 35.

Exiting the property from that area would put a pedestrian smack on state property, not Rector Place, which is a Monmouth County road, says hotel lawyer Marty McGann.

The issue is key, McGann said, inĀ  determining how to apply a measurement formula in a zoning ordinance to gauge whether the proposed hotel is too tall.

To prevail, though, McGann will have to overcome a wealth of contradictory evidence, including borough tax and other designations.

He’ll also have to reverse the stance taken by of his own client three years ago.

That’s when Rbank Capital sought, and obtained, a decision from the borough council that, despite its street address, the property had previously been included by mistake on a list of residential properties along Rector Place in an ordinance that aimed to preserve old homes. At no time, however, did Rbank representatives claim that the property had no Rector Street frontage.

McGann said the existence of the documents cited Thursday night was unknown at the time.

But Mitchell’s lawyer, Ron Gasiorowski, made clear he regards the frontage issue as a red herring. The ordinance, he maintains, makes no reference to frontage in its formula for determining where to measure a building’s height. Instead, he said, it requires a line be drawn between the river and “the nearest parallel roadway,” which he says is Rector Place.

And just as McGann maintains that the post office designation “is based on public convenience” and has nothing to do with zoning, Gasiorowski claims the highway jurisdiction agreements have nothing to do with zoning, either.

The hearing was tentatively scheduled to resume May 17.