By JOHN T. WARD
Cindy Burnham, the lone Republican on the Red Bank council who often lambastes the Democratic majority for what she contends are back-room development deals, went before the zoning board Thursday night seeking an OK for a new garage and back porch for her home at 71 Wallace Street.
She came loaded for bear.
Burnham arrived backed by an architect, a planner and an attorney – Ron Gasiorowski, who’s been something of an administration nemesis for his legal challenges over a controversial proposal for a Hampton Inn hotel.
A trio of costly professionals is typical of large-scale developers appearing before either the zoning or planning board, but individual homeowners often represent themselves, with success, or come accompanied by either a lawyer or architect. Planners are a rarity in such cases.
Facing a zoning board whose every member had been appointed by a Democratic mayor, Burnham also came packing an array of visual displays, including poster-sized aerial views, not often seen in cases of individual homeowners.
And yet, from the opening moments, cordiality reigned.
Board Attorney Kevin Kennedy began the hearing by addressing “some potential conflicts,” including the fact that as a member of the governing body for the past year, Burnham had a vote on board appointees, and advised the board that “we must treat her as we would any other applicant.”
Then there was board member Sharon Lee, the former council member who Burnham unseated in the 2013 election.
“My relationship with Cindy is a little different,” Lee said, “but if she doesn’t have a problem with me hearing this case, I don’t.”
Burnham replied, enthusiastically, “no problem.”
Then came the business of determining, for the purpose of establishing what variances might be needed, whether Burnham’s house was a “pre-existing, non-conforming three-family,” as she contended. Borough records had gone missing, she told the board, but she had her own, including an inspection report from 1988, a year after she bought the house, that showed it had been a three-family then. She said she had continually operated it as such since then, and had the tax records to prove it.
The board, after some light pressing of the issue, accepted that the house is a three-family.
No neighbors came out to object to the plans to knock down what all agreed is a “dilapidated” single-car garage and replace it with a two-bay structure that complies with property-line setbacks.
Most of the discussion concerned the height of the garage roof, which will peak at 16 feet without exceeding the zone limits. Board members, including Ed Poplowski, who also sits on the borough Historic Preservation Commission, said they were pleased that the structure would have a roof slope and exterior finish matching the home, which is in a historic district and Burnham has restored.
When someone suggested that the garage might be clad in vinyl siding, Burnham protested, from the audience, “No vinyl! I don’t do vinyl!”
Sean Murphy, brother of council President Art Murphy, who often spars with Burnham at council meetings, made the motion to approve the project.
The vote to approve was unanimous.