By JOHN T. WARD
Delivered last month, the roughly 100-page report, by the civil engineering firm CME Associates, offers recommendations on how the town should leverage an asset: its 2.3-acre White Street municipal lot, according to Mayor Pasquale Menna.
But the report won’t be released to the public until after it’s been discussed behind closed doors and officially “accepted” by the borough council, Menna told redbankgreen after the first regular council meeting of the year Wednesday night.
No meeting has yet been scheduled for that discussion, which could occur in the form of a special, but closed, council meeting before the governing body’s next regular session on January 28, he said.
The reason for the secrecy? Because it involves borough property and “recommends certain steps to take, and certain options,” the disclosure of which could put the town at a bargaining disadvantage, Menna said.
“There are questions of property development and acquisition” that may give bidders an unfair advantage, added borough Attorney Dan O’Hern.
Th council authorized paying CME up to $15,000 last March to explore the various options for utilizing the site.
The issue of a White Street garage has made recurring appearances over the past dozen or so years.
• In 2001 and 2005, plans for a garage were scuttled in the face of heated public opposition. Both times, Menna, then a councilman, opposed the plans because, he said, they would saddle residents, rather than investors, with $8 million or more in debt.
• In 2007, town officials met with representatives of Trader Joe’s about the possibility the food retailer might build a store with a parking garage atop it in the White Street lot. The concept went nowhere, however, and Trader Joe’s later opened a store in Shrewsbury.
• In 2009, Menna reported that the borough was “darn close” to solving the vexing issue of how to make a new garage self-sustaining, so that the costs of a potential failure don’t get put on the backs of taxpayers.
• In November, 2011, Menna announced plans to appoint up to three professionals with expertise in redevelopment – a lawyer, a planner and an architect – to give town officials guidance on the ins and outs of getting a parking deck built. The appointments never happened.
Last March and again Wednesday night, Menna said that the town has changed since the 1950s and 1960s, when surface parking was sufficient.
“You have an intelligent council that is sensitive to the changes that have taken place in Red Bank,” where many merchants have been clamoring for a centralized, multistory parking facility, he said.