The plan enables the town to charge for parking on parts of Bridge Avenue and Monmouth Street that have long been subject to two-hour parking limits, which merchants say were not enforced. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
Over the objections of business owners and nearby residents, the Red Bank council approved a controversial plan to expand the paid parking zone in the central business district Wednesday night.
The go-ahead came on a rare tiebreaker vote by Mayor Pasquale Menna after a 3-3 deadlock among council members, one of whom, Council President Art Murphy, moved and voted in favor of the plan by phone.
Menna’s vote came after council members Murphy, Kathleen Horgan and Mike DuPont voted yes, and Cindy Burnham, Linda Schwabenbauer and Ed Zipprich voted no.
Explaining his yes vote, Menna said the plan to impose paid parking had been in the works for more than three years, and that discussions had involved business owners and Red Bank RiverCenter, the autonomous agency that promotes commerce in the central business district.
“This is not something which originated two or three months ago,” he said. Referring to two major residential developments then moving forward – the 45-unit Station Place apartments on Monmouth and the 91-unit West Side Lofts at Bridge and West Front Street – he said talks were held involving business owners “knowing that there was going to be a substantial change in the landscape of the West Side, and the train station area.”
With those two residential projects now coming on line and other developments approved, “there is going to be a parking issue developing rather quickly,” Menna said.
Moreover, he said, the advent of paid parking was “implicit” in the financing of the 2012 streetscape project, which included plans for placement of kiosks, rather than parking meters.
He called the plan the beginning of “greater” changes that would alleviate parking pressure in the district.
The council’s official authorization for the purchase of 13 kiosks, at a cost of $$135,308, did not occur until earlier this year, a decision that enraged business owners, who claimed they were unaware of the plan.
Wednesday’s vote followed impassioned pleas first from merchants opposed to the plan. 2Dye4 hair salon owner Crystal Diebold asked the council to instead press for enforcement of the existing two-hour limit in the zone.
“I have called [police] numerous times because two or three days later the same car can be parked in front of my salon,” Diebold said.
Store owner David Prown read a letter from Queen Vacuum owner Rachel Decker, voicing her “outrage” over the plan, which she said would drive away customers. “Is Red Bank that desperate… that we have to nickel and dime our customers?” she wrote.
Megan McCaffrey of Chestnut Street implored the council to also consider the impact the plan would have on residential streets, which are now so choked with cars that some homeowners get blocked into their own driveways on nights when there are shows at the nearby Count Basie Theatre. Paid parking nearby would only force more cares onto those blocks, she said.
If the plan is to go forward, “we must have assurances that there will be enforcement of the two-hour limit” on residential streets, she said.
The council had tabled the measure two weeks ago, saying at the time that officials would look into hiring an additional part-time enforcement employee. There was no mention of that option Wednesday night.