A photo montage, above, showing the West Front Street elevation of the proposed building. Below, a rendering of a deck atop the garage, also visible at right in the image above. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
The quest for approval of a proposed 35-unit apartment building in downtown Red Bank was slowed Thursday night by another document already in the developer’s pocket: an eight-year-old plan for 27 condos at the same site.
Members of the zoning board and neighbors of the proposed 55 West Front Street project, located opposite Riverside Gardens Park, were frequently flummoxed by how variances the developer is now seeking differed from those obtained in 2007.
“I wasn’t here when the original plan was approved, and I don’t know who on this board was,” a clearly frustrated board member Sean Murphy told the applicant’s lawyer, Peter Falvo.
Murphy’s comment came after Joseph Hanrahan, a planner for 55 West Front LLC recited a litany of requests for setback variances for the irregularly shaped, three-quarter-acre vacant lot, which fronts on West Front and White Street. A nursing home on the site was torn down in 2009.
Murphy asked for, and was promised, a detailed comparison showing what borough ordinances require, what was allowed under the 2007 approval, and what the applicant is now seeking.
The limited liability company, owned by Joseph Shabot, Ralph Braha and Steven Zakaria, wants to build a four-story structure with 35 rental units above a covered, at-grade parking garage for 47 cars.
The garage, topped by a sundeck for use by tenants, would be accessed by right-turn-in only and right-turn-out only on West Front Street, according to a request by the Monmouth County Planning Board, which has jurisdiction over that street, said Hanrahan. The property would also have a vehicle access on White Street, alongside the former Liberty Hose firehouse.
Richard Pepsny, an attorney for the vacant firehouse’s new owner, Michael Morgan, objected to setbacks alongside his client’s property, where plans are in the works for two apartments on the second floor. No decision has been made about the use of the first floor, Pepsny said.
The 55 West Front plan requires variances for density, building height and minimum unit size. Some of the one-bedroom units would be less than the borough minimum 900 square feet.
The 2007 plan called for a five-story building with 27 condos, with most of its parking underground. But Falvo said the downturn in the real estate market shortly after the approval made it impossible to obtain construction financing.
Falvo called the new proposal “slightly different” from the approved one, but board and audience members weren’t so sure, citing conflicting and missing information.
Murphy said he wanted to compare apples to apples, “and so far, I’m only seeing one apple.”
Board members also sought more clarity on whether and how the developers have and would meet an affordable-housing obligation. The 2007 approval required four onsite units that meet the criteria for affordability. The current proposal calls for the LLC to acquire and rehabilitate a four-or-five unit structure elsewhere in town, Falvo said.
If the overall plan is rejected, Falvo said his client plans to go ahead with the 2007 plan, “with the help of god and whatever bank is going to lend us the money.”
But Murphy wanted to know what the developers planned to do in that case regarding affordable housing: build the units onsite, or elsewhere? And if elsewhere, wouldn’t that violate the conditions of the original approval?
Board attorney Kevin Kennedy said he would arrange meeting of himself, Falvo, the borough’s affordable housing coordinator and the borough attorney to try to answer those and related questions.
Architect Lance Blake said that while the 2007 project, which he did not design, had almost no setback from the sidewalk on West Front, the new one would be set back 21 feet. The exterior would feature two tones of brick enhanced by cornices and corbels.
“We tried to make a nice transition from the structures across the street,” Blake said, referring to the Victorian-style multiunit Bluffs and Corinthian Cove communities next door to the park.
The hearing on the proposal is scheduled to resume May 7. Hanrahan said there would be testimony by a traffic engineer on how the project “and Red Bank itself” would meet the parking requirements.