By JOHN T. WARD
With a wary eye on increasing competition in the cancer treatment area, Red Bank’s Riverview Medical Center won approval for an expansion of its sprawling East Front Street facilities Monday night.
And as is often the case in town, a sticking point was parking.
The borough planning board gave unanimous OK to a plan to expand the hospital’s Booker Pavilion by 3,700 square feet, toward East Front. The new structure is to serve as the lobby to a wing that offers radiation and infusion treatment of cancers, as well as physical therapy, psychological counseling and other services related to cancer care, Riverview said in filings with the board.
The addition is the most visible piece of a $30 million investment in oncology services facilities and staffing, said Tim Hogan, regional president at Meridian Health, which owns Riverview and other hospitals in Monmouth and Ocean counties. And it was driven, he acknowledged, by the expected opening of a new Memorial Sloan Kettering cancer care facility on Red Hill Road in Middletown next year.
The Riverview facility will feature valet parking to ease patient drop-off and pick-ups, an engineer for the hospital told the board.
Much of the discussion about the plan centered on parking at the town’s largest employer.
At the urging of board vice chairman Dan Mancuso, hospital officials agreed to eliminate two proposed parking spaces near East Front Street in order to preserve current landscaping.
“I can live without those two spaces,” said Mancuso. “It’s just more grass that we would lose.”
The hospital has a pre-existing variance for a deficit of 104 spaces, said board engineer Ed Herrman, of T&M Associates. Riverview’s proposal would have reduced the deficit to 99, but the put-back suggested by Mancuso would settle it at 101.
Fair Haven resident Grace Greenberg, who owns the office building and a residential apartment building just east of the hospital, suggested that Riverview demolish a vacant office building it owns at 103 East Front – just east of her properties. Doing so would probably create 12 or more new parking spots and open up a view of and access to Navesink River, she said.
Hogan said the hospital “would need to spend a lot more time looking at the impact of tearing down that building.”
Board member Linda Cohen pressed Hogan for the hospital’s long-term outlook for parking as it grows.
“In the future, if our programs continue to expand and grow, it would be feasible for us to go back to the garage” with an addition, he said, referring to the Globe Street parking deck, which the hospital has leased from the borough for two decades and is set to acquire in the next year, for $1.
Mark Forman, owner of a vacant building at 39 East Front, told the board he would be willing to knock it down to erect a garage for the hospital. His property was the site of a proposed pharmacy that was shot down by the board last year over parking issues raised by Riverview.