By JOHN T. WARD
Taking heat from a restaurateur, Red Bank Mayor Pasquale Menna said Wednesday night that the long-awaited “next step” toward a possible parking garage downtown is coming within the next two weeks.
Menna’s pledge also came as the town council, on a 4-2 vote, agreed to extend by six months a moratorium on fees imposed almost exclusively on new restaurants that need parking variances to open.
During the public comment session of the council’s semimonthly meeting, Tom Cappello, owner of Gaetano’s restaurant on Wallace Street, teed up the council for renewing the moratorium, which was imposed in August, 2010 to spur business downtown and has been extended repeatedly. The latest extension, granted at the end of 2014, was to have expired on June 30.
Not forcing new restaurants to pay the fee, which ranges from $500 to $2,500 per spot, depending on the shortfall, is unfair to those who were forced to, said Cappello, who ponied up about $24,000 to cover parking shortfalls when he opened his business in 2003. And those new eateries are squeezing out available parking for his customers, he said.
“It causes an unfair disadvantage to the people who have paid,” Cappello said. The only ways to rectify it, he said, are to designate spots for those that have paid, “or give us our money back,” he said.
Cappello was particularly irked by the zoning board’s grant of variance last week for a 22-space shortfall that will result from the conversion of the former If the Shoe Fits store on Broad Street into a restaurant.
Under the moratorium, restaurant owner Ralph Notaro won’t have to pay the fee, and the parking shortage was barely mentioned by zoning board members.
“If I went to southern California, bought 10 acres and tried to put in an amusement park with the water shortage,” he’d get shot down, Cappello said. “I don’t understand how the zoning board can approve a [change from] retail use that requires morning parking than there is now,” he said.
The new restaurants, “don’t pay, and my customers can’t come into my establishment” because of the additional pressure on parking, Cappello said.
Menna and Councilman Art Murphy, joined by Red Bank RiverCenter vice chairman Tom Fishkin, said some restaurants don’t do enough to let their customers know about a valet parking program on Broad Street and about available parking in the 420-space East Side lots.
“Now you’re saying it’s my problem that I don’t tell people about a parking lot that they need binoculars to see the signs for,” a clearly frustrated Cappello said.
Menna said the council, by law, could not interfere with the decisions of the zoning board.
He also said that borough officials were “engaged in very productive and diligent” efforts to advance the possibility of a “second solution” to the parking issue. That involves, he said, the White Street lot.
Menna said that at or before the council’s next meeting– on July 8 at 5:30 p.m. – he would announce the next steps in keeping with the recommendations of a June, 2014 report, by the civil engineering firm CME Associates, on the town’s options regarding parking.
Those steps, he told redbankgreen afterward, involve soil borings and other environmental analyses to determine what’s beneath the asphalt of the 2.3-acre lot, which was created with the demolition of homes the borough acquired in the 1950s, before such assessments were needed. The results, he said, are necessary to lay out the criteria for requests for proposals the borough would solicit from private-sector developers in the third step, Menna said.
After months of saying that the CME report could not be released without review by the council, the report was quietly posted on the borough website on an unknown date. Here it is: CME White Street Lot Report 061714
Councilmembers Cindy Burnham and Ed Zipprich opposed the moratorium renewal. Burnham said the fee should return, with an exception for new restaurants with eight seats or fewer. Zipprich did not comment on the measure.