A warehouse-style office building is planned for the vacant lot on Willow Drive near Branch Avenue. Below, council members examining developer Ray Smith’s plans Monday night. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
After years of contamination, bankruptcy and idleness, one of Little Silver’s most troubled properties may finally be getting a makeover. But first, the owner wants a zone change.
A plan for a “warehouse-style” office structure to be built on Willow Drive by commercial real estate broker and developer Ray Smith got a warm reception from the borough council during the workshop portion of its meeting Monday night.
Smith, who bought the former site of a Texaco station and an adjoining building that was home to the Wicker Rose furnishings store out of bankruptcy three years ago, outlined plans for a single-story, 9,800-square foot brick-and-slate building he said would be reminiscent of the Galleria in Red Bank, a converted uniform factory, and the Wikoff Building, a former feed supply.
Smith said his four-person firm would occupy about 2,000 square feet of the building, the rest of which he hoped to lease to a brokerage or another “nine-to-five” white-collar operation. Though the market for office space is generally considered weak, he said the location, just across Branch Avenue from the train station, would make it attractive.
“I’m not looking to put in a Dunkin Donuts, though they’d love me to,” said Smith, nor is he going ahead with previously rumored plans for a live theater space or bank. And because of the site’s history with hydrocarbon contamination, “there’s no chance” of homes being built there, he said.
“This is a nice, quiet transitional use” from the adjoining residences to the busy corner of Willow and Branch, he said.
But there’s a hitch: about half of the one-acre lot is in a residential zone. And before submitting a detailed proposal to the planning board, “I need to get this zoned right,” he told the council.
Smith said the development would provide parking for 48 vehicles while reducing the amount of impervious ground coverage from the former uses.
“This looks like a great idea,” said Councilman Dane Mihlon.
The council is expected to kick the idea of a zone change over to the planning board for comment, after which an amendment to the zoning ordinance would be introduced, perhaps as early as August 3.