810 River Road elevation 120915 2Architect Matt Cronin’s design would link the two River Road buildings shown below with a new glass-filled central section. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)


fh 810 812-14 riv rd 120815A plan to connect a pair of 150-year-old structures in Fair Haven with a window-filled central addition elicited unanimous praise from the planning board Wednesday night.

ForeFront Incorporated, a web tech firm headquartered in a stately Victorian two doors away, intends to use the conjoined buildings as expansion office space, company principal Michel Berger told the board.

With a patio, yoga space and “mom’s room,” it’s designed to attract millenial coders and developers to his company, where the average employee is 24 years old, Berger said.

fhpb 120915Paul Ferguson, whose dental practice is across the street from the project, and his wife, Carolyn, review exhibits during a break. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

The plan concerns buildings on adjoining properties at 810 and 812-814 River Road, at the eastern edge of the borough’s quaint downtown. Through limited liability companies, Berger and his wife, Anne Marie, acquired the properties for a combined $1.05 million this years, according to Monmouth County records.

Both buildings, long used for retail and office space and now vacant, are in “horrendous physical condition,” ForeFront attorney Brooks Von Arx told the board. One, at 810, would have its wraparound porch and a two-story addition to the rear removed. It would then be “shifted slightly” and raised on a new cellar foundation to overcome a drainage issue, he and others testified.

The second structure, at 812-814, is beyond repair, said Red Bank architect Matt Cronin. It would be demolished but “replicated” in exacting detail, including its chimneys, slightly closer to its neighbor, and fused to it by new construction, he said.

The modern glass connector, which would increase the combined size of the two buildings by about 2,400 square feet, would bring the project “in line with the aesthetic of what this company does,” said Von Arx. That includes cloud computing services for large businesses. Berger showed a slickly produced two-minute promo video about his company at the start of the hearing.

The changes would align the facades and allow for the creation of a two-way driveway almost directly opposite Gillespie Avenue. The largely glass connector section, however, would be set back 10 feet from the facades to create a landscaped patio area where employees could work and relax.

“The idea of glass was to merge those two historic buildings and make them transparent,” Berger said.

“There’s a rhythm to the separation of buildings” as one travels east from Fair Haven Road, Red Bank planner Elizabeth Waterbury testified, and the insert is “something that’s intended to disappear” while maintaining that rhythm, she said.

The plan was previously modified several times over the course of four or five meetings with the borough historical commission, which agreed that 812 has “no historical value,” Berger said.

The proposal needs several variances, including one for parking. Where 34 spaces are required, ForeFront plans to provide 21.

The plan met light opposition from the audience, with concerns largely limited to sightlines into backyards on Willow Avenue; signage; and snow plowing.

In their comments, all board members present offered praise, offset slightly by concerns about parking and traffic. Jake Rue called the plan “a valiant attempt to preserve” the historic character of the area. Marie Noglows, in her first meeting as a board members, called the design “beautiful.”

“I like the idea of people who live in town, who work in town and invest in town,” said board member and Councilman Bob Marchese, who called the plan “fantastic.”

A formal vote, however, was postponed until December 17 because of the late hour and the need to craft a detailed resolution of approval.

A separate ForeFront proposal, which would put a glass-enclosed addition on the second-story rear of its current office space at 804 River Road, was not heard Thursday night, and isn’t expected to be on the board’s agenda again until February.