The zoning board shot down a plan to build 22 townhouses and condos on a parcel bound by Clay Street, Harding Road and Hudson Avenue, throwing the future of the site into uncertainty. (Google Earth image courtesy of Ray Rapcavage. Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
It’s hard to avoid the use of the word “eyesore” when talking about the RayRap site at the Five Corners in Red Bank.
With a vacant lot that was once home to a gas station; the burned husk of a house destroyed by fire; and another notorious for having once been spray-painted black — windows, shingles and all — it’s easily one of the borough’s least visually gratifying parcels. The fact that it sits on a heavily traveled street bordering the downtown and a residential area only heightens the effect.
So now that the zoning board has shot down a plan to develop the site with 22 new homes, what happens? Are we stuck with an eyesore forever?
Ray Rapcavage, center, with his wife, Suzanne, speaking with Hudson Avenue resident Scott Broschart on site in August, 2014. Below, Hudson Avenue resident Anthony Sposaro, an attorney, at the December 3 hearing at which the plan was rejected. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
For now, developer and site owner Ray Rapcavage has no immediate plans to revise his proposal, he told redbankgreen earlier this week. Having spent, by his estimate, $200,000 on engineering, legal and other fees as he repeatedly revised his plan to soften the concerns of neighbors, he’s still kind of sore.
Was his plan “too dense,” as many of the neighbors, and several board members, complained?
“I respectfully disagree with the decision of the zoning board,” Rapcavage told redbankgreen by text this week. He said that while the zoning for the site permits nearly 60,000 square feet of retail or office use with apartments on a second floor, he was proposing to build just 30,000 square feet of housing distributed over three structures. There’s already 28,000 square feet of usable space spread out over eight structures on the property, including a trio of garages on Clay Street, he noted.
In light of that and more, he considers his project “completely suitable and not overbearing.”
The rejection was particularly stinging, given that Rapcavage believes he tried to accommodate his neighbors more than most other developers. Several times over the course of more more than 16 months of hearings, he set up a folding table on the gas station lot and invited the public to give him feedback.
As a result of comments heard there and elsewhere, Rapcavage eliminated what was to have been a grocery store fronting on Harding Road and later modified driveway access plans for Clay Street and Hudson Avenue to address complaints about off-site traffic and parking. He also trimmed the size of two buildings to increase the setbacks and put eight townhouses in line with other single-family homes on that side of the street.
Now, the Rumson resident has resumed the outreach, at least as it applies to one of his most formidable foes: Anthony Sposaro, a land-use lawyer who lives nearby.
At the December 3 hearing, the Hudson Avenue resident came with armloads of documents, and questioned Rapcavage’s planning consultant, Elizabeth Waterbury, as though they were adversaries in a courtroom, insisting at one point that she give a yes-or-no answer to a question she refused to answer that way.
The upshot of Sposaro’s case: Rapcavage was asking for far more units than would be permitted anywhere else in town. Using an upper limit of 14 townhomes per acre allowed in two other zones, Sposaro said Rapcavage wanted more than two times the nine or ten homes he should be permitted on the three-quarter acre parcel.
That argument prevailed when the board voted.
Since then, however, Sposaro and Rapcavage have met for coffee at Starbucks, at the builder’s invitation, and Sposaro came away with greater sympathy for the builder’s situation.
“I think that Ray is in a somewhat unique situation,” Sposaro told redbankgreen on Thursday. “He’s got demolition costs that are not insignificant, and he’s got remediation costs that are not insignificant. It’s in the neighbors’ interest that he addresses those.
“We all need to face reality,” he continued. Rapcavage “needs to have some reasonable return on his investment, and I believe that the costs associated with that work should be factored into considering the density on the lot.”
Sposaro said he’d also like to see the zoning board offer some “positive direction” on what it would prefer happen with the parcel so that Rapcavage and the neighbors “could sit down and reach a consensus on what could be developed. Obviously, the board would have final say, but I think that would ease the board’s burden substantially.”
So, does this tete-a-tete indicate that Rapcavage is ready to try again?
“My plan is to revise the plan, yet I do not know if I will go to the planning board with commercial ground floor and residential above or full residential townhomes, which would bring me back to the zoning board,” Rapcavage said Friday afternoon.