After months of silence on the issue, a possible parking garage in downtown Red Bank finally got its wheels on what could be a long up-ramp to reality Wednesday night.
Despite misgivings voiced by Councilwoman Cindy Burnham that doing so might attract “an overload of engineers,” the borough council unanimously agreed to have the the planning board determine whether the municipal lot on White Street “satisfies the criteria for designation as a noncondemnation redevelopment area.”
That’s a legalistic way of saying that the board is being asked to answer whether the 2.3-acre site lot meets the criteria of “an area in need of redevelopment” as defined by state law.
The so-called “needs study,” meant to “determine the site’s suitability for redevelopment,” was a step recommended in a June, 2014 report by the civil engineering firm CME Associates on the town’s options regarding parking.
As part of that study, CME — which was hired earlier this month as the borough’s “redevelopment engineer” — recommended the town take a redevelopment approach with a private developer, rather than self-financing a garage, selling the land to a garage developer, or pursue several other alternatives.
The borough owns the property, which has no structures on it, and so no condemnation of properties is necessary, officials said.
Deciding whether there should be a garage there, however, may be fraught. Though downtown business owners generally support a garage, and appear more unified in that desire than in the past, two attempts by the borough government since 2000 to advance a garage plan for the site proved highly divisive and failed to win council approval.
Perhaps in recognition of what a white-hot issue White Street may be, Councilman Mike Whelan cautioned the council audience Wednesday night that “all we’re doing is following procedure. This is zero decision being made. This allows us to have options. This is just getting the ball rolling.”
Burnham expressed concern about engineering costs that might be incurred during the planning board study. But Mayor Pasquale Menna suggested revising the proposed resolution, which initially called for the council’s new engineer, Maser Consultant, to help with the project. He deleted that language, which led to unanimous approval.
“The property is owned by the borough,” Menna said. “We already have the empirical data. There is no need to engage” additional professionals, he said.
The directive to the planning board is the first significant move toward a possible garage in months. Last summer, Menna told redbankgreen the town would first have to conduct soil borings and other environmental analyses to determine what’s beneath the asphalt of the lot, which was created with the demolition of homes the borough acquired in the 1950s, before such assessments were needed.
It wasn’t clear Thursday if that work had been conducted.
Burnham, revisiting another often-discussed solution to a perceived parking shortage, said the town needs to do a better job with signage directing visitors to borough lots east of Broad Street, which are less used. She also suggested that a garage be built adjoining borough hall on Monmouth Street, opposed the Count Basie Theatre, which is planning a major expansion in coming years.
Here’s the 2014 report: CME White Street Lot Report 061714