RED BANK: HAMPTON HOTEL PLAN REVIVED

gasiorowski 072512Lawyer Ron Gasiorowski, who has sued to block to the hotel, examines a rendering at a 2012 hearing. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD
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Five years after it was proposed and nearly two years after it was derailed by litigation, a planned Hampton Inn at Red Bank’s northern gateway is back.

But the controversial plan is still in court.

hampton inn 073014The seven-story, 76-room hotel would be built on the former site of an Exxon filling station at Route 35 and Rector Place, at the foot of Cooper’s Bridge. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

Rbank Capital, of Old Bridge, which first submitted plans for the hotel in 2011, returned to the borough planning board in November, hoping to restart hearings discontinued in 2013 in the midst of litigation, documents filed with the borough show.

The lawsuit that temporarily derailed the project was one of two filed by Red Bank attorney Ron Gasiorowski. Representing real estate agent Angela Agazzi, a Wallace Street resident, Gasiorowski argued that zoning amendments passed by the borough council in the midst of the Hampton Inn hearings amounted to “contract zoning” to allow the developer to contravene zoning law.

The amendments raised the maximum building-height at the proposed hotel site, at Rector Place and Route 35, to 82.4 feet. They also came just two months after the zoning board, which had been asked for an interpretation of the height restriction, ruled that the hotel would exceed the height limit for its zone.

Borough officials characterized the change and others as an attempt to clarify murky and contradictory rules affecting the entire waterfront development zone, not solely the hotel property.

In April, 2014, Superior Court Judge Thomas Scully in Freehold rejected Agazzi’s challenge. Gasiorowski appealed, and arguments in that matter were heard at the Appellate Division last month. A decision is pending. If Gasiorowski wins, the application will have to go before the zoning board, which has stricter standards of proof than the planning board.

In spite of the pending case, “my client would like to reconvene the hearing before the planning board,” McGann wrote in a November letter to the board.

Rbank Capital also submitted revised plans, which McGann said call for “very minor” changes from the original plan.”It’s the same number of rooms, the same skin,” he told redbankgreen.

Among the changes: the plans show that the hotel is also asking the state Department of Transportation, which has jurisdiction over Route 35, to create a left-turn-in lane from the northbound lane of the highway. Motorists would enter the site through a driveway toward the northerly end of the property, close to the bridge, documents show.

A landscaping plan would remove nearly all of the vegetation from the site, including trees that “may be an issue” because they are in a bald eagle foraging habitat, according to a filing by engineering firm Maser Consulting of Red Bank.

Larry Cohen of Old Bridge is listed as Rbank’s managing partner.

Though no date for a resumption of the hearings has yet been set, McGann said it could come up as early as February 17.