By JOHN T. WARD
The proposed structure — at 55 West Front Street, opposite Riverside Gardens Park — was shot down on a motion by presumptive Democratic council candidate Erik Yngstrom, who said it was too dense.
Mayor Pasquale Menna, who was in the audience, was sharply critical of the decision.
The plan called for an elevated sun deck on the building’s west side, with tenant parking underneath. Below, a view of the site from the project’s proposed White Street access driveway. (Architect’s rendering. Click to enlarge)
At issue was a plan by 55 West Front LLC, owned by Joseph Shabot, Ralph Braha and Steven Zakaria, to replace approvals won in 2007 for a 27-unit condo project. Market changes had made the condo project no longer viable, developer’s representative Debra Tantleff told the board.
The property, which has frontage on both West Front Street and White Street, was formerly home to a nursing facility owned by Meridian Health.
Hearings on the plan began last April, though Thursday’s was the first since last September. In the interim, the developers had begun working out a deal with the Trinity Episcopal Church next door that would allow tenants to use six parking spots on church property overnight, Tantleff said.
In conjunction with a reconfigured parking plan for the apartment site itself, that would boost the number of parking spaces available to tenants to 63. Borough ordinance requires 70.
Much of the hearing centered on how the project would comply with so-called Mount Laurel obligations for affordable units. Attorney Peter Falvo told the board that his clients would build whatever number of affordable units were deemed necessary by the borough council once uncertainty about state law on the issue is resolved, but they would all be built off-site. Including them onsite would render the project no viable, he and Tantleff said.
Falvo also agreed to a proposed condition that no certificates of occupancy would be issued for the Element until the affordable units were complete.
But board member Ray Mass said he “really struggled with seeing 57 cars and a building on this tiny little lot.” Though he acknowledged he had voted in favor of the 2007 condo plan, and said the board is “kind of used to giving out variances like candy,” he called the project “too big” to approve.
He also noted that the new plan included traffic access from both heavily-trafficked West Front Street and White Street, whereas the earlier plan allowed a road opening only on White.
But when Mass declined to make a motion to reject the plan, Yngstom did so, calling the project “too dense, too much.
“I think there’s not enough land here for this project,” he said.
Yngstrom and Mass were joined by chairwoman Lauren Nicosia and Anne Torre in rejecting the plan. Christine Irwin, Dave Schmetterer and Dick Stout voted to approve.
Tantleff declined comment afterward.
Menna did, too, at first, telling redbankgreen that “it would no be appropriate to opine on he activities of another board.” (He sits on the planning board.)
But pressed for comment, he said the decision “sends the most horrific signal that can be sent” to developers statewide who are watching the borough as a place for potential investment. Now, he said, nothing is likely to be built on the weed-strewn site.
Other municipalities, he said, are “moving ahead with forward-looking development.”