The home of pioneering human rights journalist T. Thomas Fortune would be restored for use as a cultural center, as shown in the architectural rendering above. Below, four views of the four-story, 32-unit apartment building proposed for the rear of the property. (Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
Mumford’s plan comes with a catch: he wants the town to grant him a host of variances to construct 32 apartments on the site — more than twice the density allowed by zoning law. But he’s billing it as a win for all involved.
A site plan filed by Mumford shows the proposed apartment building to the north of the Fortune House, with Drs. Parker Boulevard to the south and the Conrail tracks to the east. Below, journalist T. Thomas Fortune, who owned the house from 1901 to 1911. (Click to enlarge)
Mumford, doing business under the name Yellow Brook Property Company LLC, has filed plans with the borough to subdivide the one-acre property so the house and new units would be on separate lots, with about 85 percent of the site used for garden apartments.
Zoning law allows a maximum of 16 units per acre. Mumford’s proposal equates to 39 units per acre, according to borough planning and zoning director Glenn Carter.
The plan, dubbed Fortune Square, also requires height, setback and parking variances, among other waivers.
New wood clapboard siding and scalloped roofing shingles are planned for the exterior of the Second Empire-style Fortune house, with historically accurate windows replacing those in disrepair, Mumford said in a narrative accompanying the filing. The interior will be renovated to accommodate up to 49 people, with a handicapped-accessible restroom that will reduce the capacity to 25, he wrote.
The house would be surrounded on three sides by parking spaces, the plans show. Landscaping with benches out front and a bronze plaque mounted on granite describing the home’s historical significance are also planned, Mumford wrote.
Here’s Mumford’s detailed description: Fortune House Project Narrative
The plan anticipates that the nonprofit T. Thomas Fortune Project, which has advocated for the creation of a cultural center there, would own and run the center, Mumford said in an email to redbankgreen.
Fortune Project leader Gilda Rogers was not available for comment Tuesday morning. Here’s what Mumford said about the deal:
I explained to Gilda that I was well aware of the expenses associated with acquiring the land and repairing/rebuilding the Fortune home. In addition, I explained that I was also aware that Red Bank is burdened by a substantial and growing number of nonprofits that stress the overall tax base and that I might have a solution for all parties.
My proposal is to deed the Fortune Home to a nonprofit for $1 after restoring the building as a cultural center with Gilda Roger’s group owning and operating it.
I further explained that I would take the 1870 French mansard roof and other details and incorporate them into the design of a building that would be positioned to the rear of the Fortune home. The new building will be a luxury rental property with an 1870 look.
Under my scenario, everyone involved wins… the Fortune Home advocates would achieve their goal of restoring and preserving the property, the property owners (who have owned the land for 98 years) would sell the property, and Red Bank taxpayers would obtain a significant ratable vis a vis the new building.
Mumford built the Station Place apartments on Monmouth Street at West Pearl Street, which he sold last December to a Cranford-based company for $17.75 million, according to Monmouth County records. In recent years, he’s also built a number of single-family homes near the intersection of Drs. Parker Boulevard and Bridge Avenue, not far from the building where he maintains his office.
Timothy Thomas Fortune, born into slavery in Florida in 1856, became an ardent advocate of civil rights and racial integration through his pioneering journalism. He’s often credited with coining the term “African-American.”
Fortune bought the three-story house in 1901, and over the next decade entertained W.E.B DuBois, Booker T. Washington, Marcus Garvey and other leading lights of the post-Civil War drive for equal rights for African-Americans.
Fortune lost the house to a sheriff’s sale in 1911. He died in Philadelphia in 1928. In 2004, he was inducted into the National Association of Black Journalists hall of fame as one of 10 “legendary” journalists.
For generations, the property has been owned by members of the Vaccarelli family, who for many years ran a commercial bakery there. It’s now owned by Assunta Vaccarelli of Red Bank and James Vacarelli of Shrewsbury, according to documents filed with the application.
The Fortune house won placement on the National Register of Historic Places in 1976, and remains one of only two sites in New Jersey associated with African-American history, according to Rogers — the other being Hinchcliffe Stadium in Paterson, past home to several Negro League baseball teams.
But maintenance on the structure lapsed, and in 2007, it was cited as one of the “Ten Most Endangered” historic sites in New Jersey, sparking an effort by preservationists to save it.
In 2014, the Vaccarellis initiated steps that would have led to a demolition, but were stopped by borough officials over technicalities.
Their efforts led to a bid last year by the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection to purchase the house, through its Green Acres program, because of its historic significance. But the offer was rejected.
Mumford’s plan may go before the zoning board on July 21, but the date has not been confirmed, a borough official said.