RED BANK: VACANT LOT SPLITS COUNCIL AGAIN

55 w front 062016The fenced-in lot at 55 West Front Street, next door to Trinity Episcopal Church, was formerly the site of a nursing home. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

HOT-TOPIC_03Advancing a plan to ease the possible redevelopment of a vacant Red Bank lot again proved controversial Wednesday night.

With both Democratic council members allied with the sole independent against the three Republicans, Mayor Pasquale Menna was again forced to cast a tie-breaker vote on the next step in an effort to rezone the downtown site.

horgan-zipprich-burnham-092816Democrats Kathy Horgan, left, and Ed Zipprich once again voted with independent Cindy Burnham, right. (Photos above by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

At issue was the introduction of an ordinance (2016-23.PDF) that, if successful, would adopt a redevelopment plan for 55 West Front Street. In March, the owners of the three-quarter-acre site site, opposite Riverside Gardens Park, failed in their bid for zoning board approval of a proposed 35-unit apartment building there. Within a week of the rejection, at Menna’s request, the council added the site to the White Street municipal lot for consideration as a “noncondemnation redevelopment area” under a state law signed by Governor Chris Christie in 2013. The law allows towns to create overlay zones offering developers enhanced opportunities to win plan approvals.

In 2007, the owners won board approval for a 27-unit condo project on the site. They changed their plan because of market conditions, they said earlier this year.

Wednesday night’s action would kick the proposed redevelopment plan to the planning board for review before the council could formally ratify it.

But the plan itself was not included among documents for public review, either on the table at the semimonthly council meeting or on the borough’s newly redesigned website. (It was added afterward. Here it is: 2016-23 ATTACHMENT.PDF)

Elm Place resident Tom Labetti, citing a lack of information, asked the council to table the measure, a request that was taken up by independent Councilwoman Cindy Burnham and Democrats Kathy Horgan and Ed Zipprich.

That kicked off an extended debate that saw several downtown business owners speak in favor of the redevelopment as a way of boosting the potential customer base; renewed complaints of “spot zoning” by opponents: and an unusual public rebuke of the council’s efforts by a sitting member of the zoning board.

Erik Yngstrom, who’s running for council as a Democrat on a ticket with Horgan, made the zoning board motion to reject the apartment plan as “too dense” last March. Taking the mic Wednesday night, he said the council’s present action “feels a little fishy to me.”

After weighing testimony and exhibits, “we made a decision on the zoning board, and I hope the council sticks with it, because that’s what we saw fit,” he said.

As they have several times in recent months, Burham, Horgan and Zipprich objected. Burnham called for the measure to be tabled for lack of information; Horgan seconded the motion, she said, because she had not had time to read the supporting document.

Menna told Horgan that because the planning board won’t take up the matter before October 17, meaning it could not come back to the council before October 28, she might read it in the interim.

“Thirty days is plenty of time to digest a 10-page document,” he said.

Horgan also said giving a rejected development another avenue to approval would “open a Pandora’s box.” Zipprich said it would set a “dangerous precedent.”

Republicans Michael Whelan and Linda Schwabenbauer spoke in favor of the measure. “This is progress for Red Bank,” Whelan said.

The vote to table went to a tiebreaker, with Menna quashing the motion. He also cast the tiebreaker to introduce the ordinance.

 

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