By JOHN T. WARD
• Mayor Pasquale Menna sketched out a vision for a environmentally and architecturally bold parking garage on the site of the borough’s White Street parking lot.
• A downtown property owner laid out a plan for erecting a prefab garage that he said would be fast and economical.
• The council extended yet again a moratorium on fees charged to developers of new businesses that win variances for parking shortfalls.
• Earlier this month, the council approved a zoning change that could result in a parking garage in the heart of downtown. The plan is expected to move into its next phase in coming weeks: a request for proposals from builders on how to turn the 2.3-acre White Street lot into a facility with almost three times the capacity of the present 273 vehicles.
On Wednesday, Menna told the audience at the final council session of the year that he had been “educated” by testimony at the December 14 meeting, particularly on environmental issues.
At that hearing, two members of the Environmental Commission urged the council to press for a parking structure that was “transformational.” Commission chairman Frank Corrado presented the council with a list of suggested modifications that included increasing the open space requirement to 25 percent of the site area, up from 10 percent, and reducing the maximum height to five stories.
The comments “made me look outisde the box,” Menna said. In response to a question by former commission member Boris Kofman about his thinking, Menna said he’d like to see a “bold” plan that incorporates greenery, new technology and “goes further from an architectural standpoint.”
“You can have green space, you can have open space and very futuristic uses,” he said. “I’d like to get a lot of ideas that are forward-looking, maybe even shocking.”
Afterward, he praised the design of the new cancer-treatment wing of Riverview Medical Center for not hewing to “Victoriana,” and told redbankgreen that he hopes the garage will attract plans as visually striking.
• Menna’s comments came after Bill Meyer, owner of a retail and office building on Monmouth Street, pitched a plan for a prefab parking garage that he said could provide 425 spaces in six months or less for under $10 million.
The approach the borough has taken is “foolish,” Meyer said, because the town owns the property and doesn’t need to involve private developers who will want to maximize their profit potential by building homes and stores along with a parking facility.
Menna told Meyer he should encourage the prefab garage manufacturer he’d consulted to submit a proposal.
• With the clock ticking down on its last extension, a six-year-old moratorium on fees imposed almost exclusively on new restaurants that need parking variances was granted another one. Instead of expiring on December 31, the moratorium is now in effect through March 31.
The moratorium, enacted in August 2010 and repeatedly renewed, put on hold the imposition of fees that new businesses were required to pay when they obtained variances for parking space deficiencies. The fees often amounted to tens of thousands of dollars in upfront costs, and restaurants were particularly hard hit because of the intensive use of their floor space.
Allowing the restoration of the fee would only repel businesses looking to set up shop in town while doing nothing to provide for parking, said Councilman Mike Whelan, who chairs the parking committee. He proposed extending the measure one last time by six months while officials work to advance plans for a garage. But at the suggestion of Councilman Ed Zipprich, the term was shortened to three months in order to “light a fire” under the governing body’s feet.
“I think this has to be the last extension,” said Menna, who originated the moratorium in part as a way to spark business development after the global credit crisis of 2008 caused downtown vacancies to soar. “We can’t keep going through this charade.”
• Also on the topic of parking, Councilwoman Cindy Burnham, attending her final meeting as a member of the governing body, said a deal that allows the Count Basie Theatre to sell parking in the borough hall lot on specified nights “is not working.”
Spaces that are supposed to be reserved for attendees of government meetings are being taken by early-arriving Basie patrons, she said, citing recent planning and zoning board meetings at which all the parking had been grabbed by 6:30 p.m.
The agreement, she said, “need to be either tweaked or enforced.”
Menna agreed. “We did it as an experiment,” he said. “We’ll be taking another look at it next year.”