RED BANK: PLAN PANNED FOR LOOKS, PARKING

An architect’s depiction of the Element, as seen from the north side side of West Front Street. (Rendering by Rotwein + Blake. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

A new round of hearings on the Element, a proposed 35-unit apartment building in downtown Red Bank, began Wednesday night with concerns raised about parking adequacy and aesthetics.

Mayor Pasquale Menna called the appearance of the structure “bulky and not very inviting,” while several residents challenged a traffic consultant’s claim that the project’s on-site parking was sufficient.

The planning board session for 55 West Front Street was the first since a controversial redevelopment plan for the property narrowly won approval in November, on Menna’s tiebreaker vote.

In its rollercoaster history, the now-vacant site, formerly occupied by a nursing home, won approval in 2007 for condos that were never built, and failed to win zoning board variances for a “substantially identical” version of the current proposal a year ago.

On the table now: a four-story, 43,000-square-foot structure that features a recreational deck for tenants, with parking at ground level beneath the deck and elsewhere on the property, which also has access on White Street.

Calling attention to architectural details such as a cupola and cornice work, architect Lance Blake said the building would “blend in well” with the Victorian-style Bluffs residential project across West Front Street as well as other nearby buildings.

But Menna demurred, calling the building “very austere.

“The brick makes it look extraordinarily bulky and cold, and I don’t think it joins with the buildings across the street,” he said.

Board member Barbara Boas agreed that it “lacks grace,” and said she’d prefer “something softer.”

Those comments drew a withering critique from Gary Carpenter, who owns a commercial building on North Bridge Avenue. Over objections that his comments were out of order during a period reserved for questions, Carpenter ran through a list of nearby buildings approved in recent years, including the Hovnanian Enterprises headquarters and a TD Bank branch, that also aren’t in the Victorian style.

Chad Warnken, the Element’s attorney, told the board that aesthetics were beyond the board’s purview, but said the project’s owners — Ralph Braha, Steven Zekaria and Joe Shabot — were willing to make changes in an effort “to be good neighbors.” Revised plans will be submitted before the hearing resumes on March 6, he said.

Other pushback concerned traffic consultant Justin Taylor’s testimony that the 54 parking spaces on the lot would be enough to serve the tenants, guests and delivery vehicles to the building. No variances for parking are needed, he noted. Here’s his report: 55 W Front Traffic Impact 120517

Four borough residents, including zoning board member Ray Mass, challenged Taylor on his testimony.

“There’s no way that there’s surplus to put all these trucks and UPS delivery vehicles that come every day,” said Bluffs resident Irene Stanley. Locust Avenue resident Ben Forest expressed concern that the project would make parking harder to find in the vicinity on Friday or Saturday night.

Taylor also testified that the project would feature a “channelizing island” at the mouth of its West Front Street driveway to allow right turns into and out of the site while barring left turns in or out. That feature is under review by the Monmouth County, he said, which has jurisdiction over the roadway.