Mayor Pasquale Menna explains his vote to approve the project, a rendering of which is seen on a computer screen in the foreground. At left is board Engineer Ed Herrman. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
First, however, several critics, including two board members, took parting shots at a process that kept the controversial plan alive for a year after it was rejected by the zoning board.
Architect Lance Blake answers a question for planning board member Barbara Boas as board members Michael Crawford and Linda Cohen consult documents in the foreground. Below, Blake’s rendering of the project. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
The planning board hearing for 55 West Front Street, opposite Riverside Gardens Park, lasted less than an hour. Half that time was spent by representatives of the builder, who addressed concerns raised last month about the building’s appearance, and sought to show how it fit it with nearby residential and commercial structures.
“There’s a lot of articulation and texture” to the building’s exterior, architect Lance Blake told the board. “We really did take what would be a box and create a very articulated facade.”
Mayor Pasquale Menna, who last month called the proposed four-story structure “bulky and not very inviting,” said that changes since last month “lighten it up a bit” and made it a better fit among its neighbors.
But Menna and Councilman Mike Whelan, who also serves on the planning board, came in for some direct and glancing criticism for having championed a controversial redevelopment plan that allowed the developers — Ralph Braha, Steven Zekaria and Joe Shabot — to seek planning board approval for a plan that was shot down by the zoning board a year ago as “too dense.”
The redevelopment plan, as it made its way toward final approval by the borough council in November, drew criticism as “spot zoning,” a charge that was repeated Monday night.
“I’m disappointed in our town undermining the zoning board,” Forest said. “I know it’s legal, but just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right. This is an outrage.”
Board members Guy Marotta and Barbara Boas also voiced misgivings about the redevelopment zone designation.
“It seems like a fairly good project,” Marotta said, adding, “I don’t ever again want to see a zoning board decision put aside.”
Board member and borough Administrator Stanley Sickels argued, however, that “what happened with the zoning board is not for us to judge. It’s a question for us to judge this project on the merits of what’s presented.”
Builder’s representative Debra Tantleff said construction is expected to begin in the fall, with apartments ready for occupancy in late 2018.