By JOHN T. WARD
As Red Bank officials, taxpayers and merchants sort through last week’s data dump of ambitious development proposals for the White Street parking lot, John Bowers may hold the wild card.
That’s because the downtown landlord’s proposal is the simplest, cheapest and quickest — and with the sudden shift by three council Democrats, it may also be the most politically palatable. But will it get equal time?
The Bowers plan calls for a garage beside at-grade parking. Below, John Bowers, center, with former Mayor Mike Arnone at the 2015 Mayors Ball. (Photo by John T. Ward. Plan by Stephen Raciti. Click to enlarge)
The council’s three Democrats — Ed Zipprich, Kathy Horgan and Erik Yngstrom — issued a press release late last Wednesday, before the five proposals from private developers were made available to the public, vowing their “staunch opposition” to the plans.
They called the submissions made in response to a request for proposals, or RFP, “ridiculous” in scale, and said they “would undoubtedly lead to chaos” in terms of infrastructure.
Here’s the full release: RB Dems 052417
The comments infuriated at least two of the three council Republicans, one of whom, Councilman Mike Whelan, heads the parking committee, and has taken a lead role in seeking a solution to what downtown merchants say is a parking crisis. The Democrats singled him out as the “25 year old councilman” who is leading “an aggressive course for the urbanization of downtown Red Bank.”
In a text to redbankgreen, Whelan said the Democrats had “sabotaged the process” and “undermined everything” with their announcement. Previously, he said, “they all voted unanimously to see what the RFP would look like and [yet] before an opportunity to hear public comment or developer presentation, they take a stance for political gain.”
Republican Councilman Mark Taylor added that the Democrats were seeking to “hijack a project that is so integral to the growth and future of Red Bank to use it purely as a political tool, and without even giving the public a chance to review, digest and comment on any proposed project.”
“It is especially shameful that with no public input they have decided all projects are failures, and then attempt to lay blame for a yet-to-be-determined project at the feet of Red Bank Republicans,” Taylor said in a statement.
Even Mayor Pasquale Menna, a Democrat, distanced himself from his party cohorts. On Tuesday, he issued his own press release, saying that he had not been advised by the council Democrats of their opposition. He further said their statement was “perplexing,” given that “not a word was uttered about it” during either of two sessions the governing body held on the garage issue last Wednesday.
Here’s his complete statement: Menna statement 053017
Meanwhile, left out of the discussion so far is the Bowers plan.
For months, Bowers, who owns a number of commercial properties opposite the 2.3-acre White Street parking lot, has been touting a garage-only plan under which the town would retain ownership of the site and build its own prefab garage there for about $16.5 million.
With the help of architect Stephen Raciti, Bowers claims his plan would triple the existing vehicle capacity of the lot, to 818 spots, and yield an annual surplus of $328,000, by his calculations.
Here’s his financial analysis: Bowers proforma 052417
Because he doesn’t want to build the garage himself, Bowers did not submit a formal proposal in response to the council’s RFP solicitation, which drew five responses, all from developers and builders with sold track records.
It’s not clear, however, if and when the Bowers plan might get a full public airing. While the developers who responded to the RFP have been invited to make presentations at a special meeting of the parking committee following the council’s June 14 session, Bowers has not been.
Asked by redbankgreen via text if Bowers would be allowed to make a presentation, Whelan replied by text: “He did not submit an RFP.”
In a follow-up, redbankgreen asked why that would make a difference, but Whelan did not respond.
Given their stated opposition to the five plans, redbankgreen asked Horgan, Yngstrom and Zipprich if they instead favored the Bowers plan. None responded to text and email inquiries.
Menna, who only votes in cases of a council tie, said in his statement that he favors a “Princeton model” of a public-private partnership “that will not be shouldered financially by our residents while at the same time does not change the character of Red Bank.
“That can only be achieved by listening to the public and stakeholders and calm review consensus by elected officials,” he continued. “It may involve respondents and amendments to the [redevelopment] plan if the current proposals do not address our municipal needs.”
Here are some highlights of the other proposals, with links to the complete documents available in each post: