By JOHN T. WARD
Proposals by five would-be developers of a public garage, and possibly much more, on the site of the borough-owned White Street parking lot are scheduled to get their first public airing Wednesday night.
That night, a special meeting of the council’s parking committee is slated to follow the regular semimonthly council meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Its purpose: to allow five builders to present overviews of their mixed-used proposals for the 2.3-acre White Street lot. [See links below.]
Developers will be allotted about 20 minutes each to describe their plans for the site. No questions or comments will be taken from the audience.
“The purpose of this is to be transparent and allow the developers to come in and share their vision and explain why they did what they did,” Councilman Mike Whelan told redbankgreen Friday. “There will be plenty of time for public comment once we get to the next stage.”
Allowing a Q&A at this stage, “you’d never get past the first developer,” he said. “We’d still be there at 10 o’clock on the first one.”
As the liaison to the parking committee and to downtown promotion agency RiverCenter, Whelan has taken the lead on shepherding a potential new garage to White Street. He said he reviewed the past 30 years of efforts to address the downtown parking shortage to see where they went wrong.
Most prominently, efforts in 2001 and 2005 by the council, then controlled by Democrats, to authorize a parking deck attracted large, angry crowds. The latter attempt called for a 570-car, $11.8 million structure. Both times, Mayor Pasquale Menna, then a councilman, opposed the plans because, he said, they would saddle residents, rather than investors, with $8 million or more in debt.
Against that backdrop, Whelan said, his primary goal was to find a way “to take ‘no’ off the table.”
The 25-year-old member of the governing body says he was told, “it’ll never happen, you’re young, you’re naive, you’re oblivious,” Whelan said. “But I didn’t want it to come down to a garage yes-or-no. I wanted it to be, ‘yes, which way?'”
The naysayers included some jaded business owners who are now behind him, he said.
The Red Bank Business Alliance (RBBA) issued a prepared statement to redbankgreen Friday saying it is “excited” about the presentation. The organization, formed primarily to focus on what its members see as a parking crisis, hosted a well-attended public forum on the issue at the middle school in February.
The organization said that after the presentations, it plans to provide a “thorough assessment on the pros and cons of any of these proposals, in addition to any proposals to solve our parking needs which may have evolved outside” the council’s Request for Proposals (RFP) process, an apparent reference to a garage-only plan proposed by downtown landlord John Bowers.
Meantime, the RBBA said, “all members of the Red Bank community at large owe it to themselves and their fellow citizens to be informed, and to see these proposals first-hand.”
As they stand now, however, all five plans face opposition from the council’s three Democrats, Ed Zipprich, Kathy Horgan and Erik Yngstrom. They have called the proposals “ridiculous” in size, and said they “would undoubtedly lead to chaos” in terms of infrastructure.
The council is split, 3-3, between Republicans and Demorats. As mayor, Menna votes only in cases of a tie, and has frequently sided with the Republicans on issues concerning redevelopment of downtown properties, including the White Street lot.
Whelan responded that with their opposition, the Democrats had “sabotaged the process” just as it was getting underway, even though each had voted in favor of allowing the RFP solicitation to go forward.
Neither the council nor the parking committee has yet created a document consolidating the highlights of the proposals.
Wednesday’s meeting will be held in the council chamber, a room that borough officials said has a total capacity of 107, including standing attendees. A plan to relocate the event to the Red Bank Middle School was scrapped on the expectation that the council chamber will be able to accommodate all who turn out, Whelan said.
Here are some highlights of the proposals filed in response to the RFP, with links to the complete documents available in each post: