By JOHN T. WARD
At an event with no equal in recent memory, and possibly in the 109-year history of the borough, five would-be developers trotted out plans to remake a large swath of downtown Red Bank Wednesday night.
Mixing elements of beauty pageant and planning board meeting, the special session of the borough parking committee drew a standing-room crowd to hear would-be builders tout their visions for massive parking and housing projects, some with retail thrown in as well.
The event was notable also for who was not there.
Republican council members Mike Whelan, Mark Taylor and Linda Schwabenbauer, with borough Administrator Stanley Sickels in the background, listen to a developer’s presentation. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
The occasion was the first public airing of concept development proposals submitted in early April by five builders in response to a Requests for Proposals, or RFP, issued by the council in December for the town’s 2.3-acre White Street parking lot.
To varying degrees, the builders put additional meat on the bones of their April submissions. One leaned heavily on its track record with environmentally green projects; another touted its ability to make an apartment building feel like a luxury hotel. One was light on architectural details; another included adjoining properties that would add almost an acre of buildable land to its project.
All claimed to be able to meet the council’s requirement that they add at least 500 new public parking spaces on the site, which now accommodates 273 vehicles.
Links to redbankgreen‘s coverage of each developer’s pitch can be found below.
The crowd, which filled the council chamber but did not spill into the hallway, was polite and receptive, though the audience was not permitted to comment on or ask questions about the presentations. Councilman Mike Whelan, who chairs the parking committee and has spearheaded the garage effort, said the time for comments would come in the future, because allowing them during the presentations would elongate a meeting that was expected to run for several hours.
Comments may be sent to the committee at firstname.lastname@example.org. In addition, comment forms will be posted on the borough website Thursday, officials said.
Notably, none of the three council Democrats stayed for the presentations, which were made after the regular council meeting that preceded the parking meeting. All three — Ed Zipprich, Kathy Horgan and Erik Yngstrom — had previously excoriated the five proposals as products of a “Jersey City-style high rise vision” pushed by their Republican counterparts, and this week mailed a letter to residents urging them to turn out and tell the GOP “exactly what you think about these outlandish proposals.” Here’s the letter: RB Democrats 060917
Zipprich, Horgan and Yngstrom volunteered to leave before the presentations in response to borough Attorney Greg Cannon’s warning that, if more than three council members were present, the session would have to include a public comment portion under state statute.
Their departure appeared to please Whelan, who said during the council meeting that if anyone should remain, it should be councilmembers “who are willing to hear” what the developers had to say.
The Democrats’ stance raised the possibility that a plan endorsed by Republicans Whelan, Mark Taylor and Linda Schwabenbauer would come down to a tiebreaker vote by Mayor Pasquale Menna, a Democrat. He has consistently sided with the Republicans through the redevelopment process.
Also missing: any mention of a plan proposed by downtown landlord John Bowers, who wants the borough to build its own garage, and nothing more, on the site.
Afterward, Whelan said the session gave the public a chance “to hear and digest the five proposals from the developers themselves, and take their notes and think about a number of questions they might have.”
Alan Placer, owner of the Hobbymasters store located across the street from the existing lot, told redbankgreen that the proposals “looked a lot better when presented than on paper.”
He was impressed, he said, that most of the developers indicated a willingness to be flexible, and modify their plans based on input from the borough.
“They can change them to look like 1920s buildings, and hopefully, they can change the height to be a little more conforming to what people want for the town,” he said.
Here’s redbankgreen‘s coverage of each of the presentations: