By JOHN T. WARD
Residents, merchants and visitors could get two chances to weigh in on downtown Red Bank’s parking crisis — or whether one even exists — at two public events in coming weeks.
Both events were characterized at Wednesday night’s semimonthly council meeting as next-steps responses to five plans presented by would-be developers of the borough-owned parking lot on White Street.
Both the council’s parking committee, headed by Councilman Mike Whelan, and the Red Bank Business Alliance announced plans for public sessions on the five plans, and others. Neither group, however, has set a date for its session, Whelan and RBBA members said.
The parking committee session is expected to follow a regular borough council meeting, said Mayor Pasquale Menna, who said the date would likely be announced “in the next day or so.”
Unlike the last parking committee meeting, on June 14, when five builders outlined their concept proposals for the 2.3-acre White Street lot, this hearing will provide for comment and questions from those in attendance, said Menna.
That provision means that all six council members, as well as Menna, may be present, under the New Jersey Open Public Meetings law, said borough Attorney Greg Cannon.
The three council Democrats, who have voiced strong opposition to the redevelopment process and this week unveiled their plan for a parking garage on the site, did not participate in the June 14 meeting.
Though the council’s Wednesday agenda had no parking business on it, several members of the audience used the public comment session to weigh in on the White Street plans.
Bill Brooks, of Tower Hill Avenue, pressed the council to come up with a firm estimate on the current shortfall of parking spaces before embarking on a redevelopment project. No recent studies of the question have been conducted, he noted.
“We have to make sure we get this right,” he said. “If you can’t see the target, you can’t shoot it. We cannot afford to get this wrong.”
Alan Placer, owner of Hobbymasters, located on White Street opposite the lot, responded that whatever the shortfall is, the process now underway will only make a dent in it. Pausing or halting the process for the purpose of conducting a study, he said, would simply drive away the prospective builders, each of whom has invested tens of thousands of dollars just to be in the running, he said.
“If you stop the process now, nobody else is going to put another bid in… to a town that doesn’t even finish the process,” Placer said.
RBBA officials said they also expect to announce details of their forum in coming days. Meantime, the parking committee is continuing to accept comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.