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RED BANK: RIVERCENTER TAKES STANCE ON LOT

 rb-white-st-072817-500x375-1539723RiverCenter took no position on the relative merits of five developers’ concept plans for the White Street lot. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

By JOHN T. WARD

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It’s 500 or nothing, says Red Bank RiverCenter.

The downtown promotion agency says in an “open letter” to elected officials that it “cannot and will not” support a plan for a parking garage on White Street that doesn’t yield a net gain of 500 parking spaces on the 2.3-acre site — and none of the five plans submitted by would-be developers currently meets that target, it claims.

Mike Whelan, the councilmember who leads the parking committee, called the organization’s statement a “flip-flop” and a “disservice” to the downtown.

In the letter to the mayor and council released Thursday, RiverCenter said that “one parking study after another has identified the serious shortfall of parking spaces, with mostly every study putting the number at much more than 1,000 spaces.”

Under a request for proposals, or RFP, issued by the council earlier this year, five concept plans were submitted by builders, all offering housing along with a parking solution, and several incorporating commercial space.

In its letter, without weighing in on their relative merits, RiverCenter zeroed in on what the plans offer in terms of parking spaces, and found all of them wanting.

“Although each developer says that their plan provides 500 net new parking spaces, none of them actually do,” the letter says. “It is only through the use of “shared parking” and lower ratios for the number of spaces needed per residential unit that the proposals claim to meet this requirement.”

The organization urges the officials “meet with the developers and stress that they must provide at least 500 net new spaces before their development will be seriously considered.” Otherwise, “we will be forced to oppose a solution that will ultimately be to the detriment of the Downtown.”

Here’s the full text:

OPEN LETTER TO MAYOR AND COUNCIL

BOROUGH OF RED BANK

For nearly 30 years, one problem more than any other has plagued the Red Bank business district – a serious lack of parking inventory in the downtown. Through the years, one parking study after another has identified the serious shortfall of parking spaces, with mostly every study putting the number at much more than 1,000 spaces.

Last year, the Borough Council again took up the issue of developing a parking garage on the site of the municipal parking lot on White Street.  There has been much discussion among government officials, residents, and the business community about what is the “right” garage.  Should there be residential and/or commercial development on the site as well?  What is the proper financing? What is the right location?  Should there be green space included?

While we can debate the particulars about a potential garage, as the representative of the entire downtown business community, there is one thing that is clear to RiverCenter which is not up for debate.  In order to have any significant positive effect on the downtown, any garage on the White Street parking lot must include, at a minimum, 500 net new parking spaces.  This means 500 parking spaces over and above what is currently on the lot (271 spaces), in addition to any parking that would be required for residential and/or commercial uses that are part of the new development.

Five proposals were submitted by developers in response to the RFP sent out by the Borough.  Most of the proposals incorporate excellent designs as well as residential units, which would also be a benefit in the middle of our Downtown; however, although each developer says that their plan provides 500 net new parking spaces, none of them actually do.  It is only through the use of “shared parking” and lower ratios for the number of spaces needed per residential unit that the proposals claim to meet this requirement.  In their present form, therefore, RiverCenter cannot support the proposals. We know, however, that at least one developer has already agreed to alter its proposal so that it does provide at least 500 net new spaces and we are hopeful that the other developers are willing to do so as well.  It is imperative, therefore, that representatives from the Borough and the business district meet with the developers and stress that they must provide at least 500 net new spaces before their development will be seriously considered.

According to the parking studies mentioned above, the White Street parking lot is the best site for development of a parking structure.  If the site is developed but fails to provide a large enough increase in the parking inventory we will have lost our best and finest solution forever.  The survival of Downtown Red Bank as a regional destination depends on properly solving this issue.  We cannot and must not fail.  We cannot and must not come up short in our solution. To do so would mean being responsible for the demise of the Downtown business district.

We plead with our elected officials to find a solution that nets 500 new parking spaces on the White Street parking lot.  We can debate the design and discuss particulars of development, but one fact is glaringly clear to us — the business district cannot and will not support a garage development that does not meet this minimum standard.  In fact, we will be forced to oppose a solution that will ultimately be to the detriment of the Downtown.

Red Bank RiverCenter

Here’s Whelan’s response, sent via text to redbankgreen:

Rivercenter should be careful when they say “the business district will not support” something… they speak for a few executive members that pull the puppet strings. The voice of the individual businesses and other groups such as RBBA [Red Bank Business Alliance] have a voice as well. That voice will be heard just like the resident voices.

Rivercenter has stated numerous times they would like the RFP process to play out so they should not flip flop now. They are doing the downtown a disservice.

This project is much more than a garage and should transform the downtown and move us forward.

Asked why he considered the position a “disservice” to the downtown, Whelan replied:

Disservice for not allowing the process to play out. Some businesses think that 350 or 400 net new is enough bc of the larger plan which incorporates the downtown living etc.

RiverCenter, a semi-autonomous operation that’s funded by a surtax on commercial properties in a Special Improvement District, has a mix of landlords and merchants in its governing board. The RBBA sprang up as a movement by downtown merchants to stimulate economic activity, with more parking its foremost objective.

Mike Simpson, a founding official of RiverCenter who is now active in the two-year-old RBBA, said the younger organization found RiverCenter’s stance “worthy of applause for keep the eye on the goal of parking.”

There’s at least a 500-parking-space deficit in the district, Simpson said, and “if you can’t recognize, whatever your political stripe, that this is a problem, then what are you doing as an elected official?”

He said elected officials of both parties have politicized the parking issue over two decades. Now, “if something isn’t done tangibly in the next 18 months, I think a lot of merchants are just going to say, ‘why should I stay?'” he said.

In addition to the five proposals submitted under the umbrella of the RFP, downtown property owner John Bowers has been pushing for a garage-only solution that calls for the borough to build its own parking structure, and nothing more, on the White Street site.

For almost two months, Whelan has said the parking committee will hold a forum for residents and others to comment on the five RFP proposals, which were presented to the committee by developers on June 14. As of Thursday, no date for that event been set.

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