The redevelopment plan for the White Street parking lot, outlined in red above, will be rescinded in an effort to end a lawsuit and address concerns about building size, borough officials said. (Image by Google Maps. Click to enlarge.)
By JOHN T. WARD
Red Bank’s search for a downtown parking solution took a U-turn Wednesday night, when the borough council put in motion a plan to derail a pending lawsuit by former councilwoman Cindy Burnham that members say has impeded progress.
In what was also described as a “compromise” between Republicans and Democrats over proposed building sizes , the council agreed to scrap a contentious nine-month-old redevelopment plan for the White Street parking lot.
At the same time, it knocked out, without much explanation, three of the five developers vying to build a parking deck, and more, on the 2.3-acre site.
The measure to rescind redevelopment-enabling ordinance 2016-25, which was adopted on a split vote last December 14, was not on the agenda for Wednesday’s semimonthly meeting, and copies were not immediately available.
As read into the record by Mayor Pasquale Menna, the rescinding ordinance says the governing body “wants to consider other potential options regarding development of the White Street property, which if pursued will require changes to the redevelopment plan.”
A companion resolution, which Menna also read aloud, states the council’s intent to continue discussions with two of the five respondents to a Request for Proposals “regarding potential amendments to the redevelopment plan.”
Menna said the council would continue negotiations with developers BNE Canoe and Red Bank-based Yellow Brook Properties, owned by Roger Mumford, “in anticipation of potentially designating one of the respondents as redeveloper to work with the borough.”
The action was lauded by Democrats and Republicans.
“We have come from very far apart in order to come together,” said Councilman Ed Zipprich, one of three Democrats on the six-member governing body. “This is the way government is supposed to work together,” he said.
Zipprich, who heads the borough Democratic party and is up for re-election in November, and fellow Democrats Kathy Horgan and Erik Yngstrom had previously denounced as ‘ridiculous’ all five proposals by private developers, and had vowed to press for a garage-only solution.
“I know a lot of people felt this side of the aisle had closed our ears, but the entire council has personally met with each and every one of the developers,” he said. Zipprich said he, Yngstrom and Horgan came away pleased that the two remaining developers are flexible and “willing to discuss projects that better fit Red Bank.”
“Our biggest concern was the size of the proposed project and the lack of public input,” he said. “As part of this package, the eight-story redevelopment plan will be rescinded, and this plan will be reworked with two selected developers.”
Councilman Mike Whelan, who chairs the borough government’s parking committee and has spearheaded the drive for a parking deck on White Street, said he looks forward to “working with everybody on the governing body… to make a path forward.”
“There’s no plans being picked,” he said. “It’s just people that we feel have the best experience to craft something to go forward.”
“I know there was tension between both sides, but now we’re here coming together, and this is what we’re supposed to be doing,” said Whelan, who’s running for state Assembly in the 11th District.
Menna called the agreement a result of “extraordinary exercise” in “maturity and fact-finding” by all council members, and said it would allow for progress in what he called the “seminal discussion of parking since Moses came down from the mountain.”
Borough Attorney Greg Cannon said the agreement was hammered out over a series of executive sessions, or closed-door meetings, that governing bodies are permitted to hold concerning matters of litigation and real estate transactions, as well as personnel matters.
Zipprich told redbankgreen those meetings included presentations by all five developers on August 1, the evening of the annual National Night Out community policing barbecue held in the parking lot at borough hall.
Cannon said the rescission will render the Burnham lawsuit moot and “wipe the slate clean in terms of what the future proposals or project may look like.”
The lawsuit, filed in Superior Court in Freehold in January by Burnham-formed Residents for Responsible Development LLC, contends that the redevelopment plan was improperly adopted. Here’s the original complaint: RRD v Borough 013017
Borough redevelopment attorney Leslie London said rescinding the plan would allow the council “to look at various other options that have come about as a result of the proposals submitted in response to the RFP, and also the comments from the public.” Those alternatives “could not have been pursued” otherwise, she said.
Left unanswered, however, was whether the move would have its intended effect regarding the lawsuit. Burnham did not address the council’s action when she spoke on another matter during the public comment session of the meeting. London told redbankgreen that she was scheduled to discuss the matter with Burnham’s lawyer, Ron Gasiorowski, on Thursday.
Gasiorowski told redbankgreen last Friday that he didn’t know what was coming at the council meeting.
Two officers of the Red Bank Business Alliance expressed support for the council actions.
Stephen Catania, owner of the Cheese Cave on Monmouth Street, said he was “pleasantly surprised” by the council’s action. He also said he was not concerned that the council, without public input, had selected two developers with which to continue talks.
“I think they’ve done a lot of legwork,” he said. “You have to trust that after all those executive sessions, they came away with the feeling that these are the two they want.”
Architect Mike Simpson noted that under the RFP, the council “didn’t have to talk to anyone,” and could also negotiate a deal with a builder who didn’t participate in the RFP process.
Both rescission measures are scheduled for adoption votes September 27, the same night a session to solicit public input on White Street is slated at the Red Bank Primary School on River Street. That hearing will follow the council’s regular semimonthly meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at borough hall. The council meeting could not be moved to the school because of the prohibitive cost of renting a sound system that would record the proceedings, Cannon said.