RED BANK: COUNCIL OKS TRIAL VALET PLAN

An undated Google Maps view up Boat Club Way toward West Front Street. 26 West now occupies the building at right. (Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

Over vehement objections by Mayor Pasquale Menna, the Red Bank council approved a 90-day valet parking setup for a downtown restaurant Wednesday.

Menna called the proposal, by 26 West on the Navesink, to use narrow Boat Club Way as a valet parking dropoff and pickup location “insane.”

During an extended and spirited debate at the governing body’s semimonthly meeting, the three members of the its parking committee — councilmembers Mike Whelan, Ed Zipprich and Erik Yngstrom — said they were willing to give the plan a chance, while reserving the town’s ability to revoke the approval if police find it causes problems.

Menna, though, said that the restaurant’s owners, in pursuit of a parking deficit variance earlier this year, had told the planning board that have customers in nearby public parking would suffice. Now, he said, it appears the restaurant wishes to solve its problem in a manner that creates problems for other motorists and the town.

Likening Boat Club Way to a “barely passable” and unpaved driveway, Menna said that having vehicles stopped along either side will exacerbate backups on already-congested West Front Street, he said.

“Somebody doesn’t have reality here,” he said. “What am I missing here?”

He noted that the first-floor space at 22-24 West Front, just across Boat Club Way from the restaurant, has planning board approval to be transformed into a private cigar club and restaurant called Le Malt Club.

Yngstrom though, said the committee thought it was worth trying. “We want to give it a shot snd see how it goes,” her said. “If there are queueing problems, don’t renew it.”

Menna noted that there’s already a valet parking service, based just around the corner on Broad Street, that could accommodate 26 West’s customers. That service, he said, “is supposed to be for everybody.

“Now you’ve got one restaurant that wants its own valet around the corner because its customers don’t want to walk two blocks,” he said. “That’s insane.”

Police Chief Darren McConnell said his department’s concerns “were pretty much the same as the mayor’s,” which is why he endorsed a “pretty brief” trial period.

“The concern is the impact on Front Street more than anything,” he told the council. “We don’t know what the impact will be unless we try it, and if you’re not inclined to try it, that’s obviously your decision.”

No one from the restaurant owning group led by Greg Milano spoke on the proposal. But Jim Scavone, executive director of the downtown promotion agency Red Bank RiverCenter, told the council that the owners are in the process of acquiring a nearby lot to be used for parking. In the interim, they proposed the valet arrangement, under which customers’ vehicles would be parked in the municipal lot at nearby Marine Park.

“We can get rid of it after a week” if it doesn’t work,” said Councilman Mark Taylor. “Sometimes you just have to try something and see what happens.”

The council’s approval was unanimous. Under Red Bank’s form of government, the mayor only votes to break a tie.

The council also approved a request by Riverview Medical Center to purchase “the maximum number of Parking Permits for use in Marine Park from October 1, 2017 through March 31, 2018 to decompress their campus,” according to the agenda.

Menna said the parking area in the park gets low utilization during those months, and Whelan, who heads the parking committee, said the spaces would be available to non-permit holders after 2 p.m., “so you’re not giving up a huge chunk of the day, especially during winter. You don’t have the boaters down there.”

Revenue from the lot last winter shows that utilization was “extremely low,” he said.

Menna also cautioned the council about granting that approval.

“My hunch is that once you give somebody something, it’s going to be very difficult to take it away again,” he said. “But if that’s what you want to do, that’s what you can do. But I caution that that sunset date is going to be very, very difficult to remove.”

The council approval was unanimous.