By JOHN T. WARD
Red Bank homeowners who long to transform their garages into living space: take note. The borough zoning board summarily nixed a plan to convert a garage behind a Maple Avenue office building into a single-family home Thursday night.
With a unanimous vote, the board rejected arguments by a lawyer and architect/planner that the change should be allowed because the property is covered by an affordable housing overlay zone.
At issue was a request by retired chiropractor Herb Ruth to remake a detached two-garage behind 140 Maple Avenue into a single-family home. The property is located next door to the Courts of Red Bank office complex, and the main structure on the site is an office building in which Ruth formerly conducted his practice. It’s now used by an ad agency and a one-person investment advisory service, Ruth told the board.
The two-story garage, he said, had lawfully been outfitted at some point with electrical service, heat and a rudimentary bathroom. Ruth said he would work on boats, furniture and his collection of antique cars in the garage, and now is looking to downsize from his Oceanport home into a apartment he wanted to build there.
The case was complicated, however, by the fact that, as a condition of a approval of Ruth’s request to change the property from a residence to office use back in 2005, the planning board had imposed a condition that the garage could never be used as living space.
Zoning board attorney Kevin Kennedy said at the hearing’s outset that the application raised a question: “are we legally permitted to quote-unquote unwind the planning board deed restriction?”
Ruth’s attorney, Brad Batcha, said the condition “was just something the planning board threw in there.” He also said said that if the zoning board were to approve the conversion, his client would go back to the planning board in an attempt to have the deed restriction lifted.
“You don’t have to feel that you’re stepping on the toes of the planning board,” he said.
But zoning board member Sean Murphy wasn’t buying it.
“They made sure to get it in there that they didn’t want the garage to be used as living quarters,” Murphy said of the planning board.
Batcha also argued that a number of Maple Avenue office buildings have apartments in former garages behind them, and that a “meaningless” distinction between “business offices” and “professional offices” in the borough ordinances prohibited apartments in one but allowed them in the other.
Murphy, noted, however, that that applied to primary structures, not a garage.
Architect and planner Mike Simpson told the board that, subsequent to Ruth’s purchase, the council had adopted an affordable housing “overlay” zone that includes the property. And Ruth’s plan “provides for housing,” he said.
“Providing an apartment is the best use of the site,” Simpson said, “without any negative impact.”
In the end, though, Murphy and fellow board member Ray Mass said they were simply not willing to allow the conversion of a garage to a home. Both cited concerns that doing so would unleash a spate of “me-too” requests throughout town.
“I think it would open the floodgates,” Murphy said.
Another application that had been scheduled for hearing Thursday — charity housing provider HABcore‘s proposal to add four units to a non-conforming two-family at 119 River Street — was rescheduled for January 4. Because this was the third postponement, the board said it would require HABcore to re-notify neighbors of the new date.