By JOHN T. WARD
The Red Bank council took steps Wednesday to allow as many as 90 housing units per acre on a key redevelopment site.
But the proposed rezoning of the former Visiting Nurse Association headquarters site would negate a compromise recommendation made by the planning board just last week.
At issue is a proposed ordinance that would create a new zone solely for the VNA site, at the corner of Riverside Avenue and Bodman Place.
The property is owned by Saxum Real Estate of Parsippany-Troy Hills, which bought it in January for $7.4 million. The company has not yet filed a proposal for the property, and the existing 38,000-square-foot office building is vacant.
The 2.7-acre site is a key piece of the puzzle in addressing the borough’s affordable housing obligations, Joe Baumann, the borough’s special attorney for redevelopment, told the planning board November 19.
At that meeting, a vote to allow 90 units per acre at the site ended in a 4-4 tie, meaning it failed. The board later voted 6-2 to cap the site’s density at 80 units per acre. A redevelopment plan for the site written by the borough’s contract engineer, CME Associates, had recommended 70 units per acre, but with “density bonuses” for features such as bike racks and solar power that board members found overly generous.
At the council’s semimonthly meeting Wednesday night, Baumann, of the firm McManimon, Scotland & Baumann, urged the governing body to reject the planning board’s compromise recommendation and adopt the higher density.
Unlike the planning board, which by law limited its review “from a planning perspective,” the council’s purview also includes “any and all other considerations, including our ongoing obligation to improve upon the number of affordable housing units,” Baumann told the council.
Baumann, who previously said he was involved in the drafting of the 31-page redeveloopment plan, is also representing the town in litigation initiated by the nonprofit Fair Share Housing Center over the town’s affordable housing obligation.
The case is the subject of settlement negotiations, he said, and the court is pressuring the borough to show concrete steps toward a resolution.
Baumann is additionally negotiating with Saxum over affordable housing, with the aim of reaching a contract between the borough and the developer that specify the number of affordable housing units the firm will build.
“We can certainly through our negotiations on the redevelopment agreement… restrict, allow the developer to do less” than the ordinance sets as a maximum, he said. Setting the higher number of units per acre gives the borough’s negotiating team “the maximum amount of flexibility that addresses as much of the needs of the borough as possible,” he said.
Following Baumann’s recommendation, the council voted unanimously to replace the original proposed ordinance, which reflected the CME report, with one allowing for the higher density. Councilman Mike Whelan was absent; he told redbankgreen Thursday that he also would have voted in favor. A public hearing and adoption vote was scheduled for December 12.
The new version would also require the project be “qualified” a LEED (Leadership in Energy Efficient Design) Silver rating or greater, though actual certification would not be needed.
Two borough residents raised objections. Ben Forest, of Locust Avenue, urged the council not to overrule the planning board, and Dan Riordan, of Elm Place, said the CME plan has no provision for so-called “complete streets” features which encourage walking and biking.