RED BANK: PLANNERS CAP VNA SITE DENSITY

red bank nj vna 176 riverside saxumRed Bank is negotiating a deal under which the developer would satisfy a “significant” portion of the town’s affordable housing obligation, a lawyer told the board. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

By JOHN T. WARD

hot topic red bank njThe site of a vacant office building in Red Bank is a key element in meeting the borough’s affordable housing obligations, a lawyer told the planning board Monday night.

But a proposal to allow the development of up to 90 units per acre on the 2.7-acre former Visiting Nurse Association headquarters site met continued resistance, despite support from Mayor Pasquale Menna.

At issue before the board was a proposed ordinance that would create an overlay zone for the VNA site, at Riverside Avenue and Bodman Place. Under state land use law, the board must review such laws for compliance with the town’s Master Plan.

In October, when the review began, planning board members balked at the recommendation to allow 70 housing units per acre on the site and to give the developer “density bonuses” for incorporating “sustainable measures” such as a green roof, solar energy, bike racks and other add-ons into the project.

The bonuses were recommended in a 31-page redevelopment plan for the site written by the borough’s contract engineer, CME Associates.

Saxum Real Estate of Parsippany-Troy Hills bought the property 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 hearing resumed Monday night with the borough’s redevelopment and affordable housing attorney, Joe Baumann, telling the board he was in negotiations with the nonprofit Fair Share Housing Center and other stakeholders over the town’s affordable housing obligation. His firm, McManimon, Scotland & Baumann, was also “integral” in the development of the CME plan, he said.

The proposed density, he said, is “being driven in part by the need to have a significant number of affordable housing units on the property.”

Baumann said his firm is also in negotiation with Saxum over affordable housing there. The end result, he said, would be a contract that “will bind [Saxum] to a particular number of affordable housing units.”

“We are solving [the affordable obligation] by letting them have increased density,” rather than having local taxpayers subsidize the lower-cost units through tax abatements, Baumann said. “This is our only avenue.”

Baumann did not disclose the number of affordable units under discussion, but said 15 percent of the site’s units could be affordable. At 200 units on the site, that would be 30 affordable homes, he said, which he said was a “significant” portion of the town’s obligation.

Menna said the project would create “the largest number of affordable homes in the borough since Cedar Crossing,” a 36-unit townhouse project built on Cedar Street a decade ago.

Engineer Laura Neumann of CME told the board that the proposed density was in line with nearby developments. She cited the Colony House apartments, on Bodman Place, which she said has 80 units per acre, and the Riverview Towers highrise, at 200 per acre.

Adoption of the ordinance would set a maximum density, but the developer would “still have to come back with a site plan to show the plan functions and works,” Neumann said. “It doesn’t mean they’re entitled to that number.”

Board Chairman Dan Mancuso told Neumann and Baumann that, since the last meeting, he had “found peace” with the idea of 70 units per acre, particularly because he regretted having voted for the construction of the VNA building. But he could not accept giving the bonuses, he said.

In response, Baumann proposed that the density be increased to 90 units per acre, under which Saxum would be required to include all the features currently linked to the bonuses.

“The number that we’re trying to get to is the larger, the 90,” he said, adding that the more market-rate units allowed, the more affordable units the borough could demand.

“Seventy just seems like a good number to me,” Mancuso said.

Menna, though, urged the board to approve 90. The developer, he said, is offering to build underground parking to address the project’s needs, he said. Saxum also is open to contributing to the cost of a traffic light at the intersection, provided the borough can obtain approval from the New Jersey Department of Transportation, he said.

The DOT has long objected to installing a signal there as “not feasible” because of its proximity to the signals at the foot of the nearby Route 35 Cooper’s Bridge.

“There’s a cost to the garage. There’s a cost to the architecture, which we want to be really good,” Menna said. “It’s not going to be manna from heaven.”

After extended debate, the board voted on a motion to allow 90 units per acre, but the result was a 4-4 tie, meaning the motion failed. Mancuso and members Barbara Boas, Guy Marotta and Juanita Lewis, a former council member, voted no; in favor were Menna, fire marshal Tommy Welsh, former Councilman Art Murphy and councilman-elect Hazim Yassin.

“This takes everything back two years,” Menna said in frustration.

But mayor’s alternate David Cassidy, who only votes in Menna’s absence, urged the board to find a middle ground.

“Go walk over there. We need to rehab this site,” he said. “To let this opportunity pass us by would be a tremendous mistake.”

A motion to allow up to 80 units per acre passed, 6-2, with Menna and Murphy casting the ‘no’ votes.

Afterward, Menna told redbankgreen that the council “isn’t locked in” to following the board’s recommendation.

• Separately, Angela Brown, owner of 38 Bank Street, won approval to demolish the existing vacant house there, subdivide the property and build a home on each lot.

The plan needed a variance to allow 37.5 feet of frontage for each new lot, where 50 feet are required. Her architect, David Carnivale, told the board the “little cottages” he’d designed “would be an ornament to the street.”

Video of the meeting can be found here.