By JOHN T. WARD
Over the objections of residents who pleaded that it be saved, the Red Bank planning board approved the demolition of a 118-year-old Victorian house owned by Riverview Medical Center Monday night.
Though it doesn’t yet know what it will do with the property, Riverview can’t use the house for delivering health services, hospital chief operating officer Kelli O’Brien told the board.
“Unfortunately, it wouldn’t meet New Jersey Department of Health requirements,” she said.
“I know I could personally use it as office space,” Steve Bailey, a principal in Spitball, a marketing firm based on Broad Street, told the board.
Hackensack Meridian Health, which owns Riverview, bought the property, along with the red brick office building at 91 East Front Street just to its west, for $2.65 million in July, 2015, as reported by redbankgreen.
The 4,000-square-foot structure overlooking the Navesink River was built in 1901, according to property records, and at some point was divided up into five apartments.
Meridian now wants to demolish the vacant structure. Under borough ordinance, site plan approvals are required for demolition of any dwelling of two or more units.
No plan to develop the property has been filed, officials said. According to hospital attorney John Giunco, Riverview is conducting a master plan review of its real estate holdings with an eye toward expansion. Meantime, the site will be seeded and left empty, he said.
But given that the hospital has no clear plan for the site, “it seems like one of the best ideas is to wait,” Bailey told the board.
Others in the audience echoed comments by Jennifer Kralyevich, of Pinckney Road, who lamented the loss of “another great historical structure.”
“I think a lot of visitors come to town to see the old architecture and appreciate it,” Kralyevich said.
“There is always a way that architecture can be reused,” she said, citing offices in town used by attorneys and eye doctors. “Unfortunately, the new architecture that’s going up around here is not noteworthy.”
Kal Pippo, a member of the Historic Preservation Commission, told the board that the hospital’s “push to expand is relentless. And if we don’t draw the line somewhere, how much of historic Red Bank is going to be gobbled up?”
Rose Marie Costa said the hospital “has crept, from left to right, top to bottom,” acquiring property, but does not permit its “teaching people” to park on hospital property, forcing them into the nearby neighborhoods.
“I just think it is grossly unfair what this hospital is doing with this general area,” she said.
In a 6-3 vote, board member David Cassidy was one of three board members who voted to deny the application, along with Juanita Lewis and Councilman Michael Ballard.
“This is the character of our town,” Cassidy said. Under the borough’s Master Plan, Cassidy said, “Victorians mean something to this town. We are supposed to be saving them.”
Mayor Pasquale Menna argued in favor of the proposal. “Anyone who reads the Department of Health guidelines knows it can’t be retrofitted,” he said. In addition, he said, the hospital is “here to stay,” provides more jobs than any other employer in town and is engaged in competition that requires expansion.
The board attached several conditions to the approval: Riverview must eliminate the curb cut to the house’s driveway, plant street trees and install a decorative fence, rather than chain-link, along the front of the property.
The red brick medical office building at 91 East Front is not currently slated for demolition because it has tenants and the hospital is “honoring those leases,” O’Brien said.
There was no mention of 103 East Front, just to the east of the house, which is also owned by Meridian.