By JOHN T. WARD
In a move that could torpedo a hotly debated hotel at the northern entry to Red Bank, the planning board Monday night shot down a request by the would-be developer for more time to get the project in the ground.
Larry Cohen, center, and attorney Michael Convery leaving Monday night’s planning board meeting. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)
It took Larry Cohen, a principal in RBank Capital LLC, seven years to win planning board approval to build a six-story Hampton Inn at the foot of the Route 35 Cooper Bridge over the Navesink River.
But two years later, without having put a shovel to the former motel and gas station, Cohen’s request to add a year to his approval was flatly rejected.
Cohen’s approval expires May 1, the second anniversary of the board’s vote on its formal resolution of approval. The impact of Tuesday’s vote on the fate of the project was not immediately clear.
“At this point, we’re just going to have to reassess,” Cohen’s attorney, Michael Convery, told redbankgreen. “We’re certainly not happy with the result.”
In a brief presentation to the board, Cohen said that he had “held off” seeking post-approval permits from the New Jersey Department of Transportation because of pending litigation. The hotel plan had been opposed by the owner of a hotel in Tinton Falls, represented by Red Bank attorney Ron Gasiorowski.
Gasiorowski withdrew the litigation in August, 2017, Convery said.
Cohen said he then turned his attention to the DOT. “It’s been quite a long process with them,” Cohen said of the agency, “but we recently got word that we have approval from them” subject to bonding.
RBank Capital is now dealing with the state Department of Environmental Protection, which “raised a couple of red flags” based on the hotel’s proximity to the river, Cohen said. His firm was confident it was closed to DEP approval, he said.
The firm also worked out a developer’s agreement with the borough council in February, 2018, Cohen said.
But the request for added time elicited a flurry of criticism about site conditions and traffic impacts.
Board member Barbara Boas said the one-acre lot is “not being kept well at all, and it really is disgraceful that people coming into town, that that’s the first thing they see.”
Mayor Pasquale Menna called the conditions “inexcusable.”
Cohen said he had a landscaper visiting the site ever two weeks, but would “take care personally’ to ensure the site is better kept.
Councilman Michael Ballard, who was a mayor’s alternate member of the board in 2017, told Cohen that he has always been opposed to the hotel plan based on safety concerns.
Even though Cohen dropped a request to allow for a northbound turning lane into the hotel, and promised signage to deter motorists leaving the site from turning left to head north on Route 35, “it’s not going to stop the majority” of drivers who want to do either, Ballard said.
“It begs for accidents, it begs for congestion,” he said. “It’s just going to make it so much worse.”
Chairman Dan Mancuso moved to deny the extension, and the vote was unanimous.