By JOHN T. WARD
The near-completion of the Element, built on a former rubble-strewn West Front Street lot, marks the end of an odyssey that included a market pivot and pitched battles at the borough council.
Designed by architect Lance Blake and developed by Debra Tantleff of Tantum Real Estate, the four-story structure is located at 55 West Front Street, opposite Riverside Gardens Park.
As contractors raced to complete their work Wednesday, Tantleff hosted local government officials for a ceremonial opening and tours. The building contains 19 two-bedroom units, at rents starting at $3,625 per month, and 16 one-bedrooms, from $2,475 per month.
The narrow lot provides tenant parking onsite beneath a deck with views north across the park to the Navesink River.
Tantleff said she is “shooting for a public opening” in about a week, with move-ins to begin soon afterward.
The property, home to a nursing home demolished in 2008, was the subject of a zoning board approval for 27 condominiums granted in 2007. But that development never happened, derailed by the global financial crisis of 2009, which rendered the condos unmarketable, the owners said.
They returned to the board in 2015 with a modified plan calling for 35 rental units. But that plan, which mirrored what’s now the Element, was shot down by the zoning board as “too dense,” in the words of now-Council President Erik Yngstrom.
Almost immediately, however, site owners Ralph Braha, Steven Zekaria and Joe Shabot persuaded Mayor Pasquale Menna to utilize a state law allowing the borough to designate the site as an area in need of
rehabilitation redevelopment, and thus get another shot at approval.
The designation passed as an ordinance after a series of bitter borough council sessions in 2016 that required Menna’s vote as a tiebreaker, when he sided with Republican proponents of the plan and against his fellow Democrats.
Addressing a small gathering on the deck Wednesday, Menna said the experience was “a game-changer,” as it prompted borough officials to “think ahead about other projects,” and served as the “catalyst” for a deal with Saxum Real Estate in its planned redevelopment of the former Visiting Nurse Association property at 176 Riverside Avenue.
The Element, he said, “creates opportunities to have residents engage with our downtown. We need that.”
Joe Shabot, who remains one of three site owners in partnership on the project with Tantum, told redbankgreen that when he first saw the view of the river from the lot, “I knew this had to be built.”
Now, he said, “I hope all the naysayers and skeptics who attended those meetings will rethink their positions, and maybe knock down the walls protecting Red Bank from development.”
Father John Lock, pastor of the Trinity Episcopal Church, located next door to the Element, was among those who took the tour.
“It’s much better than an empty lot, and they did a good job building it,” he told redbankgreen. His congregation plans to host a pet blessing in the fall, with an invitation to “our new neighbors,” to bring their animals, he said.