By JOHN T. WARD
Red Bank officials may soon revisit development approvals for the former Visiting Nurse Association property on Riverside Avenue, following a process kicked off Wednesday night.
Would-be developer Saxum Real Estate is angling for a new legal designation for the former VNA site at 176 Riverside Avenue, where it already has approval to build 210 apartments.
Construction on the plan, approved by the planning board in December, 2019, has not begun.
At its latest meeting, conducted via Zoom, the council authorized its contract engineering consultant, CME Associates, to conduct a preliminary investigation into whether the site might qualify as an “area in need of redevelopment” as defined by state law. The $19,500 analysis will be paid for by Saxum.
The 2.4-acre site is already designated as an “area in need of rehabilitation” under prior council action. In response to questions by council members Ed Zipprich and Michael Ballard, Mayor Pasquale Menna said Saxum was exploring the alternative designation.
Zipprich noted that the new designation would allow for the use of eminent domain and tax abatements to spur development. But Mayor Pasquale Menna responded that the borough has an ordinance prohibiting eminent domain takings of property, and noted that since Saxum owns the site in question, there’s no issue of condemnation.
The specific aim of the Saxum request, previously discussed in an executive session whose minutes have not been released, has not been publicly disclosed.
Ballard, though, pressed on the rationale for the review, given that the Saxum project has been reviewed and approved by the planning board with variances, and the council has incorporated the project into its affordable housing plan.
“It’s been requested that we review this, and we certainly will entertain a review,” Menna said. “My understanding is the project may even be scaled down… We’ll find out when the report comes out if it’s something we want to entertain or not.”
Borough Attorney Greg Cannon said the matter involved negotiations with Saxum that he could not disclose, but concerned the town’s obligation to encourage the development of affordable housing.
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