By JOHN T. WARD
Despite some misgivings about its impact on a problematic corner, Lunch Break won approval for a $12 million expansion from the Red Bank zoning board last week.
Board members cited the food-security charity’s “inherently beneficial use” in granting unanimous approval.
The two-story addition to Lunch Break’s existing facilities at 121 Drs. James Parker Boulevard would increase the building area to 8,000 square feet, from 3,000.
It’s needed to help Lunch Break address a growing lack of food security in Red Bank and throughout Monmouth County, executive director Gwen Love told the board at its meeting Thursday night.
That need increased with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and continues without end in sight, she said. As a result, The 38-year-old nonprofit has outgrown its home, she said, with rented storage PODs dotting the parking lot.
Within the building, delivered food has to be carried down to the basement for temporary storage, and then back up to the kitchen, Love said. Throughout the facility, volunteers and clients are jostling past one another in tight spaces, she said.
“It’s all about food going downstairs and coming up for the kitchen and the pantry,” Love said. “So there’s a constant flow of food being brought down just to come back up to stock the shelves and be prepared by the kitchen staff. It’s a lot of wear and tear on our staff and volunteers, a lot of physical labor.”
The new space would include areas for food storage, kitchen and dining, she said. It would also incorporate the Life Skills Center, which occupies rented space in Shrewsbury, she said.
Construction will expand the existing building in all directions, architect Eric Wagner told the board. The portion nearest the corner of Drs. Parker and Bridge Avenue would expand northward by 12 feet, taking it to about 8 feet from the sidewalks, he said.
That raised concerns among board members, including former council member Sharon Lee, about its impact on sight lines for motorists trying to navigate a difficult intersection.
With pedestrians crossing in multiple directions and motorists trying to find openings in traffic to turn, “eight feet is not very far” from the corner, she said.
Board member Eileen Hogan raised similar concerns. With the addition of shrubbery, “the sightline will be a little bit hindered,” she said.
Vehicle flow within the site will flow one-way from Bridge Avenue to a new driveway on the eastern edge of the property to Drs. Parker, said traffic engineer John McCormack. With 25 spaces, parking onsite will more than quadruple, because half of the present 11 spaces are occupied by temporary storage units, he said.
No neighbors objected to the plan. John Carroll, of South Bridge Avenue, requested a higher fence and more landscaping to provide a greater buffer. The board granted a variance to allow for an eight-foot fence, where Lunch Break had previously asked for a six-footer.
The plan required a variance because charitable uses are not allowed in the zone. “If they charged for meals, it would be permitted,” Lunch Break attorney Rick Brodsky told the board.
Love told redbankgreen afterward that groundbreaking is expected next year, once Lunch Break hits an expected milestone in an ongoing $12 million capital drive.
“We’re very confident we’ll get there, thanks to the amazing generosity of the community,” she said.
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