By JOHN T. WARD
The choice of a consultant to lead the rewriting of Red Bank’s Master Plan is expected to get a spotlight at the planning board meeting scheduled for Monday night.
After a demand by Councilman Michael Ballard for greater transparency, the board is expected to review its selection process.
The board’s Master Plan subcommittee recently recommended BFJ Planning of New York City get the work, based in part on its familiarity with New Jersey municipalities and “their ability to be diverse,” Community Development Director Shawna told the council at its meeting last week.
Ebanks said five proposals were submitted in response to a published request. Those were then reviewed by the subcommittee, she said.
“Out of the five, I would say two kind of stood out, due to their presentation and scope of work, and mostly their community engagement,” she said. Costs were also a factor, she said.
Last month, the council authorized a “special emergency appropriation” of $160,000 for consultant fees for the project.
Ballard, however, noted that BFJ’s bid was the second-highest of the five, and said its clients included Jersey City and Hoboken, “much larger municipalities than Red Bank.
“So we have a much higher cost and kind of different geographical layout and space concern than what this firm, I guess, is used to dealing with,” he said.
But his “bigger concern,” Ballard said, was that “only a subcommittee” conducted the review and “this was done in private.
“That doesn’t seem like a very transparent and open process,” he said. “We’re basically basing Red Bank’s future in the next 10, 20, however many years this Master Plan will cover, based on three people’s opinions, not even the full planning board.”
He asked that the board review all five proposals in public, giving residents an opportunity to comment.
Mayor Pasquale Menna, who sits on the planning board, said the full board did have the five proposals, and “delegated the subcommittee to do the legwork” of comparing them.
Doing so in private was similar to the way the borough conducts its hiring of individuals, he suggested.
Ballard countered that the development of makeover plans for Marine Park involved a series of public presentations in 2018.
“This is so vitally important,” he said. “I cannot support any Master Plan that comes from three people’s opinions, I’m sorry.”
Councilman Erik Yngstrom, though, noted that the planning firm Kimley Horn, which won the Marine Park project, was itself selected after non-public review.
Ebanks said that because the subcommittee “will be the first-eyes” on all documents compiled in the plan’s development, “we decided it would be best” for the group to make the recommendation to the full board.
State land use law allows municipalities to use a selection process of their choice, and does not mandate a vote by the full board.
Councilman Ed Zipprich said that under Robert’s Rules of Order, the full board should have a vote.
“If that is the choice the of the council, we can definitely do so at the next meeting,” Ebanks said.
The council informally agreed to that route.
“I think our residents will greatly appreciate the full transparency of the process,” Ballard said.
The meeting will be held in person at borough hall, 90 Monmouth Street, at 7 p.m. Here’s the full agenda.
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