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RED BANK: NO DECISION ON HOUSE RAZING

The house at 26 Wallace Street, believed to have been built in 1889, would be razed to expand a parking lot under a developer’s proposal. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

By JOHN T. WARD

hot-topic_03-220x138-9108919A decision on a developer’s plan to raze a 132-year-old house in downtown Red Bank for parking was postponed Thursday night.

The plan may offer the first significant test of powers granted to the Historic Preservation Commission three years ago.

Downtown Investors, which owns a portfolio of office buildings and parking lots in the business district, had proposed demolishing 26 Wallace Street, with the aim of expanding an existing parking lot that fronts on Linden Place.

The new 30-space lot was to have included a drive-thru, ATM-like device that enables users to communicate with bank representatives via video.

The house, just steps from Broad Street, is believed to have been built in 1889.

The zoning board had been scheduled to take up the application at its meeting Thursday night. But Downtown Investors withdrew the application and resubmitted it to the borough planning office without the drive-thru, said board attorney Kevin Kennedy.

Kennedy said that absent the change-in-use variance that would have been needed for the drive-thru, the revised plan would instead go before the planning board.

In view of the withdrawal, the board approved a “resolution of dismissal without prejudice.”

No one from Downtown Investors appeared at the meeting.

The action followed an October denial of the house-razing plan by the Historic Preservation Commission. What that rejection meant, or would have meant, to the zoning board was a question in the air among its members.

During the board’s pre-meeting agenda session, member Sean Murphy asked if the HPC decision was “advisory only.”

“The ordinance says if they say no, you can’t go forward,” Kennedy replied.

Board Chairwoman Lauren Nicosia added, “according to the ordinance, if they say no, it stops. But state law says that can’t be” the case.

“We’ve just got to get the kinks out of the ordinance,” Kennedy said.

During the public session, Kennedy said that in advance of the planning board hearing, “there are some issues which need to be addressed with the HPC ordinance” that he and community planning Director Shawna Ebanks would discuss with borough Attorney Greg Cannon.

Formerly a “committee,” the HPC was elevated to commission status when the borough council adopted an ordinance giving it more say in the development review process.

Citing the ordinance, HPC members insisted at their November 17 meeting that Downtown Investors should first be required to appeal its rejection to the zoning board before the board could consider the substance of the application. The ordinance requires appeals go to Superior Court in some cases.

The HPC unanimously had previously rejected the demolition plan, member Chris Fabricant told redbankgreen, because “our obligation as the Historic Preservation Commission is to discourage demolition of historic properties and enhance the neighborhood by preserving such structures.”

Downtown Investors principal Jay Herman told redbankgreen in October that while the house may look nice from the outside, it is in “an extreme state of disrepair” inside, and would require “a bloody fortune” to restore.

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