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RED BANK: MASTER PLAN GETS WALK-THROUGH

red-bank-planning-board-012323-500x375-3742689Master Plan consultant Susan Favate addressing attendees Monday night. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

By JOHN T. WARD

hot-topic_03-220x138-220x138-7378486A proposed new Master Plan for Red Bank drew little criticism in its public debut Monday night.

If adopted, as expected, the next challenge will be in prioritizing the many recommendations in the 166-page document, planning board members said.

red-bank-riverview-zones-012423-500x318-7387682An illustration from the plan showing areas impacted by Riverview Medical Center. Below, board member Lou DiMento, center, encouraged the audience to help officials prioritize the plan’s many recommendations. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

red-bank-planning-dimento-012323-2-220x165-5643768Susan Favate and Christine Jimenez of New York City-based BFJ Planning, who developed the plan in conjunction with a planning board subcommittee over the past year, summarized its “top level” suggestions for 16 residents present. At least 10 more watched the meeting via Zoom.

Favate presented overviews of small-area plans, created by BFI subconsultant FHI Studio, that offered “deeper dives” for three spots in town that the subcommittee felt “needed a little bit more attention,” she said.

Among them: the 10-acre former landfill and incinerator site at the west end of Sunset Avenue, overlooking the Swimming River.

Though there are “long-standing plans to make this into a park,” Favate said, “a fair amount of remediation still needs to be done.” Grant money toward that end is being sought, she she said.

The Master Plan does not specify what should go on the site, but details necessary steps toward an eventual reuse, she said.

“The first goal is to try get some money and some grants to clean it up,” said board Chairman Dan Mancuso. “It’s heavily contaminated. So I don’t think anybody has any idea yet what we’d like to see there beyond some kind of park, some waterfront access. The first step is clearing it up.”

Other small-area plans focused on the Route 35 northern “gateway” into town and the vicinity of Riverview Medical Center.

Though the New Jersey Department of Transportation has ultimate authority over decisions about the highway, the plan gives borough officials options that they might advocate for to the DOT, Favate said.

To address concerns about expansion of hospital facilities and their impacts on adjoining residential neighborhoods while still “supporting a major employer,” the plan calls for “strengthening buffers,” among other recommendations, Favate said.

Through property acquisitions, the hospital has been “creeping over” from its home medical services zone into a business-residential zone, she noted.

“It’s two different zoning districts right now,” she said. “So in theory they shouldn’t be allowed in one.” The draft recommends making zoning law clearer on “what’s allowed” in each, she said.

More broadly, the plan:

• Encourages “thinking of neighborhoods and the downtown as distinct but interconnected.”

• Found the Area in Need of Rehabilitation enacted by the borough council in 2017 is “very broad,” said Favate. “Maybe shrink that a bit so it’s more targeted.”

• Says the borough should be “really aggressive about Complete Streets” to enhance pedestrian and bicyclist mobility and safety, said Favate

In one of the few criticisms of the plan, Mary Ellen Mess, of Hudson Avenue, said it is silent on apartment buildings that have been approved with dwelling units smaller than the minimum sizes required by zoning. The plan offers “nothing about the needs for families with children, and the fact that children need open space,” she said.

Favate responded that in the broad housing market, “you’re already seeing that the market is calling for that in the downtown, that the demand is there for smaller units.” While local ordinances may call for 1,000-square-foot minimums, “we’re just not seeing that in downtowns anymore, and they’re quite unaffordable in new construction.”

Mess also said the borough needs to protect the subsidized units run by the Red Bank Housing Authority on the West Side, particularly those abutting the 10-acre Sunset Avenue site.

“No one’s going to give away public land that’s meant for affordable housing to be market-rate housing,” said Mancuso.

Mess, though, said she was a “skeptic.”

“The deck is stacked in favor of developers,” she said.

Board member Lou DiMento said it’s the board’s responsibility to now rank the report’s recommendations, with more public input.

At the board’s next meeting, “maybe we can boil it down to the 10 most important ones,” he said. “Then it becomes an alive document, so when the town makes a decision, or when a developer comes, we can look at this and say, ‘this is a priority item, and you are either adhering to it or not.”

The board has scheduled a second hearing on the plan for Monday, February 6. A vote to adopt it is likely that night, Mancuso said.

Any zoning or other changes to emerge from the plan would have to be enacted by the borough council following additional public hearings.

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