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RED BANK: HOUSING, POT DOMINATE SESSION

red-bank-housing-evergreen-052221-2-500x332-6270912Evergreen Terrace is one of two apartment complexes slated for possible rehabilitation or redevelopment. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

By JOHN T. WARD

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The Red Bank Housing Authority asked the borough council for money to explore possible redevelopment of two subsidized apartment complexes Wednesday night.

At its second three-plus-hour meeting in three days, the governing body also heard more testimony for and against a possible overhaul of the zoning law governing cannabis businesses.

lisa-hendricks-richardson-rbha-022223-500x373-4400625Housing Authority Executive Director Lisa Hendricks Richardson addressing the council. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

Among the topics that dominated the meeting:

• Lisa Hendricks Richardson, executive director of the autonomous Housing Authority, outlined a long-range plan to upgrade the apartments at the Montgomery Terrace and Evergreen Terrace complexes, which it owns.

Montgomery Terrace, on Tilton Avenue, opened in August, 1960, according to coverage in the now-defunct Red Bank Register; it provides housing for 40 families, said Richardson. The 50-apartment Evergreen Terrace senior and disabled-residents housing component, on Leighton Avenue, opened about a decade later.

“Over the years, federal funds to efficiently operate and maintain public housing properties have dwindled,” Richardson told the council. “Consequently, I am requesting financial assistance from the borough of Red Bank for predevelopment costs associated with strategically planning and the implementing the upgrade” of the aging complexes, she said.

Funds would be used to identify and assess potential infrastructure projects, “from the conceptual phase to actual redevelopment,” she said. No dollar figure was mentioned.

Richardson, who was hired by the authority last May, said a contribution “will also support the borough’s fair-share obligation to preserve and develop much-needed affordable housing for low- and moderate-income residents.”

Via Zoom, RBHA board Chairperson Memone Paden Crystian cited soaring pressures for affordable housing in a neighborhood where houses that sold for $40,000 less than a generation ago now sell for up to $600,000 – with rents rising as a result, and longtime residents squeezed out.

“We are the largest supplier of affordable housing in the township,” said Crystian, a former director of the borough parks and rec department. But “without intervention, those units will be unrepairable and unsafe.”

The request was welcomed by the three council members who commented on it – Michael Ballard, Ed Zipprich and Kate Triggiano – as well as Mayor Billy Portman, who said he was “all in.”

Ballard, who serves as liaison to the authority, called a potential partnership between the authority and the borough “ripe for the picking.”

“Hey, look at us, all agreeing,” Portman said, prompting laughter in the audience.

In 2020, under different authority leadership, residents of the two complexes were told a proposed change in the funding mechanism would enable upgrades their units, but the plan was not put into effect.

• After three hours of debate at a special meeting Monday night, cannabis was again in the air. Among the issues was whether the borough could make its 2021 marijuana zoning law more restrictive.

Under a proposal from the council’s three-member code committee, unveiled by Ballard Monday, the ordinance would be amended to limit the number of cannabis retailers in town to two, from an indefinite number based on zoning criteria, and specify the streets and blocks on which cannabis businesses would be allowed.

The changes would also set new requirements for plan reviews, parking, customer queuing and hours of operation.

John Marchetti, a co-owner of Scarlet Reserve Room, a cigar and CBD “tasting room” on East Front Street, cited several sources in arguing that state law bars municipalities from making cannabis regulations more restrictive within the first five years of adoption.

Borough Attorney Dan Antonelli, however, said the proposal to limit the number of licenses, without banning business types, “is certainly permitted.”

“Let’s not confuse banning, or prohibiting a type of license, versus limiting the number,” he said.

“I’m worried about the legal advice we’re getting,” said Wallace Street resident Mary Beth Glaccum, commenting remotely via Zoom. Her remarks echoed those of other speakers, who warned the borough might be opening itself up to expensive litigation.

Portman, Triggiano, and cannabis advocates have called for the existing ordinance to be left intact, except possibly to reduce the allowable proximity to places where children gather, from the presumed 1,000 feet used in federal law.

Several commenters urged the council to find “middle ground” between accommodation of the cannabis industry and “quality of life” for residents.

“I just don’t want to toss away our beautiful downtown… dropping everything to the lowest common denominator,” said EyeDesign owner and Riverside Avenue resident Linda Cohen, a former planning board member. She asked that the law be made “a little more restrictive than what I’m hearing here.”

The council informally agreed to send the issue back to code committee to consider public input and come up with revisions for possible introduction as an ordinance March 8.

No cannabis licenses have yet been issued in the borough, though by Monday, the council had approved resolutions on behalf of 14 would-be retailers and three prospective cultivators that are in the midst of the New Jersey licensing process. The resolutions state that the issuance of a license to the applicant by the state Cannabis Regulatory Commission “would not exceed any municipally-imposed limit.”

Requests from two more retailers asking for the same were tabled Wednesday, while one from a prospective cultivator was approved.

Antonelli said the resolutions are “not binding” and could be voided by a change in the ordinance.

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