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RED BANK: BOARD NIXES CENTER SUBDIVISION

red-bank-senior-center-aerial-092922-500x313-6412814An aerial view of the Senior Center property. (Photo from Google Maps. Click to enlarge.)

By JOHN T. WARD

hot-topic_03-220x138-220x138-7378486Red Bank’s planning board rejected a proposed subdivision of the borough’s riverfront Senior Center property Monday night.

Board members said the plan would cede too much control of the riverfront site to the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, when other conservation tools would not.

red-bank-senior-center-031221-3-500x332-2608816A 2021 view of the rear of the Senior Center, which overlooks the Swimming River. Below, an exhibit showing the proposed property division. (Photos by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge.)

red-bank-senior-center-subdivision-060523-1-220x165-1101925The move to subdivide, initiated last September by Councilman Michael Ballard, would split the property at 80 Shrewsbury Avenue into two parcels: one for the recently restored Senior Center building and parking lot, and the other, an undeveloped strip alongside the Swimming River.

An easement about 10 feet wide would extend from street to the 16,000-square-foot riverfront parcel along its northerly edge, said Ed Herrman of T&M Associates, the borough’s engineering consultant.

The remaining center property would cover about 41,000 square feet, he said.

The aim of the subdivision, said Ballard, was “preservation” of the steeply sloped parcel. Board Chairman Dan Mancuso, however, questioned the mechanism.

“I don’t understand why we want to subdivide it, to make an undersized lot, to preserve it for open space, when it’s a 25-foot bank that’s open space now,” said Mancuso.

The goal is to have the site listed with the DEP on the borough’s Recreation and Open Spaces Inventory, or ROSI, “so that open space is preserved in perpetuity,” said attorney John Burke, representing the council.

“So it is forever encumbered by restrictions from the state of New Jersey,” said Mancuso. “And what do we get in exchange for that?”

He said the town could achieve the preservation goal by other means, such as a conservation easement or deed restriction.

“I don’t understand why we’re undoing what Loechner did and creating an undersized lot,” he said, referring to a 1961 New Jersey Supreme Cout ruling regarding adjacent lots. “For preserving something that is already what it is: a 25-foot steep bank down into the river that physically couldn’t be built on, that I can’t imagine the state of New Jersey would ever give a permit to build on.”

“You never know what the future holds,” Ballard responded. “We have an opportunity to create park space, which is very rare in Red Bank, a very crowded town. We can preserve this forever.”

A conservation easement “could be undone,” and more easily than a ROSI designation, he said.

“We’re giving this up to the state forever, for nothing,” said Mancuso. “The basis of everything I’m talking about here is I don’t like the idea of creating an undersized lot that really is inaccessible in any way.”

Board member Barbara Boas also opposed the change.

“In order to do anything with the property, you have to beg the state,” she said. “And if ever you wanted to sell any of it, you also have to have a piece of property, what, two and half times bigger than it, to replace it in Red Bank? I don’t think there’s a lot two and half times bigger that will be available, ever.”

Linda Hill, who unsuccessfully ran for council in the May 9 election, and former council member Cindy Burnham, who led a recent beautification project at the site, both urged the council to allow the subdivision.

“It’s a jewel, it’s a gem,” with bald eagles, egrets, deer and other wildlife present, said Hill. She asked the board to “do whatever you can so that this cannot be undone.”

Mancuso suggested tabling the matter so that more information on the legal implications of a ROSI designation could be researched, but his motion failed to attract a second.

Board member and councilperson-elect Kristina Bonatakis then moved that the subdivision be denied,

“It seems to me that the ultimate ‘why’ is like a time-traveling conspiracy theory, and I don’t agree with the tools,” she said, alluding to suggestions that opposition to the plan was based on a secret desire to sell the property.

Her motion carried on 5-3 vote, with Bonatakis, Boas, Mancuso, Lou DiMento and Fred Stone in favor; Ballard, Juanita Lewis and councilperson-elect David Cassidy voted no.

“Open to development,” Ballard remarked.

With less than four weeks to go before a change in government, any further effort to subdivide the property will likely have to wait until after July 1, when a new government is slated to be formed.

In last month’s election, Ballard lost his bid for a seat on the new council. Bonatakis and Cassidy were elected to their first council terms.

The Senior Center has been closed since it was damaged by a fire suppression system rupture in January, 2019. After four years of political angst and $2 million in restoration expenses, the center is scheduled to formally reopen Friday with an open house from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. to which the public is invited.

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