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RED BANK TRAIN STATION AREA PLAN CHUGS FORWARD

Board consultant Susan Favate of BFJ Planning presents the study to the planning board.  (Photo by Brian Donohue. Click to enlarge.)

By BRIAN DONOHUE

The long process of turning a 13-acre swath of mostly parking lots and rail yards around the Red Bank train station into a densely developed neighborhood stayed on track as a key planning board vote pushed it forward Thursday.

A map from the report of the proposed redevelopment zone. (. Click to enlarge.)

The board voted unanimously to approve the findings of a study that the zone meets criteria of an area in need of redevelopment. 

That recommendation was based on the study by the board’s planning firm, BFJ Planning which found the “deleterious conditions” in the 19-property swath surrounding the NJ Transit rail station make it a match for the legal designation allowing zoning changes and other measures to spur dense development.

BFJ planner Susan Favate told the board that all but one of the properties in the zone fit multiple criteria set out in state land use law. Together, they paid $110,000 in taxes last year.

“It is not generating a lot of tax because of the nature of the ownership and the use,’’ she said. 

While declaring it a redevelopment zone would allow tax breaks, affordable housing set asides and other tools to spur and shape development, the borough chose a legal path that rules out the condemning of properties. 

“Eminent domain is not on the table here,’’ she said. 

Most of those properties are owned by Denholtz Properties, which built The Rail, a 57-unit building next to the station on Chestnut Street.

Denholtz is listed on NJ Transit’s web site as the designated developer for “The Centre at Red Bank” among its upcoming Transit-Oriented Development projects. The company’s CEO has stated  their plan for large scale development depends on the area being declared a redevelopment zone.

The Borough’s 2023 Master Plan calls for the borough to seek state designation of the area as a “Transit Village” and to work with NJ Transit’s developer to develop higher density housing and other amenities in the zone.

The next step is for the Borough Council to vote on whether to follow the planning board’s recommendation and declare the zone an area in need of redevelopment. 

That would be followed by the submission of a redevelopment plan specifying what would be built and how.

Borough Resident Dan Riordan pushed back against any redevelopment zone designation, telling the board developers should be able to develop properties under existing planning and zoning rules.“There’s nothing there that prevents someone from redeveloping it,’’ he said. 

 He also argued against applying a legal criteria for blighted properties to an area dominated by parking lots. 

“I don’t see any place over there that’s blighted,’’ he said. 

Favate, however, cited legal precedent in which parking lots have been declared to fit the criteria of underutilized land.

“There’s a lot of case law in New Jersey that parking lots are obsolete, that it’s not the best use of land, particularly in a downtown,” she said.

While the specific details of any potential redevelopment plan have yet to emerge, Planning Board chairman Dan Mancuso said the redevelopment zone designation would give the borough far more power in shaping how and what is built there. 

“If I had the nerve, I would name all the ugly buildings I’ve approved in town that I hate the way they look that I couldn’t deny them because they look ugly, Mancuso said. “We now have that opportunity in a redevelopment zone to have a far more significant impact on what something physically looks like than we’ve ever had before.”

There was a single small change to the zone – the removal of a building Favate said did not meet any criteria, and one which seemingly  everyone (including the owner who was in attendance) seems to love just the way it is: Juanito’s Restaurant.

“You’ve got a good thing going there,” Mancuso told owner Juan Torres. “I wouldn’t mess with it.”

Watch video of the hearing here:

 

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