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RED BANK: RIVERWALK PLANS FADE INTO HISTORY – AND PATIOS

“No Trespassing” signs at the terminus of an access path to Swimming River. (Photos by Brian Donohue. Click to enlarge.)

By BRIAN DONOHUE

When realtors listed the townhome for sale at 31 Chapin Avenue in Red Bank recently, they chose a photo gallery certain to make an online homebuyer stop scrolling and look: a pair of Adirondack chairs perched atop a ridge facing a wide, stunning view of the Swimming River.

Like most of the 12 condos in the complex built in 2002, the two-bedroom unit listed for $669,000 has what appears to be a private mulched seating area atop the bluff.  Others are variously furnished with gravel or pavers, tables, fire pits, seating and statues. The exclusive feel of this “private oasis” is underscored by the “No Trespassing” signs at the end of a paved path running from the sidewalk to the rear of the units.

There’s only one problem: the chairs, tables, firepits and no-trespassing signs all appear to sit on land that was legally set aside as easements for public waterfront access when the borough planning board approved the project 22 years ago.

A screengrab from an online real estate listing for a Chapin Avenue condo. Below, a tax map detail indicating the waterfront public access easement. (Click to enlarge.)

The paved walkway running perpendicular to the ridge and ending well short at a pair of trespassing signs? 

That was intended to “to provide non vehicular public pedestrian access….  through the community to the bank of the Shrewsbury River,” reads a deed restriction listed in Monmouth County property records. (The writer apparently misidentified the river, which long ago was known as the “North Shrewsbury River.”)

And that ribbon of land parallel to the river where seven seating areas have been built by condo owners? 

That was supposed to provide a 25-foot wide “perpetual right of way at all times… for public access” and to allow the borough to build a walkway, according to the 2002 deed restriction agreement between the borough and the developer, Ferraro Builders LLC.

Those easements – and the access to fresh air and sunsets they promised to residents of this far corner of Red Bank – appear to exist only on paper now.

Several neighbors who live across Chapin Avenue from the complex say they had no idea the land had been legally set aside for them to stroll or take in the sunsets.

Asked if she ever tried to walk her dog or look at the view there, neighbor Leticia Hernandez said, “Oh no, that’s private.”

Two condo owners, who both asked not to be identified, said they were unaware the 25-foot-strip along the bluff behind their home had been set aside for public access. And they both insisted the public was not allowed past the “No trespassing” signs.

“That’s private property,” another homeowner said. “We can’t have people coming here.”

Some of the patios at the complex. (Photo by Brian Donohue. Click to enlarge.)

“We own all this to the back, we own it all the way to the water,’’ said another.

An email sent to the company managing the complex was not immediately returned.

As the borough’s waterfront became heavily developed over the past century, public access to the Navesink and Swimming Rivers became increasingly limited. In more recent decades, officials have repeatedly stated the goal of reversing that trend for the health and well-being of residents. 

“Achieving meaningful and continuous waterfront access in Red Bank has been a goal for much of the last 50 years,’’ the 2023 Master Plan reads. 

The document calls for the improvement of access in parks and public lands and refers to privately owned land with a promising boast: the borough “has obtained easements along the waterfront on a few additional properties that have realized through the approval of waterfront land use applications.”

The Master Plan also calls for the borough “to identify properties where an easement is in place but no access is currently provided.”

The Chapin Avenue development appears to be one of those properties, illustrating the perils of leaving it up to property owners to follow the intention of the easements in their deeds – with no apparent enforcement by the borough of its rights.

Director of Community Development Shawna Ebanks said the no-trespassing signs on the walkway were not accurate. “It’s not ‘no trespassing,’’’ she said. “They may not be aware that there’s an easement there.”

As to whether the signs and terraces are a violation of the deed agreements, “I’d have to look into more what was said at that meeting for it,” Ebanks said, referring to the original planning board meeting. 

Ebanks said the easement still serves the function of preserving access should the borough decide to construct a walkway there someday.

“If we needed access to it we would they’d still have to grant it because we could show them the easement,” she said.

One of the two property owners, however, indicated owners might not be so willing to just roll up their patio tables and fire pits and let their neighbors take in the sunsets.

“I don’t know why they would want to build a walkway here, because we would protest,” she said.

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