COMMUNITY CENTER BACKERS BRING IT

Linda_clarkLinda Clark makes the case for a town center.

The idea of creating a community center at a Red Bank-owned building on the West Side is one that “needs plenty more discussion,” children’s activist David Prown told a crowded Borough Council meeting last night.

Then he proceeded to introduce more than a dozen speakers — including social services providers, volunteers and average Joe residents — who made the case for creating such a center, whether or not it is based in the soon-to-be vacated building at the corner of Drs. Parker Boulevard and Bridge Avenue.

Some invoked the specter of the recent triple homicide in Newark as a warning of what can happen when kids don’t have the kinds of services that a community center can provide.

A woman who volunteers with the Pop Warner football program lamented an absence of activities to engage boys after the season ends. Several speakers said they favored moving the the Parks & Rec Department to the site from its current offices in a trailer on Chestnut Street to boost program visibility and participation, while others envisioned it as a a clearinghouse of sorts for referrals for everything from healthcare to jobseeking.

What was unmistakable in it all was a sense of a void.

“There’s never that one central location where we can all grow,” Linda Clark, of River Street, told the council. “Even if this is not the one, I think we have a lot of people behind you guys to find that one location.”

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‘ABSURD’ MINIMUM DRAWS NO BIDS

AuctionpicThe big money stayed home.

Once again, Red Bank’s efforts to auction off a borough-owned building at the corner of Drs. Parker Boulevard and Bridge Avenue have failed.

At a scheduled auction this afternoon, nobody bid. The same thing happened in April, the last time the borough tried to auction the structure, soon to be the ex-home of the Count Basie Learning Center.

The problem? The minimum $800,000 bid set by the borough council.

“I’d be interested in bidding, but not at $800,000,” said architect Michael Simpson. “Eight-hundred-thousand is an absurd number.”

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KARA HOMES OWNER TARGETS ‘HENCHMEN’

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Zuhdi Karagjozi, the Rumson man who founded Kara Homes, claims in court papers that the bankrupt homebuilder’s chief restructuring officer and “his henchmen” are poised to cheat him, according to a story on the Asbury Park Press website.

From the story:

Karagjozi in court papers filed Wednesday said Perry Mandarino, Kara’s chief restructuring officer, rejected investors Karagjozi lined up in the past two weeks that would have offered a higher dividend to unsecured creditors.

Instead, Mandarino stuck with two investors — Glen Fishman and Plainfield Specialty Holdings II Inc. — who plan to work closely with Mandarino’s company, Traxi LLC., Karagjozi said.

“The only way the unsecured creditors and I can be cheated out of what is rightfully ours is if this Court allows Mandarino and his henchmen to ram through the proposed plan without giving me and the members of the committee of unsecured creditors who voted against Mandarino’s plan a reasonable period of time to bring in an alternative proposal,” the court documents say.

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MARRY US, RED BANK!

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Tom Labetti and Eileen (nee Weller) Labetti of Elm Place got married recently at St. James Church on Broad Street.

The red-haired bride beamed magnificently, the wedding party looked youthful and happy, and the newlyweds headed off for their reception in a classic red Corvette.

A perfectly nice affair, to be sure, but not exactly the kind of thing that usually merits media attention beyond the wedddings & engagement page in a local paper.

Except that redbankgreen is hyperlocal media, and the Labettis are a hyperlocal pair — in one significant sense, at least. They wanted their wedding to reflect not only their tastes, but their values. Which in this case meant that they were determined to keep as much of the money they’d be spending on their wedding in Red Bank.

They didn’t want it spread among the malls, Manhattan’s diamond district and some unbelievable-discount-on-Vera Wang-outlet in Brooklyn. They preferred that it land in the cash registers of the stores not far from their house. Thousands of dollars.

Now that’s what we call a civil union.

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DIG DEEP IF YOU’RE BUYING IN MONMOUTH

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The median price of all new single-family homes built in Monmouth County last year was $810,000, more than 3.5 times the national median of $230,000, according to a new report from the county Planning Board.

Typical size: 3,875 square feet, on three-quarters of an acre of land.

Cheapest available from a developer: $400,000, at Laurel Estates in Hazlet.

And if that’s your price point, you’d better move fast. The county divides all new homes into five price clusters, from low to high, and prices in the lowest range jumped a whopping 25 percent from 2005, while all of the other categories posted single-digit increases.

Since 2000, prices for the cheapest homes have soared by 212 percent, twice as fast as in the top price tier. We’re not talking shoeboxes, though. Even in the lowest price category, homes sizes ranged from 2,401 to 4,400 square feet.

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LITTLE SILVER SPELLER TO REST A SPELL

Fourteen-year-old Little Silver resident Robert Hale, who made it to the fourth round of the 2007 Scripps National Spelling Bee before tripping up yesterday, is a bit relieved to now have that dictionary off his back, today’s Asbury Park Press reports.

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“I’m looking forward to not have a burden on my shoulders,” the Markham Place School eighth-grader told the paper, which sponsored his appearance. “I’m glad it’s over. It’s been stressful these past couple of months.”

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LAST-MINUTE BRICK THROWN INTO PLAN

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By LINDA G. RASTELLI
When you’re redoing a downtown, as rookie Fair Haven Mayor Mike Halfacre is discovering, you can’t please everyone.

Exhibit A: the borough’s streetscape plan, which calls for the sidewalks from Memorial Park to Oak Place to be redone in white concrete stamped with a herringbone pattern, and for the installation of faux Victorian light fixtures. River Road in the vicinity of Fair Haven Road will be repaved.

Everyone agrees the sidewalks need replacing “They’re in terrible condition,” says Halfacre, “like downtown Beirut in some places.”

But now, at the eleventh hour, some business owners are pushing for brick instead of concrete. On Monday night, hours after construction on the job is scheduled to start, they plan to ask the Borough Council to allow them to opt out of the concrete solution, at their own expense.

It could be a tough sell. If construction is delayed by plan changes, finishing the work for Memorial Day weekend as other merchants insist may not be possible. Retailers are still smarting over the 2005 reconstruction of the bridge over Fourth Creek, just a few hundred feet west of the intersection, which all but shut off downtown traffic for months.

“The business owners are very sensitive about traffic flow,” says Halfacre. “They’re afraid [if construction impedes access again] their customers won’t come back this time.”

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CAN STATE TREASURER PACK OUR HOUSE?

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New Jersey Treasurer Bradley Abelow is scheduled to lead a forum at Red Bank Borough Hall Wednesday night in which he’ll discuss the impact of the proposed $33.3 billion state budget for fiscal ’08 on municipalities.

In announcing the event a week ago at a council meeting, Mayor Pasquale Menna characterized the session as a “town forum.” He said the office of Acting Gov. Dick Codey had asked that Red Bank host the event.

Little old Red Bank? Councilman John Curley wondered if the council chambers, which seats 60, would be large enough to accomodate members of the public interested in attending.

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HOVNANIAN: WE’VE SEEN WORSE

Both the Asbury Park Press and the Record of Hackensack have interviews today with Ara Hovnanian, scion and CEO of Hovnanian Enterprises, the Fortune 500 homebuilder headquartered in Red Bank.

On the table in each is the state of the real estate market and the outlook for a turnaround at HOV, which has posted two consecutive quarters of losses and forecasts a third.

From the Press interview, conducted by business writer David P. Willis:

“We’ve seen and weathered and experienced many housing market slowdowns and this is yet one more notch in our quiver of experiences,” [Hovnanian] said. “And it is not uncommon and not to be unexpected to have periods where our profitability not only is less, but in some cases like the last two quarters, where we have the losses.”

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HOVNANIAN ABANDONS MONEY PIT

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Red Bank-based K. Hovnanian Homes has pulled the plug on a controversial plan to build up to 4,500 homes in Ocean County’s Berkeley Township after an adverse court ruling.

“We are not going to pursue this,” company spokesman Douglas Fenichel told the Asbury Park Press.

“I don’t have to tell you the market has changed,” Fenichel said. “It was as much a market decision as anything.”

The decision comes two months after a state Superior Court in Ocean county rejected Hovnanian’s claim in a lawsuit that Berkeley wasn’t providing its fair share of affordable housing. The company wanted to force the town to rezone more than 800 acres at the New Jersey Pulverizing gravel pits to allow for development.

“It’s a tremendous boost to the township’s efforts to control sprawl,” Berkeley Mayor Jason J. Varano said of the company’s decision, according to the Press.

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BAUER HEADED INTO PORT

Virginia S. ‘Ginny’ Bauer, New Jersey’s Secretary of Commerce and the widow of a man killed in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, is Gov. Jon Corzine’s choice to fill a seat on the board of the powerful Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Star-Ledger is reporting.

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The Red Bank resident, then living in Rumson, vaulted into the public eye by helping secure tax benefits for the families of attack victims in the weeks immediately following the attacks. Nearly two years later, she was picked by then-Gov. Jim McGreevey to head the state lottery. A year ago, she moved to the commerce department at Corzine’s request.

Since the attacks, the Ledger says,

she has become a leading advocate for families of 9/11 victims and has been actively involved in the redevelopment plan for the site, which the Port Authority owns.

Bauer would be the first 9/11 widow from New Jersey to serve on the Port Authority’s board.

Corzine called her the “perfect choice” to fill one of the state’s six seats on the 12-member board that oversees operations of the financially self-sufficient public agency.

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STATE’S BEST DOWNTOWN, RIGHT HERE

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It’s turning into a break-out-the-Champagne kind of week for downtown Red Bank.

First came news last week that Tiffany & Co plans to open one of its high-end emporiums on Broad Street.

Now there’s a poll released Monday by Monmouth University and New Jersey Monthly magazine that finds Red Bank is the ‘best downtown’ in Central Jersey.

The poll of 801 adults found that six percent considered Red Bank the best downtown in the state, tied with Newark. In the central swath of the state, Red Bank won the ‘best’ designation from 28 percent of respondents, widely outpolling Princeton, New Brunswick and six other towns.

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CORZINE TO ADDRESS FORT’S FUTURE

Gov. Jon Corzine is scheduled to appear at the Lincroft campus of Brookdale Community College tomorrow morning to “outline his vision” for the redevelopment of Fort Monmouth and to answer questions from the public, the Asbury Park Press reports today.

Corzine

Local officials apparently haven’t been clued into what Corzine will say, but they’re not expecting to hear anything that undermines their goal of turning the 1,100-plus-acre facility into a center for technology R&D.

From the story:

Corzine will “outline what we’ve done so far and what there is yet to do to ensure the redevelopment of Fort Monmouth is the driver of high-tech jobs in the region and the state,” said Brendan Gilfillan, a Corzine spokesman.

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FLORIDA STINKING UP HOV RESULTS

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Contract cancellations like crazy in a particular Florida market are dragging down earnings at Hovnanian Enterprises, officials of the Red Bank-based homebuilding company say.

The builder said it expects to take a $90 million hit from writing down the value of inventoried land and cancelled contracts in the Fort Myers-Cape Coral region, according to a report at TheStreet.com.

Before factoring in those charges, the company is forecasting earnings per share of 20 cents, up from the 5- to 10-cents forecast in the company’s earlier “guidance.” The impact of the Florida writedowns on net earnings per share was not included in TheStreet’s report, but MarketWatch says it will result in a loss.

An analyst quoted by MarketWatch said the $90 million charge represents “nearly the entire purchase price” Hovnanian paid to acquire a homebuilder in the Fort Myers market in August, 2005.

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MIFFED MENNA: I GOT MINE, TOO

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Unelected Red Bankers aren’t the only ones reeling over the reassessment letters that landed in their mailboxes in recent days.

Mayor Pasquale Menna said he’s peeved that the letters went out without his approval, and were written, he said, in such a way that might mislead recipients into thinking that their property taxes are about to soar because the market values of their homes have risen so sharply.

“A lot of people at Borough Hall just don’t get it yet,” Menna told redbankgreen when we ran into him downtown this afternoon. “I only found out that the letter had gone out when I got one in the mail.”

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ENERGY SHOCKER COMING VIA JCP&L

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The meter is still spinning out of control on winter heating bills, and now comes news from the state Board of Public Utilities that electricity users will get slammed with a 14.2-percent price increase in June, the Asbury Park Press is reporting.

From the Press:

Beginning June 1, the typical Jersey Central Power & Light customer, who uses 650 kilowatts of electricity a month, will see bills rise to $106.72, up $13.30 or 14.2 percent. The typical bill is now $93.42.

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REAPPRAISALS: ARE YOU SITTING DOWN?

Red Bank property owners: it’s reassessment time. So prepare to find in your mail an innocuous looking white envelope from a company called Realty Appraisal Co.

And brace yourselves.

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We here at redbankgreen got ours just minutes ago, showing a current market value on our house and yard of $409,300 — more than double the present assessment of $200,300.

Not that you should panic, of course. As the letter says:

This value will be used for assessment purposes beginning in the year 2007. Since new appraisals have been made to reflect current market values, the TAX RATE required to raise the necessary revenue to support this year’s county, school and municipal budgets will be SUBSTANTIALLY REDUCED. Therefore, an increase in your assessment DOES NOT necessarily mean and increase in your tax bill.

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HOV’S STORM-RELATED SHRINKAGE

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Having “hit kind of a wall” in 2006, Red Bank-based Hovnanian Enterprises is being cautious about 2007, a company executive says in an interview in today’s Star-Ledger.

J. Larry Sorsby, HOV’s chief financial officer, tells the Ledger’s Judy DeHaven that the company is “not trying to grow through a downturn.

“We’re making the right steps to shrink in a downturn, in terms of our balance sheet, making sure we have the right capital structure in place and the balance sheet to weather the storm.”

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…THE BEAST

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VINCENT J. FAIELLA
RED BANK SURPLUS
16 WALLACE STREET

I’ve been here four months. We were in Brooklyn for 79 years — Reliable Naval Tailoring Co. I’m third-generation.

I’ve been living in Little Silver for 15 years. I was born and raised in the city and wanted to get out of there, found a house in Little Silver and was commuting for 15 years. The opportunity came about that I could rent a nice little store in Red Bank, and I jumped on it.

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HOVNANIAN SLASHES SPACE BUDGET

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Hovnanian Enterprises, the publicly-traded homebuilder that last year moved its corporate headquarters to the heart of Red Bank from Middletown, is scaling back its ambitions in the borough, according to a published report.

GlobeSt.com, a real estate industry publication, says Hovnanian is now planning on subleasing 66,000 square-feet of the 88,000 SF it had committed to use for itself in the PRC Corporate Plaza. That building, shown above, is under construction on West Front Street, just across the street for Hovnanian’s new 65,000 SF HQ.

Instead of taking all four floors for itself, the company will be using just one floor, according to GlobeSt.

What is Hov saying about this self-haircut? From the report:

“We are very excited with the expansion of our presence in Red Bank,” says president/CEO Ara Hovnanian in a prepared statement. A spokesman declined further comment on the reduced occupancy.

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‘Y’ BUILDING ON WEST SIDE SOLD

A gateway property on Red Bank’s West Side, the administration headquarters of the Community YMCA on Drs. James Parker Boulevard, has been sold, redbankgreen has learned.

Ymca

The buyer, PS5 LLC, paid $1.3 million for the longtime public school building, according to Y CEO Gary Laermer.

The transaction involves a prominent structure in a section of Red Bank that is heavily trafficked and in need of some TLC.

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LOOSE ENDS 3: FLIP OR FLOP?

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Remember that attempt to flip a house on Madison Avenue we told you about in June?

Well, the house remains unsold 18 months after an investor bought it, at the top of the market, for $475,000 $450,000. Sara Swanson, the New York woman who oversaw its renovation—and lived amid the disarray of construction—is moving on. And the investor who bankrolled the project has decided to keep the house for himself, we’re told.

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RETAIL TEMPERATURE: JUST WARM ENOUGH

With a couple of critical days left in the holiday shopping season, it would appear that the consensus among downtown merchants is that this year’s cash-register Holidaysales1activity, while not booming, is at acceptable levels.

redbankgreen hit the pavement late Wednesday afternoon for a completely unscientific sampling of viewpoints from behind the sales counters.

Here’s what folks were saying.

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HOVNANIAN CAUGHT OFF GUARD

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Red Bank-based Hovnanian Enterprises was blindsided by the swift drop in values on its inventoried land, the company acknowledged yesterday in reporting a $115 million fourth-quarter loss.

“We did not anticipate the suddenness or magnitude of the fall in pricing that occurred this year in many of our communities,” the company said in a statement on Monday. “Our profitability, and the pace of new home sales, in our markets continues to be adversely impacted by high contract cancellation rates, increases in the number of resale listings, and increases in the number of new homes available for sale.”

The downturn occurred just as the company began moving into its gleaming new digs overlooking the Navesink River.

Yet the homebuilding giant forecast a profitable 2007. Chief Executive Ara Hovnanian said he’s “started to see a glimmer of hopeful indicators that the markets may be stabilizing,” according to MarketWatch.

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