HALFACRE ON RIVER ROAD: SLOW THE CARS

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By LINDA G. RASTELLI

Fourteen months ago, the Municipal Land Use Center, a federally-funded, anti-sprawl think tank based at the College of New Jersey in Ewing, chose eight central New Jersey towns to share in $300,000 to come up with ways to make their communities more livable. Fair Haven was among them.

Using its $40,000 grant, the borough is now in the midst of a “visioning” process to determine, among other goals, how to make its bifurcated business district — half old-fashioned downtown, half a hodgepodge of strip malls and car-centric stores — more appealing to pedestrians and bicyclists. The Project for Public Spaces, a not-for-profit planning group from New York, has been leading a series of public forums, seeking input.

Mike Halfacre, a lifelong Fair Haven resident and avid bicyclist (he’s competed in numerous triathalons), is in his first year as mayor. He spoke to redbankgreen about the visioning effort last week at his office in Little Silver, where he practices real estate law.

What’s so special about Fair Haven that it was selected for the grant program?

Fair Haven has some unique challenges. The other recipients of the grant were all predominantly cities with downtowns that are much more developed than Fair Haven’s. We’ve a blank slate, in a way.

Our main street is a very busy road and we want to sort of reverse engineer it and make it a more pedestrian friendly place. I think that’s what attracted [the Municipal Land Use Center] — the opportunity to effect some pedestrian-oriented advancements.

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DONOVAN’S DEAL DEAD IN THE WATER

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By LINDA G. RASTELLI

Just two weeks after a controversial go-ahead for Sea Bright officials to try to buy Donovan’s Reef, negotiations have come to a halt.

Mayor Jo-Ann Kalaka-Adams tells redbankgreen today that the sellers have rejected the borough’s offer for the beachfront property.

Though she declined to immediately disclose how much the borough offered, she says the sum matched an appraised value for the property, which has 82 parking spaces the borough covets, among other assets.

The sellers, members of the Bowler family, are asking $4.5 million.

“It was much ado about nothing,” Kalaka-Adams says. “We offered them the appraisal price, not the asking price, and they turned down our offer.”

Chris Bowler, a co-owner who also owns Brannigan’s Bar & Grill in Red Bank, confirmed that the deal talks are over.

“We’ve received offers above that,” Bowler says of the asking price.

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PERMIT CREEP SQUEEZES POSTAL WORKERS

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Most weekdays during the school year, parking gets pretty tight along East Bergen Place between Broad and South streets.

The return of autumn means that Broad Street Post Office employees who find refuge for their cars at the Red Bank Middle School during the summer are forced to go on the hunt again.

And that means competing with car-loving, space-hungry seniors from Red Bank Catholic High School for precious spots. In recent months, East Bergen has been the answer for a number of motorists.

Well, next month, the pickins’ may get significantly slimmer. A proposed ordinance up for adoption by the Borough Council Monday night would put the entirety of East Bergen Place, from Maple Avenue to Branch Avenue, off-limits to everyone but residents.

The change is welcome by East Bergen residents Tim Zebo and Kathy Fitzgerald. But postal employees, already without a workplace parking lot, will now have to wander even farther in search of spaces.

News of the plan caught Postmaster Scott Rosenberg completely off guard.

“This is the first I’m hearing about it,” Rosenberg told redbankgreen this morning. “You’re talking more permits — that ain’t promising at all.”

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THIS TIME, REAL ELECTRIC CARS FOR BORO

Img_8123David Larotonda checks out a GEM electric car on Madison Avenue earlier this year. Yes, the borough vehicles will have doors.

After a short-circuited bid last spring, the Borough of Red Bank is back on the fast track to energy efficient transportation with the purchase of three low-speed electric vehicles for use by parking enforcement.

And this time, the cars are latest-generation design and styling, not merely spruced-up golf carts.

The borough council Monday night awarded a contract to the sole bidder, Remsen Dodge of Hazlet, which will supply a trio of GEM eS vehicles at a cost to the town $11,809 each, for a total of $35,427.

A fourth, identical vehicle is to be acquired by the borough at the same price later this year under the agreement.

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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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MORE CHARGES AGAINST ALLEGED BURGLAR

A 26-year-old Red Bank man previously charged with six counts of burglary and attempted break-ins over a monthlong period now faces more than 20 charges for an alleged crime spree in the borough that lasted eight months.

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After an investigation that involved tracking down the owners of a slew of items found in his East Front Street home, Mauro Vasquez-Galvan was charged with 22 counts of burglary and thefts from vehicles parking in the municipal lots.

Among the items found in Vasquez-Galvan’s home and identified as theft proceeds were “jewelry, sunglasses, iPods, MP3 players, GPS units, cameras, women’s shoes, books, tools, photographs, and women’s undergarments,” Capt. Steve McCarthy said in a press release issued last night.

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DENIED AN INCH, BUILDER GOES WIDE

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After threatening to take Red Bank zoners to court over an adverse ruling last month, the owner of the troubled filling station property at the corner of Monmouth and West streets has instead decided to revise his proposal for stores, offices and apartments at the site, this week’s edition of the Hub reports.

This is the project for which the developer, George Coffenberg, planned to erect five buildings with one-inch spaces between them in order to maximize the number of residential units he could get onto the property. He’d also hoped that the design would obviate his need for variances, and thus would result in a hearing before the planning board.

But after being told by planning director Donna Smith Barr that he’d need a density variance, Coffenberg appealed the ruling to the zoning board, which agreed with Smith Barr that the structures were close enough together to merit a full hearing by the board.

Afterward, Coffenberg’s lawyer told redbankgreen that his client was considering whether to accept the decision or “take it to Freehold.”

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STEPPING UP TO THE BAR

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By LINDA G. RASTELLI

Buying Donovan’s Reef for Sea Bright borough’s use is either (choose one) a “great investment” in the town’s future or a “nutty” waste of taxpayer’s money.

Battle lines were drawn in firm but civil tones last night as the Borough Council passed a resolution to begin negotiations to buy the Ocean Avenue restaurant and bar, with an asking price of $4.5 million, although a vocal contingent of three council members oppose the purchase outright.

Mayor Jo-Ann Kalaka-Adams, who touted the plan and voted in its favor, prevailed in a 4-3 vote.

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TALKING FAIR HAVEN, AND WALKING IT, TOO

Fair Haven embarks on round two of its public brainstorming effort over how best to utilize its public spaces along River Road tomorrow night.

A workshop, to be led by Cynthia Nitikin, vice president of the nonprofit New York-based consultants Project for Public Spaces, will begin at 6p.

“We’re looking for a positive attitude and some great ideas,” Nitikin tells the Asbury Park Press (which uses a different spelling of her name from the one that appears on the Project for Public Spaces website). “People should bring elements of qualities of towns they’ve been to and how they (would) like to see (them) brought to bear in Fair Haven.”

Walking shoes and bikes might also come in handy.

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SEA BRIGHT CIRCLES DONOVAN’S LOT

Squeezed for parking, the Borough of Sea Bright tonight will mull the question of whether to try to buy Donovan’s Reef.

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The beach bar’s owners are said to be asking $4.5 million for the oceanfront property, which is across East Center Street from borough hall.

While some members of the borough council are cool to the idea of dropping that much money, Council President William Keeler favors it, today’s Asbury Park Press reports.

“I personally want this. I think it’s a good decision if we can make the acquisition,” he tells the Press.

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YELLOW HAS SHARMA BACKERS SEEING RED

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In a move that embattled Best Liquors owner Sunny Sharma and many of his customers see as a blatant attempt to harass him out of business, the borough of Red Bank painted the curbs at Leighton Avenue and Catherine Street yellow on Tuesday.

Borough officials say the paint job underscores what was already illegal: parking too close to a corner. But Sharma says the move is a thinly disguised attempt to drive away customers by ticketing them for doing something they’ve been doing without police interference for some 80 years.

“I don’t know how they found only one corner in all of Red Bank to paint yellow,” Sharma railed from behind the counter of his store early this afternoon, as a steady stream of customers offered a chorus of supporting comments.

“There’s a school crossing just one block away. They didn’t paint that. They didn’t paint the curb in front of Yogi’s yellow. They didn’t paint the curb in front of On the Rocks yellow,” he said, citing two nearby liquor stores.

“They couldn’t find a legal way to shut us down,” he said, referring to the recent dropped-charges case alleging the sale of beer to a minor. “So now they’re going to harass the customers. Every customer is complaining, ‘what the hell is this shit?'”

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GIVE ‘EM AN INCH, THEY’LL TAKE A BLOCK

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One of the crappiest — and, apparently, most star-crossed — corners of Red Bank seems destined to stay that way for the foreseeable future.

Last week, the new owner of property at the southeast intersection of Monmouth and West streets, just a block east of the train station, lost a battle to have a development plan for the site heard by the planning board.

At issue: whether one inch of space between proposed structures makes them distinct buildings.

The decision by the zoning board was strictly a jurisdictional one, and answered whether the zoning or planning board should have oversight of the plan. But it could lead to yet more litigation over a parcel that has seen it’s share of courtroom tussles, the lawyer for the would-be developer says.

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SEEN THIS GUY?

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Red Bank police today released this sketch of a suspect wanted in the sexual assault of a woman in a downtown parking lot in the early morning of Sunday, July 8.

Description: Hispanic male, round face, olive complexion, five-foot-six, medium build, age 20’s. Seen wearing blue jeans, dark gray or black hooded sweatshirt with white lettering on the front.

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SEXUAL ASSAULT IN PARKING LOT REPORTED

A 21-year-old Howell woman was sexually assaulted in the municipal parking lot between Wallace and Mechanic streets early Sunday morning, the Asbury Park Press reports today.

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The attack occurred shortly before 1:30a as the woman and a friend were approaching the victim’s car, the Press says, citing Capt. Steve McCarthy as the source.

From the story:

As the victim opened her car door and tried to get inside, the man grabbed her around the waist, the captain said.

She sat down in her car and began to kick him, police said.

The man then assaulted her, McCarthy said.

She continued to kick him, and he ran away, toward backyards on Mechanic and Mount streets.

Her friend called police. The incident was over within minutes, police said.

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FIREWORKS TRAFFIC ADVISORY: BE PATIENT

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A full three hours before the first of some 4,000 pieces of fireworks is lofted into the sky above the Navesink Tuesday night, the streets of central Red Bank will be closed to vehicular traffic.

Which for the crowd — estimated in past years to have been 170,000 strong — means one of three things:

• Get here early, find a convenient parking spot and relax in town for five or six hours.

• Be ready to walk to your chosen viewing spot from outside the downtown.

• Make friends with somebody with a boat, pronto.

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NEIGHBORS BALK AT FIELDS WORK

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By Linda G. Rastelli
Residents who live near Fair Haven Fields complained last night to the Fair Haven borough council about the likelihood of increased traffic through a quiet neighborhood resulting from work now underway at the recreation site.

Also on their list of gripes: construction noise and ugly parking-lot lighting fixtures.

“Do we need additional fields? What was the problem with parking before?” Ken Laughinghouse of Dartmouth Avenue asked. Besides, he said, the plan now being put into effect “looks like crap. It’s taking away from the character of the town.”

Kim Brown of Gentry Drive said she was worried about teenagers speeding through her neighborhood. Stuart Tartarone, also of Gentry Drive, called the fields “an accident waiting to happen.”

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ELECTRIC CARS UNPLUGGED, FOR NOW

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Those two new electric cars we told you about last week, the ones Red Bank planned to buy to replace the three-wheeled Cushmans used by parking enforcement?

It turns out they can’t meet the state requirement that they be able to go at least 20 miles per hour.

The cars, which are essentially golf carts, do more like 17, though they can be tweaked to go just above 19 mph, says Borough Administrator Stanley Sickels.

Last night, at Sickels’ urging, the borough council rescinded the resolution authorizing the purchase from golf-cart seller Vic Gerard Golf Cars of two vehicles for $13,750 each.

The request for bids will be tightened up and reopened, borough officials said.

“We’d be breaking the state law by driving them around on borough streets,” said borough attorney Tom Hall.

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SPARKY, COME HOME!

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Say goodbye to those Cushmans.

Last month, the Red Bank Borough Council authorized the purchase of two Club Car Carryall 2 electric vehicles from golf-cart seller Vic Gerard Golf Cars. They’ll replace a pair of gas-powered Cushman three-wheelers used by Parking Utility enforcers. Price: $13,750 each.

The purchase is part of an effort by elected officials — including last year’s mayoralty rivals Pasquale Menna (who won) and John Curley (who didn’t, but remains on the council) — to begin paring the borough fleet of gas guzzlers and replacing them with energy-efficient vehicles.

While small-scale, it’s a move that reflects what appears to be a big change in the public’s thinking about the environment. In fact, we may be living in history’s ‘greenest’ moment since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.

So here’s a question or two inspired in part by the borough’s purchase: would electric cars make sense on the consumer side as well? Is it too soon to dream of the day that our compact, 1.8-square-mile burg might buzz with quiet, compact, no-emissions cars that their owners plug in at night to recharge?

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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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I THINK THAT I SHALL SOON SEE…

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… a poem as lovely as a tree.

Ten, actually, to replace the nine slaughtered (humanely, it has been persuasively argued) on White Street yesterday.

The replacement trees — Harvest Gold crabapples — are on order and should arrive later this week for planting ASAP, borough arborist Mike Olimpi told the Borough Council and its audience Monday night.

Olimpi and other members of the Shade Tree Committee, including Bill Brooks and Boris Kofman, ran through an extensive presentation, complete with chunks of trunks taken from the White Street trees, to argue for the necessity of taking the trees down.

All nine were Bradford pears, trees that at maturity tend to shed large limbs at the slightest provocation owing to a genetic trait that causes the limbs to grow too close together.

In a nutshell: because of their frail state, they were a hazard to the utility wires they had grown into. They were also a danger to moving and parked cars and to pedestrians on the sidewalk over which they grew.

Olimpi said that if he’d failed to take the trees down, he’d have been guilty of arboreal “malpractice.”

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TWO HOURS, AND THIS TIME THEY MEAN IT

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The signs announcing a two-hour parking limit along Maple Avenue have been there so long that they’re faded.

But it seems nobody in borough hall can explain why there was no ordinance putting legal teeth behind the signs. Apparently, there was a widespread belief that such a law existed.

Nor can officials say if anyone was ever wrongly cited for overtime parking, and if not, why not, considering the above assumption.

“By some quirk, they were never legally adopted,” Mayor Pasquale Menna said of the signs at the March 26 borough council meeting. He said he didn’t know when the signs went up, but that they predated his tenure on the council, which began 18 years ago.

Well, whatever the explanation, the free ride on standing still, so to speak, is about to end.

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SALARIES OK’D, INCLUDING WATSON’S

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Public Works Director Gary Watson’s $10,000 pay raise was greenlighted by the borough council last night over ‘no’ votes by the two Republicans on the governing body, John Curley and newcomer Grace Cangemi.

The increase was part of a slate of 3.5-percent pay raises approved for non-unionized borough employees, from Planning Board secretary, whose pay rises to $2,153, to $104,008 for a construction/fire official.

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PRESS: TIFFANY ‘NICE,’ BUT…

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Its ad-sales staff is probably still wetting itself with glee, but the editorial board of the Asbury Park Press today offers faint praise for the news last month that Tiffany & Company plans to open a store in downtown Red Bank.

In an editorial today about a tentative plan by Red Bank RiverCenter to install Smart Card dispensers (which the editorial writers favor) appears this somewhat incongruous paragraph:

The new Tiffany & Co. store may be a nice draw for Red Bank, but officials should make sure too many upscale shops don’t drive out old favorites. Prown’s, the variety store that had everything, is as missed today as much as it was when it closed four years ago.

Never mind that the paragraph is a non sequitur (it’s not made clear what Tiffany has to do with Smart Card machines). There’s a radical notion woven into the warm-and-fuzzies expressed n those two sentences.

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CHEWING ON SMART CARDS

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Red Bank RiverCenter officials are mulling the purchase of vending machines that dispense debit cards usable in borough parking meters, according to a story in today’s Asbury Park Press.

The so-called smart cards are available for sale at borough hall in $20 increments. But two years after the cards were introduced, there are still no machines selling them, and many shoppers and merchants aren’t familiar with them.

From the story:

The card is like a Metro Card — used aboard New York subways and buses — for parking meters. When inserted into a parking meter, a light on the meter flashes with each 25 cents deducted from the card. Shoppers who return early can reinsert the card in the meter to be credited for time they haven’t used.

Because the technology enables users to get refunds for unused meter time, a motorist with enough credit on the card can overbuy time on arrival and avoid a $38 parking ticket more assuredly than someone paying in advance with coins.

The vending machine is one of several potential uses for $75,000 earmarked for parking improvements in RiverCenter’s proposed 2007 budget of of $604,000. That’s up from the present $434,000, and reflects the recent expansion to part of the West Side of the Special Improvement District that RiverCenter oversees, director Tricia Rumola told redbankgreen recently.

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CANGEMI, MENNA’S GAVEL MAKE DEBUTS

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Republican Grace Cangemi’s first two hours as Red Bank’s newest council member Monday night were marked largely by the air of civility that has dominated the governing body’s meetings this year.

“I have a great deal of respect for Mayor [Pasquale] Menna, and I look forward to being part of his administration,” Cangemi said in her opening remarks as she filled the seat left vacant by the January resignation of Kaye Ernst.

“I think we’ve made the right decision, and I think you’ll be a credit to the residents of Red Bank,” Menna replied, as a packed council hearing room looked on.

Later, though, came the first, brief burst of verbal fireworks since Menna took the gavel from his predecessor as mayor, Ed McKenna. And he had to use it, too — not that it did any good.

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