By John Burton
RED BANK – It may not be a complete restart on the possible redevelopment of the White Street parking lot to help address the downtown parking situation, but last Wednesday’s forum did offer the public another chance to voice their opinions and challenge the project’s potential developers.
The Borough Council’s three-member Parking Committee conducted a public forum on Sept. 27, drawing a sizable crowd to the Red Bank Primary School, 222 River St. The audience got a chance to offer a range of opinions about what has become a politically-charged debate over what should be done to the municipal-owned, metered and permitted parking lot on White Street. Along with elected officials and interested community members —business owners and residents — developers Roger Mumford, from Red Bank, and Jonathan Schwartz, a partner with the Livingston-based BNE Real Estate Group, two of the five project developers who had submitted plans prior to the rollback on the process, again looked to make their case for their plans for the site.
Earlier in the evening, during the council meeting, the borough council voted to rescind an ordinance initially enacted last December that laid out the parameters for developers to respond to the council’s requests for proposals. The repeal of that ordinance was in response to a lawsuit challenging the redevelopment plan and proposals that would have allowed projects substantially larger than is permitted under the guidelines of the borough master plan for the area. The repeal of the earlier ordinance means the five plans which had been submitted as part of the request for proposal process were rejected.
In a further development, the parking committee, consisting of Council Members Michael Whelan, a Republican who chairs the committee, and Edward Zipprich and Erik Yngstrom, both Democrats, did endorse two of the five developers—Mumford and Schwartz—if not their plans. That endorsement was supported by a council majority in a closed executive session, according to Whelan, who continues to maintain the process is moving forward.
Schwartz told the audience his plan remains unchanged from when he first submitted it in the fall. The BNE proposal, expected to cost roughly $62 million, would incorporate 704 apartments into the project, which would have a parking facility with about 900 spaces. While his plan hasn’t changed, “We are absolutely open to making changes to our plan,” Schwartz said, “We’re open to suggestions.”
“I’ve reinvented myself after these meetings,” Mumford said. After the previous public forums, Mumford changed his original proposal, giving up on for-sale residential units and concentrating on rentals along with commercial/retail space. In addition, he’s scaled down the size of his first proposed 12-story structure. He has a contract to purchase additional properties—the Atlantic Glass site and the Stavola parking lot on Maple Avenue between Monmouth and White streets – which will enable him to include additional green space and a civic area for community events, which people have asked to see in his plan, he said. “I kept the things I thought were of critical design,” in the project, he said.
Mumford’s project will include 230 residential units along with the commercial space and a parking facility with 910 spaces. His project would cost about $85-$90 million, when factoring in the price of the parking garage, he said. To build a garage alone costs, on average, $25,000-$28,000 per space, Mumford said.
Both developers said they would be willing to sign over the garage and its operation to the borough. “It lieu of land value,” Schwartz said, “I think it’s to the borough’s benefit to get the parking and the income.”
Both men, though, would expect tax abatements for 30 years (a standard time for this type of arrangement, they maintained) and payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs), in exchange for their investments.
Red Bank RiverCenter, which manages and advocates for the borough commercial Special Improvement District, has continued to maintain any project that contains a public parking component must have a minimum net gain of 500 parking spaces or the organization can’t support it. That caveat remains the same.
Jay Herman, a longtime member of RiverCenter’s board of directors and a commercial property owner, said that while “the renderings are beautiful,” for these projects on display at the meeting, “they don’t come close” to meeting that necessary number. “As pretty as they are, it’s not what we’ve been talking about,” Herman told Mumford and Schwartz. Herman said earlier parking studies indicated the downtown parking shortfall is closer to 1,500-2,000 spaces.
Mumford fired back saying, “You don’t want a 12-story garage.”
He continued, adding, “If this garage is overbuilt it’ll be a major mistake.”
For Mumford, “It’s more than just parking,” he maintained. “It’s about redevelopment. It’s about vitality,” and taking the community to the next level, he said. “It’s time to move the ball forward.”
Residents feared for the future with such a large project in the center of town.
“None of this is my vision for Red Bank,” insisted Megan McGaffrey, a longtime borough resident, who called for a voter referendum on any redevelopment.
“We’re moving in the direction of New Brunswick,” feared Bill Meyers, a Red Bank lawyer who owns a Monmouth Street commercial property. “We’re going to have a traffic problem in the center of town,” he clarified.
On the other hand, Linda Cohen, who owns and operates a Broad Street business and lives in the borough, warned, “Our downtown is dying,” noting the brown paper on the windows of closed downtown businesses. “We have an opportunity here for some fresh blood,” she said.
Fellow businessman Alan Placer who runs Hobbymasters on Monmouth Street, said, “We’ve grown stale,” in the downtown. Faced with increasing competition from Long Branch and Asbury Park, in addition to the Holmdel Bell Works project and the Fort Monmouth redevelopment, “We need something to bring it back,” he insisted.
Marybeth Maida, who has been vocal in her opposition to these large projects, countered with “How is an apartment building going to save us from the projects I just heard?”
The borough council has been pursuing the redevelopment of the municipal-owned White Street lot, with its approximately 700-plus parking spaces. The idea has been to strike a public/private partnership that would financially benefit the developer while addressing the decades-old problem of insufficient parking in the downtown commercial district. But, as has happened in the past with this debate, it has again become a political hot potato, often pitting homeowners against commercial property and business owners. Residents have objected, fearing it would mean their tax dollars being used to assist businesses, often saying businesses should pay to build a garage if it’s so vital; businesses have continued to insist that improving the downtown’s viability will bolster commercial property values and help with the overall tax burden.
Whelan said his parking committee will evaluate the comments by the public and real estate developers and will offer its recommendation to the whole borough council sometime in the unspecified future.
This article was first published in the Oct.5-12, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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