By John Burton |
RED BANK – The Hampton Inn hotel, long considered a dilapidated property at the borough’s entrance, is a step closer to becoming a reality. But don’t get ready to make reservations just yet.
The borough Planning Board on Monday approved the plan submitted by RBank Capital, LLC, to construct a 6-story, 76-room Hampton Inn & Suites on the long-vacant and unkempt former Exxon gas station. The property, overlooking the Navesink and Swimming rivers, is situated on the southbound lane of state Route 35 at the Rector Place intersection, and is at the borough’s entrance. But an objector to the project may look to try to have a state Superior Court overturn the approval.
The board ultimately voted 6-1 to support the project, but it had appeared that RBank Capital, its principal Larry Cohen, and attorney Martin A. McGann Jr. were facing the possibility of being denied. Some board members continued to express concern over the hotel’s plan to get state approval to allow a left-hand turn from the northbound Route 35 lane into the property – across two lanes of oncoming traffic along a very busy highway.
“Public safety is involved,” said board member Guy Maratta, who has been opposed to allowing the turn during the application hearings. Maratta called the area for the proposed hotel “the busiest intersection in town.”
Borough resident Ben Forest echoed those concerns when he told the board, “It’s a very bad intersection and this is going to make it worse.”
In response, Cohen announced at Monday night’s meeting he would abandon that provision. And that was enough to alleviate the reservations and allow the plan to pass.
“This is an improved use of the site,” said planning board member and borough administrator Stanley Sickels.
Though for board member Louis DiMento, who cast the lone “no” vote, there were other issues with the plan. “It just doesn’t fit in that spot,” he said, believing the project is too large for the property. “From a planning perspective it’s just inappropriate, in my estimation.”
“We tried to address the concerns the best we can,” Cohen said afterwards. He suspected it would take about 15 months to construct the hotel, once the plans and building move forward.
But before that can happen, what remains to be seen is what the objectors will do. Brothers Carey and Doran Tajfel, principals of Tinton Falls Lodging Realty, who own and operate the Doubletree Hotel by Hilton on Hope Road in Tinton Falls, had hired Red Bank lawyer Ron Gasiorowski to oppose the project. Gasiorowski, who has become the go-to attorney for those looking to derail development projects, told the board, “I would submit to you, nothing in this plan makes sense,” referring to the size on the available property and the traffic flow plan.
This plan has had a lengthy, circuitous route to Monday’s approval; a seven-year journey that involved arguments over whether the plan belonged in front of the planning or zoning board and faced opposition from both the Tajfels and a borough resident who had issues with the project’s environmental impact. In fact, the matter wound up in court for a couple of years as Gasiorowski and his clients challenged it, with Cohen eventually withdrawing his initial application.
“It’s been a long, hard, arduous process,” lawyer McGann observed at the conclusion of Monday’s hearing. “But in the end, it will be a worthwhile project for the town.”
Asked if he would appeal the decision, Gasiorowski responded, “We’ll have to see what happens.”
Objectors would have 45 days to file an appeal, with the countdown commencing with the official publication of the board’s resolution of approval.
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