By John Burton |
RED BANK — The redevelopment for the municipal White Street parking lot hasn’t hit a brick wall, necessarily, but is taking a detour of sorts, as a means of coming to terms with an ongoing lawsuit looking to hold up a stop sign to any large project.
The three Republican Borough Council members have decided to rescind the ordinance they supported last December establishing what has become a politically divisive plan to redevelop the borough-owned White Street metered and permitted parking lot. The ordinance allowed officials to move forward to advertise for requests for proposals (RFPs) from private real estate developers with the hope establishing a public/private partnership to eventually erect some sort of mixed use project that would include a long-sought-after parking facility for the downtown commercial area.
That ordinance, however, had evenly divided the three Republicans from the three council Democrats, who opposed the idea. The ordinance also triggered a lawsuit, brought by a former borough council member joined by a handful of downtown business owners and borough homeowners opposed to what they saw as projects that were much too expansive, fearing any of them would overwhelm the downtown area. Democrats had labeled the five proposals eventually submitted as “Jersey City-style development,” echoing the lawsuit’s concerns, as well as concerns expressed by residents at public forums on the issue.
Councilman Michael Whelan, a Republican who chairs the council’s parking committee and has been the point of the spear for this redevelopment, said the council would vote at its next meeting, Sept. 27, to introduce an ordinance that would overturn the earlier redevelopment plan. Whelan said, following discussions with the borough redevelopment attorney, Leslie London, elected officials determined, “It’s in the borough’s best interest to deal with the litigation.”
The council has also scheduled a special meeting for Sept. 27, at 8 p.m., to provide a public forum on the continuing debate.
This action effectively renders the five development proposals as moot, rejecting the large, multi-storied proposals consisting of residential and/or commercial components along with parking facilities. “Which will pretty much negate the lawsuit,” Whelan said.
“This means we start with a clean slate,” in the process of determining what, if anything, will eventually happen with the site, said Borough Councilman Edward Zipprich, a Democrat who has been vocal in his opposition to the plans. “I’ve been fighting to protect the historic fabric of Red Bank,” Zipprich said, summing up his opposition to the proposals, “and I think those monstrosities, that those five proposals presented to the town were certainly not in the character of a historic town like this.”
Whelan stressed this was not a barrier to the ongoing process in determining what will eventually happen on the property; it simply means dealing with developers to amend projects that would be more appropriate for the site—something he said in the past was going to happen anyway.
The parking committee has narrowed down its selection, agreeing to continue working with two of the five developers. Whelan’s committee has selected Yellow Brook Property Company, headed up by Red Bank developer Roger Mumford; and BNE Real Estate and Canoe Brook, a Livingston-based partnership. Their selection was “based upon their experience, qualifications, past projects,” Whelan said.
“I’m excited to say we’re moving forward,” he said, maintaining Democrats are onboard with continuing the process.
“I think we’ll be able to carry on a dialogue with those developers as to what a parking solution may look like,” Zipprich concluded.
The lawsuit alleged the ordinance establishing the redevelopment plan violated the borough master plan, a document offering a long-range outline for development in the community, violates state land use law, and that the governing body acted inappropriately and illegally in amending the ordinance just prior to its December 2016 vote.
Burnham said she was glad she and the other plaintiffs brought the suit, “because it gave more exposure to the issue.”
As for now the suit remains in play until the council’s final measures on addressing the complaint, Burnham said, adding: “We’re going to be watching what the council does. And if it’s not right, we’ll file another lawsuit.”
Whelan stressed the site’s redevelopment is “vital for the borough and the downtown’s future.”
This article was first published in the Sept. 21-28, 2017 print edition of the Two River Times.
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