By John Burton |
RED BANK–It is the Democrats’ chance to fire back, offering their own vision for seeking a downtown parking solution, but the Republican leading the charge on this issue dismissed it as failed political theater.
“Let’s use real data and then come up with a solution,” said borough councilman and Red Bank Democratic municipal chairman Edward Zipprich this week. “I think that is the wisest way to go.”
In response to the Democrats’ position, Republican Councilman Michael Whelan fired back this week. “I wouldn’t even call it a plan. There’s no what, how or why. Nothing,” he said, accusing the political opposition of posturing. “We need solutions, not political rhetoric, empty promises that Ed Zipprich has been spinning.”
Zipprich, fellow Democratic Borough Council members Kathy Horgan and Erik Yngstrom, and Zipprich’s running mate for this year’s council election, Michael Ballard, signed off on a seven-point plan that challenges what they’ve maintained has been a Republican-driven process to redevelop the municipal- owned White Street metered parking lot as part of a fix for the downtown’s chronic parking shortfall.
“Everybody seems to be shooting from the hip on the other side,” Zipprich said this week about his three Republican colleagues on the council about this issue.
Democrats have charged that Republicans Mark Taylor and Linda Schwabenbauer, with Councilman Michael Whelan spearheading, have moved forward toward without adequately doing due-diligence and advertising a request for proposals (RFP) to seek plans for the site’s redevelopment. The plan would include a parking structure of some sort to address the downtown’s needs.
The Democrats’ outline involves points that have been part of the conversation on what should be done by way of a parking solution, especially over the last approximately two years, when this debate again came to the front burner.
Zipprich and his Democratic colleagues want the governing body to reject all five responses it received for the RFP. Those plans, submitted by real estate developers, involved large, expansive projects, ranging from eight to 12 stories, including parking garages and residential, and, in some plans, retail and commercial space, to make it more profitable for the developers.
Democrats had previously voiced objections to the five proposals, seeing them as “Jersey City-style development,” out of character with the community and possibly an overburden to the existing infrastructure.
Zipprich said there hasn’t been a comprehensive parking study done since 1992 – which he maintained would be grossly outdated given the changing nature of businesses in the downtown commercial district, largely moving away from traditional brick-and-mortar retail businesses and more toward dining and entertainment offerings.
“If we’re referencing a parking study that’s 25 years old, we’re not doing the business community or the downtown any justice,” Zipprich said.
The Democrats recommend the findings of that study be used for short-term, easily accomplished solutions. Such measures as additional signage, color-coding, numbering, striping, more emphasis on permitting, and greater enforcement of the existing parking inventory would offer some relief in the interim, allowing greater regulation and public awareness of existing parking.
After that, officials should seek out ways to have recurring revenue to help offset any debt service, should the borough move in the direction of constructing its own parking facility, as has been discussed and rejected in the past. Zipprich’s proposal references seeking financial support from Red Bank RiverCenter, the management and advocacy arm of the downtown commercial Special Improvement District. There have been informal discussions but no agreement with RiverCenter about having the organization contribute to any revenue shortfall should the borough construct and operate a parking facility. This, Zipprich said, would spare homeowners from having to support a garage and put it on the business district, which would be the beneficiary of a garage.
Another possibility would be to scale back on what a developer could do on the White Street site. That, Zipprich concluded, would better fit the community. It would also address the current lawsuit the borough faces from some residents, including former Borough Councilwoman Cindy Burnham, and business owners opposing building anything that substantial on the site.
“We are all of the mindset we need a parking solution,” but one that directly addresses the need and makes sense for the area, Zipprich stressed. “We have to look at a complete assessment. Let’s invite everyone to the table.”
Democrats have felt shut out of the process, especially most recently, when they wound up leaving a public hearing on the five submitted development proposals – at the request of Whelan, because Democrats had already expressed opposition to what is being considered.
In the Democrats’ offering, “Basically, they’ve summarized what we’ve been doing for the last two years,” Whelan said, adding pointedly, “and have no clear path forward.”
Additional parking studies are not necessary, he maintained. “Has the downtown gotten any smaller?” in the last quarter century, he asked, answering his own question by noting, “it’s got- ten bigger, more development,” which means more parking demand.
No decision has been made, Whelan said, offering his mantra that “nothing’s written in stone.” “We could pick a developer and work with him for something that works for us,” he said.
This article was first published in the June 29-July 6, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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