By John Burton |
RED BANK — An evening of discussion concerning the borough’s parking situation once again pointed to the divide that apparently continues to exist between the business and residential community.
The Red Bank Business Alliance conducted the public forum last Thursday evening at the borough Middle School, 101 Harding Road, where alliance members laid out their concerns about the parking situation and hopes for a solution to the residents.
The alliance is a group of local business owners who are advocates for the enhancement of the downtown business district.
“It is important for us to hear from you, the residents,” said Michael Simpson, a member of the S.O.M.E. Architects firm, 65 Monmouth St., and an alliance member, “to understand what’s best for Red Bank.”
“I think it’s safe to say we’re all here tonight because we want the best for Red Bank,” contributed Kristina Bonatakis, who works for DoubleTake Luxury Consignment Boutique, 97 Broad St.
That betterment, those representing the business community stressed, involves finding a fix for what has been the bane of the downtown commercial Special Improvement District for about 30 years: the chronic shortfall of available parking in the area.
“We in the Red Bank Business Alliance believe there is a deficiency. Period,” Simpson told the audience in the school auditorium on that stormy night last Thursday.
The Borough Council has taken on the historically thorny issue of parking and is again getting snagged on those thorns. In recent months, the council has advertised for requests for proposals for the municipal-owned White Street metered and permit parking lot, seeking private sector real estate developers to build a parking facility that could contain other uses like residential units and commercial space, as a way to entice the developers. The council received five responses; and there is a sixth being offered by John Bowers, a commercial property owner, who is offering his own idea of a garage-only facility that could be built and operated by the borough. That proposal, however, did not meet the request for proposal’s criteria and is not currently under consideration.
While the three council Republicans were willing to consider and discuss the proposals, the three Democrats have come out opposing them, labeling them as “Jersey City-style” development—too large and out of character for the business district. The Democrats are recommending rejecting the five proposals, conducting a new assessment to determine the current need and then considering proposals.
The Alliance displayed placards with the six proposals for the audience to review, but Simpson maintained, “What we’re not going to do tonight is pitch any of the proposals.”
“We have some people, especially politicians, who want to hijack the whole process,” said Anthony Barbero, specifically aiming some of his slings and arrows of criticism at Democratic Councilman Edward Zipprich, who was not in attendance. Barbero is the chief operating officer for Industry magazine, a glossy lifestyle publication. His wife, Kimberly Lindau, owns and operates CoCo Pari, an upscale women’s fashion boutique.
“The people who run this town should wake up and stop worrying about getting re-elected,” Barbero’s rant continued. “Why they want to get re-elected in a town that’ll be s— (if they don’t address the problem) is beyond me.”
Marybeth Maida, a Branch Avenue homeowner, looked at the easels holding the project placards. “I hate every single one of those designs. I really do.” Maida voiced a common refrain about the size and scope of what is being proposed that is, in her opinion, so out of keeping with the character of the community. The projects suggest structures as tall as eight to 12 stories with parking garages that can hold between 700 and 1,100 vehicles in multi-story facilities, along with either apartment buildings and/or commercial space. “What I see here is just ugly,” she said. Maida suggested officials look at other options, such as building a garage on the town’s outskirts and using a trolley to transport visitors to and from the downtown.
Liam Collins, a Wallace Street resident who was born and raised in Red Bank, challenged the garage proponents, telling them, “It’s not very obvious to all of us who live here,” that there is really a parking shortfall. Liam said he’s reviewed previous borough parking studies, albeit ones that go back more than 25 years, and he’s not won over. “Things like this have to be looked at very closely before we jump into a $17 million project.”
That number reflects a general amount to construct a simple multi-tier garage capable of holding upward of 500 vehicles.
“Would you rather your business community leave?” asked Joel McFadden, who owns and operates Joel McFadden Jewelry Design, 64 White St. McFadden argued that could be the outcome, with business owners looking at other locations that would be more customer-amenable.
Linda Cohen owns EyeDesign fashion eyewear, 90 Broad St., and has lived here for approximately 15 years. She likes the idea of a mixed-use development with parking and residential for White Street. “I’d like to see condos there,” she said. “I’d like to see people put down roots.”
“I love having a downtown,” Maida added, hoping something can be done to accommodate both sides of the debate.
“No small town stays alive without sufficient parking,” Simpson maintained.
“I’ll tell you,” Barbero warned, “this will be the town time left behind.”
“Respectfully, this meeting is depressing, because it’s all talk, talk, talk,” shot back Roger Mumford. Mumford is a Red Bank-based developer who submitted a proposal for consideration. Barely containing his frustration, Mumford said, “Red Bank is an underperforming town,” comparing it to “a Ferrari going nine miles an hour,” because of its reluctance to take the necessary steps to move forward. “This is completely backwards,” he said, offering that he feared the debate will continue for another 30 years.
This is a debate that has been going on for more than a generation, pointed out Simpson, an early member of Red Bank RiverCenter, the advocacy and management arm of the Special Improvement District (SID). Since the downtown’s redevelopment in the early 1990s, local business owners have complained that the parking shortfall has hobbled their ability to be successful, hearing complaints from customers about not finding parking or even giving up and going to a shopping center.
Over the years, the downtown has evolved into more of a dining and entertainment destination, requiring more parking and making it even more difficult for businesses to compete, faced with the challenges from more recently redeveloped areas like Asbury Park and Pier Village, in Long Branch, the business owners say.
This debate led, nearly 16 years ago, to the borough council looking to bond for about $12 million to build a garage on the White Street lot; a garage the borough would operate. That plan caused a contentious debate in the community. Residents became heated over the prospect of tax dollars being used to help the business community. They argued that if the business community wanted a garage, they should simply build it and not rely on residential property owners, who continue to shoulder the majority of the borough tax burden.
Faced with an insufficient number of votes to approve the bond ordinance at that time, the ordinance was pulled and the prospect of a garage faded for then.
It was revived last year, with Mayor Pasquale Menna and others insisting it should be done as a private/public partnership to insulate homeowners from the financial burden. But the current discussion has resulted in a political split, as well as a pending lawsuit brought by area business- and property owners, who challenge the size and scope of the five proposals.
This article was first published in the July 20-27, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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