What Now For Downtown Red Bank Redevelopment Plan?

first_imgRED BANK — Mayor Pasquale Menna continues to raise doubts about the future of a White Street redevelopment plan that would contain a parking facility for the downtown, and is putting the blame in large part on the business community’s management organization.Speaking to The Two River Times on Election Night as his local Democratic party was celebrating a decisive victory, securing a solid majority on the six-member council, Menna was asked about the coming year’s agenda, including the future of the proposed White Street redevelopment project. “If the garage is dead,” Menna said about the particular proposal that has consumed much of the local conversation over the last year, “then RiverCenter killed it.”Red Bank RiverCenter is the management and advocacy organization for the borough’s commercial Special Improvement District. The organization has long lobbied for a remedy for the chronic parking shortfall that continues to plague the downtown business district. The organization, however, on the matter of the White Street redevelopment, has taken the position that it won’t support any project that doesn’t ensure there is a net gain of 500 parking spaces. RiverCenter representatives have said previously that a project on the municipal-owned White Street metered and permitted parking lot would be the only opportunity to “get it right” to assist downtown businesses as they struggle to remain viable against competing marketplaces, like Asbury Park, Long Branch’s Pier Village, the newly established Bell Works in Holmdel and the ongoing redevelopment of the former Fort Monmouth.Menna called RiverCenter’s position on this “intransigent.”“It’s no thanks to the public posture on RiverCenter,” that the process has stalled at this point, Menna said.In response to Menna’s assertions, James Scavone, RiverCenter executive director, said since discussions began nearly two years ago, the organization has continued to believe its 500-number was non-negotiable in winning its support for any project, stressing that number was the bare minimum to help relieve the downtown parking crunch. “So, it should have come as no surprise to anybody that we are pushing for the maximum number of spaces that we feel we need,” Scavone said.Developers Roger Mumford of Red Bank, with his Yellow Brook entity, and Jonathan Schwartz, a partner in the Livingston-based BNE Real Estate Group, whose plans are under consideration, both said at an October public forum they doubted getting to that 500-net gain number was a practical target for their own financing. “However, there are other solutions that we are happy to explore with the borough to add to the number of parking spaces that they are financially able to do,” Scavone added.Menna, in a follow-up interview on Saturday, Nov. 11, maintained the process has been marred by missteps almost from the beginning; he particularly cited the Republican council members’ decision last December to amend the ordinance establishing the criteria for requests for proposals from perspective developers. Changing the original ordinance was a concession to RiverCenter seeking the 500-space requirement and opened the borough to a lawsuit looking to prevent a large development project from being built, Menna maintained. The borough council has since rescinded that ordinance in response to the lawsuit. The council’s parking committee has selected two of the five original developers – but not necessarily their original plans ­– to continue discussions about a future development on the site.Borough councilman Edward Zipprich and his two Democratic colleagues on the council (as well as Democratic councilman-elect Michael Ballard) have stressed there should be more analysis, including a comprehensive parking study before any plan proceeds.“We don’t know what we need, I’ve been saying,” Zipprich said.The current three council Republicans, Michael Whelan, Mark Taylor and Linda Schwabenbauer (who lost her bid for re-election last week), have all voiced support in moving the project forward in what they stress is a thoughtful manner that takes the public’s input into consideration. They believe, as is often put forth by Whelan, this is about more than parking; this is about reshaping the East Side downtown area, creating a newly imagined living space that would include parking.Zipprich this week said he still holds firm to his position. “The mayor can blame the business community,” for not pressing for a parking study, said Zipprich, who is the council’s liaison to the RiverCenter board. But he criticized the mayor, too, for not calling for a study and for initially voting with the Republicans to begin the process and then voting with Democrats in opposition. (The mayor only votes to break a tie vote; the council, at least until January, is split 3-3 between Republicans and Democrats.)“OK, Mr. Mayor, which side of the aisle are you sitting on?” Zipprich asked. “You can’t sit on both sides and blame somebody else. It doesn’t work that way.”Zipprich is also a member of the council’s parking committee charged with evaluating the developers’ takes on what should be done on the White Street property. The committee hasn’t met recently to discuss the progress as elected officials have been concentrating on the just-passed election, but the borough council had met with the developers during a closed executive session last month, Zipprich said.Whelan, who chairs the parking committee and has been the driving force in supporting the redevelopment plan, this week said, “I think the mayor has merit to his argument that RiverCenter is stuck on the 500 number.” He also believes any parking structure with as many spaces to meet that number plus what would be needed for the development’s commercial or residential components would be “unfeasible because of size.”On the other hand, Whelan added, “I think the mayor is passing the buck too much,” given the organization doesn’t get a vote; that, Whelan pointed out, rests with the elected officials.Officials have sought to redevelop the existing White Street municipal lot for a public/private partnership project that would include some sort of parking facility to address the downtown parking situation. Private developers have proposed a mixed-use project that would include residential and/or commercial components along with a parking facility to make the project economically viable for their investment. Over the course of the discussions, the issue has become controversial and heated, breaking down along political lines and often putting some residents, who are often opposed, at odds with the business community, which has long supported some means to address parking.RiverCenter, Scavone offered, is “happy to continue to work with the borough, working toward a solution that works for everybody.”Whelan predicted before the end of the year the council will have made its selection on a preferred developer and on a redevelopment plan for the property—before the Democrats secure their 4-2 majority. “That’s our goal,” he said. And he expects RiverCenter will be supportive of it, even if it doesn’t have that magic number a net gain of 500 spaces.This article was first published in the Nov. 16-23, 2017 print edition of the Two River Times. Story and photo by John Burton |last_img