RiverCenter throws in towel on taking out trash

Business group dropping lawsuit against Red Bank

Red Bank RiverCenter will drop its lawsuit seeking to block the borough from cutting trash collection service to commercial properties.

"We will drop the appeal," RiverCenter Chairman Chris Cole said Monday. "There’s not a lot of common ground and no agreement on several issues. We are working on some settlement issues."

According to Cole, RiverCenter officials have had little to no success in negotiating a change in the borough’s new garbage ordinances that effected drastic cutbacks in municipal pickup of commercial refuse as a way to cut costs and lighten demands on an understaffed public works department.

Cole said officials of RiverCenter, the downtown alliance that manages Red Bank’s Special Improvement District, decided not to invest more money in pursuing a legal action that appeared doomed.

"Our budget is limited, and we would rather spend our monies on programs with positive effects in the community," he said.

Instead, he said, RiverCenter attorney Rick Brodsky is currently negotiating several points with Borough Attorney Richard O’Connor aimed at keeping streets in the downtown cleaner and safer. These include getting the borough to place more public refuse receptacles on downtown streets and increased police presence in the downtown.

Cole said potential locations for centralized trash disposal facilities have been identified at several private- and publicly owned properties in the downtown.

According to Brodsky, a member of the Ocean Township law firm Ansell Zaro Grimm & Aaron, a meeting held last week to discuss the possibility of reaching a settlement that would result in dismissal of the lawsuit was productive.

"We reached what we think is an agreement in principle to settle the case, subject to it being finalized," he explained.

If an agreement is reached, RiverCenter would have to file a stipulation of settlement with the state Superior Court in Freehold, where the lawsuit was filed in April, he said. A Nov. 26 trial date had been set.

In addition to RiverCenter, plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed in April in State Superior Court include local restaurateur Danny Murphy and the west side Arts & Antique District, according to O’Connor.

Cole said he will discuss the negotiations with the mayor and Borough Council, who must approve any settlement negotiated.

"We’ve been in negotiation and we’re at a stage where we have to refine a proposed settlement," he said. "I will recommend it and am optimistic that the mayor and council will be agreeable."

RiverCenter filed the appeal in State Superior Court seeking to overturn an amendment to the trash ordinances adopted in February that would cut off municipal pickup of trash to commercial and mixed-use properties producing more than three cans of refuse twice per week.

The three-can limit is the same level of service provided to residential properties but represents a drastic cutback for the businesses, which formerly received five-day-per-week pickup of unlimited amounts of solid waste.

The appeal challenged the ordinance on the grounds that it denied commercial property owners the same level of service provided owners of residential properties.

The changes were slated to take effect July 1, but the council voted to privatize trash collection for 150 licensed food handlers on that date and forestalled extending the new regulations to commercial businesses until Nov. 30, pending outcome of the litigation.

According to figures supplied by the borough, Red Bank saved $36,691 on landfill tipping fees during July and August 2002 over the comparable period last year by eliminating trash pickup to food handlers.

"One good thing that came out of it (the lawsuit)," Cole noted, "is a united business community — Broad Street, Shrewsbury Avenue, the Galleria, the Arts & Antique District and businesses in between. It’s really a business community, not just RiverCenter, and it’s a strong lobbying group."

— Gloria Stravelli