Council parks garage ordinance

Controversial issue draws public ire, interest from developers


Staff Writer

CHRIS KELLY staff An overflow crowd packed the council chambers at Red Bank’s Borough Hall on Monday where a    proposal to build a parking garage in the borough was on the agenda. CHRIS KELLY staff An overflow crowd packed the council chambers at Red Bank’s Borough Hall on Monday where a proposal to build a parking garage in the borough was on the agenda. It was standing room only at this week’s Red Bank Borough Council meeting, where the bond ordinance for an $11.8 million proposed parking garage was tabled.

More than 150 residents and business owners attended Monday’s meeting to weigh in on the four-story, 570-space parking garage proposed for the White Street parking lot.

Before any public discussion could begin, Mayor Edward J. McKenna Jr. announced that since the previous council meeting on July 11, the borough had received phone calls from several private developers interested in partnering with the borough on the parking garage project.

“These are some very exciting possibilities,” McKenna said.

Councilman Arthur Murphy, chairman of the Parking Committee that came up with the ordinance, said that although the inquiries lead him to believe there may be some viable ideas being pitched, he and the committee want to see some proposals written on paper.

“We want to give them an opportunity,” said Murphy, “to show us what they have. It will also give the public some time to absorb some of this as well. We’re going to give it some time.”

According to McKenna, several ideas that have been proposed, including incorporating age-restricted affordable housing in the parking facility.

“I’m not saying that we would necessarily consider it,” he said, “but that is one of the options that has been brought to us.”

He also said that he hopes a decision on the garage can be made within the next four to eight weeks.

McKenna stated that a number of individuals are interested in working with the borough on this project, but did not mention any specifically by name.

“Any of these ideas may include taking over the construction,” he said.

Murphy said that despite the fact that the bond ordinance was tabled, he feels sure the council is on the right track.

“I am 110 percent [sure] that the borough of Red Bank needs a parking garage,” he said. “We did a study, and this is what we came up with. I’m not backing down off that.”

Councilwoman Jennifer Beck seconded Murphy’s motion to table the ordinance, at the same time saying that she does not agree with the need for the parking garage. Her dissent drew applause from the audience.

“The East Side lots are not fully utilized,” she said. “I have spoken to residents who do think we need a parking garage, but by and large they don’t believe they should bear the risk.”

McKenna once again said that there is misinformation being spread about the parking garage proposal, so a “talking points” sheet was distributed in an attempt to clear up some misconceptions.

The sheet gives the reasons why the White Street lot is the ideal place for a parking garage, such as the fact that it’s already owned by the borough.

Also, the “large, rectangular shape is geometrically perfect for construction of a garage,” according to the information sheet, which also explains that it would be better for the borough to build the garage instead of a private developer.

“With a developer comes development and the developer’s need to turn a profit,” the information sheet notes.

One such offer, by Kalian Developers, which proposed a mixed-use parking garage on the White Street lot last year, never went forward.

According to the borough’s information sheet, the current number of spaces in the White Street lot is 274, and the total number of spaces provided by the garage would be 570. This would mean 296 additional parking spaces for the town, although the sheet states it will add 400 spaces.

Projections worked up by the Parking Committee, which in addition to Murphy includes Councilwoman Sharon Lee and Councilman Robert J. Bifani, assert that the parking garage would pay for itself, and includes revenue from new parking meters.

The garage ordinance also called for placing 278 more meters on streets and for raising the parking fee to $1 per hour from the current 50 cents.

Previously, Murphy had stated that the garage would bring in $250,000 in the first year and that by the 20th year, the garage would generate an average of $1 million a year in surplus for the borough.

McKenna also said that it was not true that some of the proposed 278 new parking meters would be placed in front of residences.

“That was never a consideration,” he said.

Beck said that she had physically surveyed the areas where new meters were to be installed and that some, indeed, would be in front of people’s homes.

“We’ve done our homework on this,” she said.

Councilman John P. Curley said that he still believes the public should have the final say on the garage issue.

“I respect the residents,” he said. “And any recommendation that comes in front of the parking committee should go to a full referendum in the November election.”

Beck made a motion that members of the public be allowed to speak to the issue of the parking garage and be made to wait until the end of the meeting when the audience comment portion is usually held.

Before McKenna allowed comment by the public, he reminded those in the audience that the ordinance had been tabled and took a break for a few minutes to allow any members of the public to leave if they wished.

Those in the audience stayed to have their say, and the opinions voiced were diverse.

Tom Fishkin, owner of Readies Fine Foods, Monmouth Street, said that he is in favor of the parking garage on White Street.

“I don’t want more density,” Fishkin said. “I want to find a garage that fits everyone’s needs.”

Collins Cosgrove, owner of Hobbymasters, White Street, has been supporting a parking garage since the original proposal in 2001.

“If you took all the money spent on blessed studies and spent it on a parking garage,” Cosgrove said, “it’d be done by now.”

Resident Rich Nerack, John Street, said that he doesn’t believe he should risk having his taxes raised should something go wrong with the project.

“The only thing you can guarantee,” Nerack said, “is that the tax burden will fall on the people of Red Bank, not the store owners on Broad Street.”

“If everyone followed the philosophy you just stated, there would never be a parking garage built anywhere,” McKenna said.

“No one can ever guarantee anything,” he continued. “That’s what our country and our entire economy is built on.”

Jerry Larson, Shrewsbury Avenue, said it’s not that a parking garage is needed, but that the space that already exists needs to be used to its maximum potential.

“If you just redesigned the existing areas,” Larson said, “you could get 400 spaces without a parking garage.”

Rector Place resident Grace Cangemi said that although she is not against building a parking garage in town, she is not comfortable with the borough running a business.

She questioned the council about the fact that they have spoken to town officials in Princeton, which has relatively recently constructed a garage.

“Have you approached other towns that don’t have a parking garage,” she asked. “I used to own a shop in New Hope, and that is a very busy town, and it doesn’t have a parking garage. I just think we’re being a little one-sided looking at this.”

Bob Thomas, Chestnut Street, a deacon whose ministry serves Cranbury, which is near Princeton, said that the garage there is the source of a daily traffic jam and accidents.

“A two-block area takes 28 minutes to get through,” he said. “The garage is full daily, and we have to drive around and around. There’s got to be a better way than this proposition.”

The public portion ran for two hours as more than 30 residents, business owners and property owners stood to speak.

McKenna said that when the plan for the garage is worked out in more detail, the information will be put up on the borough Web site and a newsletter is will be sent out to residents.