By John Burton
RED BANK –The developer for a Walgreens pharmacy, proposed for the former Rassas Buick auto dealership on Broad Street, has been talking to concerned residents and plans to continue that communication, with some residents expressing optimism.
Marc Steinberg, a principal in Mark Development, which is looking to build the pharmacy, said there have been inaccurate depictions of what is being considered. He has scheduled an open house for 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 10, for area residents and business owners to come to talk about the project. The open house – to be held at the vacant dealership – will be attended by the project’s developer, architect, planner, traffic consultant and engineer. They will be available to discuss the plans and answer questions, prior to the application coming before the borough planning board on Sept. 16.
“They have seemed to be receptive to our issues,” said Lisa Mastroianni who lives on Little Silver’s Salem Lane, behind the property.
Mastroianni and her neighbors, situated in the residential area bordering Little Silver and Red Bank behind the property, have expressed concerns and opposition to the proposal that would build a 14,200 square-foot pharmacy with a drive-thru window at 375 Broad St.
Residents have said they feared a heavy volume retail operation would create an excessive amount of traffic in their neighborhood; and that, combined with noise and the store lights, would have a negative impact on their quality of life.
In response to those concerns, the open house was planned. Steinberg said Wednesday he was scheduled also to attend a private gathering of the most immediate residents to hear their specific concerns.
“We want to see if we can accommodate them as much as possible,” he said.
The outreach efforts “will be a good opportunity for people to get a chance to understand what we’re trying to do,” Steinberg said.
His ultimate intention is “to build a great project,” noting his firm has built 150 Walgreens in the Northeast.
“The developer seems to be willing to listen to us and the community at large,” Mastroianni said. “We just want to make sure our voices are heard.”
The developers have made some concessions, Steinberg said. The pharmacy’s hours of operation have been scaled back from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. to 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. and plans for an illuminated digital reader board have been abandoned. Additional landscaping has been included in the plans.
Aaron Rassas has a contract to sell the property to Mark Development contingent on planning board approval. He said he was approached by other businesses for the site, including fast-food restaurants.
“We tried to find something that was palatable,” to the area, and this was the best fit, he said.
Melissa Grieves, another Salem Lane resident who has been the organizing the opposition to the proposal, said she deemed the developer’s newest efforts with “cautious optimism.
“I find him to be very straightforward,” Grieves said. “He seems very willing to take into consideration our concerns.”
Some of her neighbors don’t want any business there, she said, acknowledging that just isn’t going to happen.
Concerns about traffic and the drive-thru remain contentious, despite Steinberg’s assertions. But, said Grieves, “I’m hopeful we can negotiate the best position we can.”
Mastroianni, encouraged by the steps already taken, said, “Both sides need to be open to each other and hopefully come to a compromise.”
Grieves and some of her neighbors also plan to attend the Little Silver Borough Council workshop session Monday, Sept. 9, to offer their views to the governing body.