By John Burton
RED BANK – It’s back to the drawing board for the developers proposing to build a Walgreens pharmacy on Broad Street.
Faced with the very real prospect Thursday night of the borough planning board voting to deny the controversial application for the pharmacy at the site of the former Rassas auto dealership, the developers asked for an adjournment for about a month to reconfigure the project plans.
“We have a lot of money, a lot of time tied up in this project,” attorney Martin A. McGann told the board at the conclusion of the application hearing. He then asked the board for “the opportunity to take another hard look” to find suitable solutions to address the board’s – and public’s – concerns about the project.
The developer, Mark Development, Inc., is expected to reappear before the planning board on Feb. 19 to reconsider possible changes to the plan.
The developer is hoping to construct a 14,200 square-foot Walgreens – 11,200 square feet of which will be dedicated to sales space, the rest used for storage – with a drive-thru window at the former auto dealership. The developer has appeared over the course of five lengthy hearings since September to put forth its contention that the pharmacy would be a valued, quality project that would benefit the community and area.
McGann told the board that this is one of the pharmacy chain’s most expensive projects and would be smaller than most of its other locations. The attorney also noted that the location is a difficult one, a traffic-busy area at the intersection of Maple Avenue, Broad Street and Newman Springs Road, dissected by a commuter train crossing at the borough’s southern border. He contended that the use would be a better option than many others that could be built on the property that is zoned for commercial use.
Behind the commercial property are residential neighborhoods on the Red Bank/Little Silver border, made up of primarily single-family homes on tree-lined street. Many of those who lived there have continued to express objections to the proposed large structure, believing the busy retail operation would dramatically and negatively impact their quality of life and property values with added traffic, noise and activity that comes with such a business.
“I wish it was smaller. I wish it did fit in. I wish it didn’t impact our neighborhood,” said Monica Boscarino, who lives on Garfield Place.
Marc Steinberg, a principal with Mark Development, has had a continued dialogue with some residents and has modified his plans, reducing hours, changing lighting, slightly scaling back the size of the building, restricting ingress and egress to some side streets in an attempt to reach an accord with the developers.
Little Silver resident Melissa Grieves, who had initially rallied opposition to the project, is now endorsing it. Her change of heart, she said, was due in part to her concern over what could be built there if not the pharmacy – and in a large part due to Steinberg’s approach. “I found him to be genuinely interested in our concerns,” she said and complimented his “professionalism and integrity.”
Board members appeared to share the view that they were torn, remarking on how attractive the structure would be and how it would add another much needed commercial ratable to the tax base. “I’ve never seen an applicant come so far,” to address neighbors’ issues, board member Stanley Sickels said. But then he and others went on and agreed with fellow board member Daniel Mancuso, who said, “I think it is too much” for the site.