LB Planners differ on mixed-use proposal

By Kenny Walter

Staff Writer

LONG BRANCH-After a lukewarm response by the Long Branch Planning Board, the developer of a proposed mixed-use building on Brighton Avenue is considering amending his plans.

Martin Grubman, principal of Emgee Realty LLC, requested that the board carry his application for two retail units and 12 residential units for 57-61 Brighton Avenue to Feb. 16 after an unofficial tally of board members revealed a 4-4 split as to whether they would approve the project.

Thomas Hirsch, attorney for the applicant, said during the he Jan. 19 Planning Board meeting  that the most glaring deficiency in the application is they are unable to provide for the 41 required parking spaces due to the narrow nature of the property and lack of available space after the building was destroyed by a 2012 fire.

“It is for my client to replace the building that was destroyed in a fire several years ago on Brighton Avenue,” Hirsch said. “The elephant in the room was always that we had no parking, nor did any of the other businesses that burnt down.”

Several buildings, including Grubman, who has owned the building since the 1980’s, were wiped out by a 2012 fire.

“It killed me when that building burnt down, I put everything I had into it,” Grubman said. “Heart and soul, not only money.”

Grubman also said the loss of tenants from the fire has impacted many of the other surrounding businesses in the West End zone.

Under state law, because mixed-use developments were not previously a permitted use in the zone, Grubman was unable to rebuild without a use variance. However, in 2015 the city amended the zoning in West End, which enabled the project to move forward without a use variance.

He does require a parking variance for the project to move forward.

The hearing concluded just before 10 p.m. and the board was set to vote on the application before Hirsch requested a discussion with Grubman. An unofficial vote revealed that four board members feared the parking concerns outweighed the benefit of the project, while four other board members said they were in favor of the project despite the parking concerns.

If the vote was official and resulted in a tie, the application would have been denied, meaning Grubman could not come back with the application without significant changes. Grubman said he requested to carry the hearing to decide whether to amend the proposal or move forward with a vote.

Hirsch argued that because of the size of the lots, no developer in the area would be able to move forward without a significant parking variance.

The current plan is to construct two-retail units on the ground floor with 12-two bedroom rental apartments above. Before the fire,Last ?? the building was three-stories with four-retail units below eight-two bedroom units and four-one bedroom units.

Some of the upgrades to the building include elevators and individual balconies for each unit.

The building also will go from about 1,900 square feet of retail space before the fire to approximately 1,500 square feet if the plans are approved.

Hirsch said he has met with Long Branch Mayor Adam Schnieder and other city officials several times in order to craft a plan that would satisfy the city’s parking requirements. He said he has approached several neighboring property owners but creating shared, off-site parking but could not find a partner.

“There was talk about trying to join together with some of our neighbors and try to combine on some type of venture,” Hirsch said. “We had a couple of meetings, we exchanged some ideas and eventually they just said they were not interested.”

Grubman said he would be looking at different retail and salon type businesses to fill the commercial portion of the building.

“I typically wouldn’t rent to anyone unless it was synergistic to other tenants,” he said.

Last April the City Council voted to amend zoning ordinances to create a C-3 West End Overlay District and permit both institutional and residential uses on the second floor of retail buildings in the zone.

The new zoning also permits mixed-use development that is now prohibited in West End.

The ordinance change came after a series of contentious hearings on the Chabad of the Shore’s proposal to convert the vacant West End movie theater to a Jewish community center.

Attorney Scott Kelly, who has an office in West End, filed a lawsuit in 2015 charging the city engaged unlawfully in spot zoning by amending zoning ordinances to add religious uses to the conditional uses permitted in the West End zone.

 

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