How Stuff Works in Red Bank Town Hall Pt.1

Looking after your interests? Sure, no problem in Ready Bank…

A recent incident demonstrated, in a nutshell, just how this council and its dedicated followers work and are, in some cases rewarded for services rendered, or just by being pally with a councillor.

When the new council was installed, many people were surprised that the Historic Preservation Commission was disbanded with no immediate replacement in view.

The problem for the Red Bank’s Ready team of naïve do-gooders, karaoke stars and ambitious party faithful was that the HPC was comprised of many committed and knowledgeable long-term residents of the town who had suddenly found that they had the power to adapt and even cancel projects proposed by grasping and expansionist developers.

Of course, this posed a difficulty for the new council some of whose members already had, at the very least, a cosy relationship with investors since the Senior Center fiasco. So the HPC had to go.

But no matter. On January 11, 2024, A new ordinance was presented at short notice to the M&C meeting. #20-03 HPC Ordinance, a 22-page document, Item VI(c) on the agenda, left those members of the community at the meeting with virtually no time to even just read the item, let alone consider its ramifications. It was left for Councillor Bonatakis to comment to the meetings about the motion’s genesis, which according to the minute record presented at the following M&C meeting was as follows:

Councilmember Bonatakis – We’ve been working on this for many months in order to set the Historic Preservation Commission “HPC” on the right foot. I want to thank everyone who has provided their input along the way. Residents – both within and outside the historic districts, Shawna Ebanks, expert legal counsel, and my fellow council members.

This in itself raises some fascinating questions. Including, “We”? and which “Residents”? I know a few very knowledgeable and informed members of the old HPC, and to my knowledge, they were never consulted. And what was the mechanism by which “input” was sought?
I don’t recall the council asking for comments or contributions from the public, or anyone else for that matter. Just, I suspect, hand-picked friends of Ready…
It should be quite easy to refute my suspicions by producing the minutes of that panel, or is it caucus, which is surely required under the State’s Sunshine Laws? Yeah… Right…

Remember? Red Bank Almost Ready! The Senior Center debacle The Gang of Four. The rumoured CBP sell-out – see NJ investment magazines and newsletters of the time I could go on…

It’s kind of weird that what is really a 22-page amendment to last year’s Master Plan, 2023, was just waived through to the Planning Board for comments. Okay, so not so strange given the Planning Board was responsible for compiling the Master Plan, but, well… What happened next?

No one could accuse the Planning Board of being tardy. A Special Meeting was arranged within four days. It was going to be a Zoom-only meeting, and anyone who was interested had four days to digest and check the Ordinance and make a 4.00pm virtual meeting if they were able.

Frankly, having attended a few PC meetings now, it is characterised by poor chairing, and what seem to be largely uninterested and unknowledgeable members who seem to be there only because they’re someone’s best friend.

I was in the Zoom-room, but one of the problems with borough zooms is that they are administered so that no one, apart from council members, of course, knows who, and how many are “present”.

But time did come for public comment and there was just one.

Fortunately, I had time to review the ordinance, and I’m going to say, that it had many important omissions, but most of it was good enough to go forward on and also included important protections for residents on low incomes and renters who live within the proposed Historic District.

So it was no surprise when the Commission received just one comment from the public, and that was about removing the obligation for owners and landlords to produce evidence of financial status and tax commitment when either adapting, repairing or even demolishing buildings.

And that was it, or so I thought, other than some rubber stamping some vague and unintelligible statements by the chair, and passing it back to the Mayor & Council for endorsement at its next meeting.

Next Mayor & Council Meeting, January 25, 2024

Not to beat about the bush, but about halfway through the meeting, the mayor had his attention brought to a non-agenda item, a letter from the Planning Commission’s attorney, stating that the board had reviewed the #2024-03 Ordinance and referred it back plus an amendment removing the financial requirements for owners and landlord, a demand made by a single person at the review meeting. Nevertheless, the ordinance was listed for a final vote at the council’s next meeting.

After the meeting, I approached Councillor Bonatakis, the author of the ordinance, who was also at the PC’s Zoom meeting to find out how just one self-interested comment had led to a fundamental amendment leaving the by-law toothless. Ms Bonatakis stated any resident could have made that or any other point. I said maybe, but it would depend on who that resident was in this town, and we’re not talking about any resident, but one with three houses in the Historic District, two of which are investment properties. In other words a comment from a person with a significant and undeclared interest in deleting the financial requirements of the ordinance, and oh yes, I said it, a trooper in the vanguard of the Ready campaign…

And so yes, I was branded yet again as a sad conspiracy theorist, to which I say that asking valid questions is not the mark of an obsessive. Failing to provide answers by those in authority is evidence of something else entirely.

Author: Alan E Hill
Stranger in a strange land

2 thoughts on “How Stuff Works in Red Bank Town Hall Pt.1

  1. The discussion of this ordinance at the most recent meeting starts at minute 39:00 of the borough’s recording:

    The proposed change does not render the ordinance toothless. The municipal attorney thought it was a minor change, so reintroduction was not necessary. On the one hand removing §490-55(F)(6)(d)[2](ix), a sub-sub-sub-subparagraph, does seem like a pretty picayune change. On the other hand, without that paragraph, the HPC will be asked to decide whether to grant a Certificate of Economic Hardship without knowing the income of the person claiming economic hardship. But it seems fair to make the Economic Hardship decision based on whether the property owner is going to lose a lot of money or be unable to use the property, without deciding whether the owner could afford to lose a lot of money

    I disagree with your claim that the HPC “had suddenly found that they had the power to adapt and even cancel projects proposed by grasping and expansionist developers.” In fact, they had discovered that they had no power to stop the demolition of houses on the Master Plan’s inventory of historic sites. The new ordinance is the result of the former HPC hiring Ms. Donato to rewrite the ordinance.

    The new Council had Ms. Donato continue the work, and now the HPC will have to power to prevent the demolition of historic buildings.

  2. A couple of things say it all, Dan.
    “The municipal attorney thought it was a minor change”. I’m not the only person in Red Bank to question where Mr Cannon’s loyalty lies.
    One comment from the public was taken and somehow became an amendment to the ordinance. As it so happens the person was a well-known Ready activist, and owner of three properties/investments in the Historic area who spoke only in their own self-interest.
    As for the HPC not having the powers they needed… Sure. The problem started when the council realised that it didn’t want that sort of person, committed, knowledgeable, concerned, etc., having those sorts of power. Now it’s invested in Ready’s hand-picked disciples. It’s all going to plan…

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