April 28, 2023

Red Bank: garden condos to bloom at last?

Roger Mumford Homes news - Azalea Red Bank

By John T. Ward

In the works for more than two decades, a housing development featuring a lush garden in downtown Red Bank will finally begin construction this summer, its principals said Thursday night.

Formerly known as Azalea Gardens, with a new name to be determined, the 16-home project now pairs longtime owner Ray Rapcavage with borough-based developer Roger Mumford, who’s built more than 4,000 homes in his career.

On Thursday, Rapcavage, owner of RayRap Realty, went before the zoning board seeking to alter his plan for the development, on Harding Road between Hudson Avenue and Clay Street.

Rapcavage, who began assembling properties for the project in 2002, won approval 15 years later for 16 townhomes and two freestanding “cottages” on the site. Since then, the lots have been cleared, and the property surrounded by a construction fence, but no building has yet occurred.

Now, Rapcavage has now linked up with Mumford, who will serve as managing partner.

They needed board approval for minor changes to the plan, none of which triggered a need for new variances, said project attorney Ed McKenna, a former borough mayor.

The primary alteration was a reduction in the number of townhouses, from 16 to 14, in a single structure along the Clay Street side but facing Hudson Avenue. That will result in larger units, which feature three levels of living space above two-vehicle tandem garages, an architect testified.

Plans for the cottages closer to Hudson Avenue and surrounded by winding paths and planting areas were unchanged. Those units will provide affordable housing, as previously approved.

Project neighbor Kathy Hall of Elm Place asked about the status of an environmental cleanup at the site, which was once home to a gas station on Harding.

McKenna said the contaminated soil has been removed, and that groundwater monitoring continues, and may continue for years.

But “there’s nothing from an environmental perspective that would prevent us from building,” Mumford said.

Mumford told the board construction could begin in August or September, with buildings up and sided by mid-winter.

In response to an inquiry about when technical documentation would be completed, McKenna said, “I would expect by December 31st.”

“Of this year?” asked community planning director Shawna Ebanks, sparking laughter from the audience.

“I am very happy,” board member and Hudson Avenue resident Eileen Hogan said shortly before the unanimous vote. “Every day, I say, ‘when is this going to be built?’”

Afterward, Rapcavage told redbankgreen the project had been delayed by an “all the above” mix of economic vagaries, the pandemic, supply chain impacts and personal health issues.

“We bring the design expertise, we bring financial ability, and we execute well at a high-quality level,” Mumford said of his organization. “In this particular case, I think it worked out well for both of us. Ray put the original project together, and our guys can take it to another level, and I think it will be better for everybody.”

Mumford’s Red Bank projects have included Station Place on Monmouth Street and its affordable-units companion Oakland Square on Oakland Street; the Brownstones, between Catherine and River Streets near Bridge Avenue; and Fortune Square, on Drs. Parker Boulevard. In conjunction with that project, he completely rebuilt the onetime home of 19th-century African-American journalist T. Thomas Fortune and donated it for use as a cultural center.

In 2021, he withdrew an application to build a 20-unit apartment building on Shrewsbury Avenue in the face of public resistance.

A previously scheduled continuation of a hearing on a plan to erect a giant digital billboard at the town’s northern gateway will was rescheduled to resume May 18.