BELMAR, NJ — A mixed-use redevelopment plan for the former Bank of America property on Main Street has been rejected by the planning board, maintaining it does not comply with the borough’s land-used master plan.

The board has voted 5-4 not to recommend the plan to the borough council due to concerns about parking, and the size and scope of projects that would be permitted under its standards — in terms of residential, commercial and retail uses. The one-half acre, corner site includes the vacant bank building on the corner of Main Street and Ninth Avenue, and adjacent ATM facility and parking lot on Ninth Avenue that have sat unoccupied for four years or more, with the ATM building being the last to close.

An explanation of the board’s November 18 decision — including highlights of those areas where its members said the plan falls short — is being prepared for the Belmar Council. A public hearing and final vote on the ordinance to approve the redevelopment plan is scheduled for Tuesday, December 3.

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The conceptual plan has been met with opposition from the public, primarily by residents living in the vicinity of the property. During the board’s recent meeting, about a dozen residents raised their objections to various aspects of the plan — the most common being how it allows for structures that are too big and too high for the site, and how it reduces the number of required parking spots in downtown Belmar where parking already is at a premium.

“I’m not against the development of this lot. But our community is not Hoboken or Jersey City. Go back to the master plan — that this needs to preserve the character of existing neighborhoods and this does not,” said Brett Lomas, whose Ninth Avenue property abuts the site. “I wouldn’t be fighting this if it was not four stories (high) or right up against the property line.”

Although current zoning regulations permit buildings up to 45 feet, or four stories, the new plan would allow another foot in order to construct an interior lower-floor parking level. Without an interior parking area, buildings would be limited to 40 feet in height.

In addition, the new plan would require slightly fewer parking spaces for both residential and commercial uses — a change that is encouraged by the state in communities with a nearby transit hub, such as the train station in Belmar.

Although residents expressed their dissatisfaction with the plan’s proposed 30-foot minimum building setback from any residential property, current zoning requirements set such setbacks at 10 feet for side yards and 25 feet for rear yards.

Those opposed also said the plan does not address other important issues, including the project’s effect on stormwater drainage issues, preserving “green space,” traffic and pedestrian safety, as well as whether it provides adequate access for emergency vehicles.

With new, taller buildings recently completed on 10th Avenue and the corner of Fifth Avenue and Main Street, several audience members maintained that Belmar is losing its small-town appeal —and is looking more like Asbury Park or Red Bank, and less like neighboring  Avon-by-the-Sea, Sea Girt or Spring Lake.

In his remarks before the vote, Planning Board Chairman Jay McDermott specifically addressed those claims. “We are not Sea Girt. We are not Spring Lake. We are Belmar, and we are different. I have been here for many years and that is what I love about Belmar,” he said. “At the same time, we could control what we’re going.”

While zoning issues are looked at in terms of maximums, “I think we can find middle ground,” said McDermott, who voted for the redevelopment plan, but acknowledged the reasons the plan was struck down by its majority.

Voting against the plan, Councilwoman Patricia Wann said that during her 40 years as a Belmar resident, she has seen tremendous change. And as a result, “we have to be very careful about the density and heights” that are included in redevelopment plans.

In addition to Wann, Sal Marchese, Nick Valente, Joseph Rizzitello and Robert Forte voted against the plan. Joining McDermott in voting in favor of the plan were Belmar Public Works Director Michael Campbell, Thomas Burke and William Lindsey, who serves as Mayor Mark Walsifer’s designee on the panel.

In addition, an online petition opposing the redevelopment plan, specifically the construction of a four-story building on the property, has garnered some 85 signatures.

The proposed redevelopment plan for the two lots occupied by the Bank of America properties is part of the borough’s designation in 2017 of eight total lots in the 900 block of Main Street and two lots in the Sixth Avenue block as “in need of redevelopment without condemnation.”

While borough planning officials have been working with the owner or proposed developer of the bank site to establish the conceptual plan before a site plan is submitted, they have not identified those involved.

In April 2018, the borough council was given a special presentation of a preliminary mixed-use proposal from representatives of Sachem Pond of Belmar, who is listed on Monmouth County tax records as the property owner. He purchased the combined bank site in 2016 for $800,000.

READ MORE: Developers: Belmar Bank Building to Remain, Apartments Planned for Ninth Avenue

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