Suit Over Historic Red Bank Property Hits Court Today
A suit brought by Red Bank property owners against the borough and the YMCA sees it's first action in Monmouth County Superior Court.
When Red Bank’s council ignored public protestations at the start of the year and approved a resolution that cleared the way for the Community YMCA to sell a more than century-old borough landmark to St. James Catholic Church, a stern promise of litigation to follow was made.
Now, nearly nine months later, a suit brought against the borough and the YMCA by two Red Bank landowners will see its first action in Monmouth County Superior Court today.
In a court filing, Cindy Burnham and Red Bank lawyer Bill Meyers allege several improprieties with how the borough handled the transfer of its historic former borough hall and police station at 51 Monmouth Street, first to a non-profit organization called Kidsbridge, then to the YMCA in a merger, and finally to the educational arm of St. James, a deal brokered by the YMCA that’s pending the outcome of the case in question.
Burnham said the court appearance has been a long time coming, delayed by requests by defendants to dismiss the case with summary judgments, requests that thus far have been denied.
“Basically the YMCA is trying to get it dismissed by using every loophole they can think of,” she said. “We still stand firm and I really do believe that the law is on our side when it comes to this.”
A primary concern for Burnham and Meyers is that the 121-year-old building should be in the hands of Red Bank and that all other parties claiming ownership or deciding the fate of the building are in violation of the state’s constitution. They think they’ve got the case to prove it.
In 1999 the building was falling apart. In an attempt to preserve it without putting out the cash, the borough transferred ownership of the building to the non-profit Kidsbridge to develop the Children’s Cultural Center at Red Bank. Eventually Kidsbridge was absorbed by the YMCA, which not only assumed control of the building, but also invested in its rehabilitation.
The suit says there’s plenty wrong with that.
According to Meyers, citing state legislation, ownership of the property should have reverted back to the borough once Kidsbridge failed to keep up its end of the bargain and lost its status as a non-profit and was later absorbed in a 2002 merger by the YMCA.
That’s certainly not the only sticking point the suit focuses on.
Meyers also claims that former Red Bank Mayor Ed McKenna was on the Kidsbridge Board of Trustees in 1999, at the time the organization took over the building and began operating the center, and failed to recuse himself from council action regarding the property.
Now, the property is in danger of changing hands again. The Y sued the borough, in essence, for the right to sell the property. The resolution approved in January was an effective end to the litigation and granted the Y the ability to sell the property. The borough, then, highlighted the fact that the adjoining firehouse would remain in tact and in operation under an agreed upon 99-year, $1 lease. The general aesthetic of the building, which is on the National Historic Register, would also be maintained, it said.
The Y is looking to sell the property to St. James for $1.2 million. The facility would be used primarily for the church’s high school, Red Bank Catholic, but would also remain available to the public in some limited capacity.
“There’s just no way this can happen,” Burnham said. “It’s got to come back to Red Bank.”
The suit also claims that the building cannot be sold to a religious organization, though the borough has maintained that the law indicates that the property can be sold to a religious organization, but cannot be used for religious purposes.
Now, it’s up the court to decide.