Suit Filed Against Ordinance Allowing Hotel in Beach Haven

Feb 20, 2019
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

An attorney representing a group of Dock Road residents in Beach Haven recently filed suit in Ocean County Superior Court to overturn an ordinance amendment that modified the borough’s maritime district redevelopment plan to allow construction of a new 102-unit hotel, among other changes.

Keith Davis, an attorney based in Egg Harbor Township, contends that this portion of the ordinance is inconsistent with the borough’s master plan and violates the New Jersey Stormwater Management Act.

“There is no rational basis to eliminate drainage requirements affecting a hotel commerical development when every other commercial development in the borough is legally required to adhere to such obligations,” wrote Davis. “This unlawfully applies ordinance drainage requirements in an uneven and unequal manner. Allowing the unchecked development of such a project, without adequate borough oversight and clear development standards, threatens the use and enjoyment of the plaintiffs’ property and the community as a whole.”

Davis also alleges that borough officials intentionally scheduled public meetings to limit opposition from members of the public, deliberately scheduling one meeting to take place the day before Thanksgiving to adopt the ordinance in question.

“Defendant Beach Haven, through the action of its governing body, palpably abused their discretionary authority, in that the action taken in adopting the amendment to the redevelopment plan was arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable and/or otherwise wrongful,” wrote Davis.

Last fall developer Christopher Vernon appeared at a borough council agenda meeting at which he presented basic concepts of a plan to erect a restaurant and 102-room hotel on the former site of Morrison’s Restaurant. Vernon had said the design of the hotel/restaurant has not been decided, although he said the complex would not exceed the zoning ordinance height limit of 35 feet. The area has been vacant since a fire destroyed the Beach Haven eatery in 2005.

Concerning conceptual project details, he said the boat slips, fuel and services will all remain at the marina, which has continued to operate after the fire. The hotel would have a guest shuttle for the beach and activities in the area, he said, and would also have guest parking on the grade level of the hotel. Vernon said he has obtained state permits to rebuild the restaurant, which would be constructed in “the original footprint” of Morrison’s. On the north bulkhead, he is planning to add a wharf bar and public access for fishing, crabbing and sunset watching. 

Davis said the borough should have held several meetings with affected homeowners before adopting the ordinance.

“The November 21 meeting was deliberately scheduled at 1 p.m. the day before Thanksgiving with little advance notice to the public,” Davis wrote. “As part of an ongoing pattern, the scheduling of this meeting on such a date and time is an obvious attempt to try and limit opposition as much as possible so the Redevelopment Plan could be rushed through with limited public comment and scrutiny.”

He wrote that numerous residents, including many of the parties to this action, spoke strongly against the ordinance amendment before both the land use board and the borough council.

“The concerns of the residents focused on the preservation of their views, accessibility to parking and traffic controls,” wrote Davis. “Plaintiffs are concerned about pedestrian safety given such a high intensity use as a 102-unit hotel/restaurant will be placed in their backyard. Most of all, the residents are concerned that the neighborhood many of them look to as home is being drastically and hastily altered without affording them satisfactory input or instituting sufficient municipal controls.”

Emily Givens, an attorney retained by Beach Haven who specializes in development issues, could not be reached for comment.

— Eric Englund
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