Developer’s Agreement OKed in Beach Haven

Oct 16, 2019

Developer Christopher Vernon reached another step in his quest to build a hotel at the Morrison’s restaurant site in Beach Haven as the borough council approved a developer’s agreement at its meeting Oct. 15. The meeting was held at Surflight Theatre to accommodate the large crowd that nearly filled up the facility.

Mayor Nancy Taggart Davis and council members Charles Maschal and Tom Lynch voted in favor, while Dan Allen and Jaime Baumiller were against it.

Prior to the vote, Baumiller had expressed reservations about the project, especially that there were not any environmental impact analyses available yet.

“I need to see how you’re going to handle stormwater runoff,” she said.

Davis said the agreement allows the borough to have better control over how the structure is built.

“This is just one part of what is probably going to be long process,” she said.

Next on the agenda for Vernon will be a hearing before the land use board, which he said could be several months away. He would also need Coastal Area Facilities Review Act approval.

Vernon has given a name to his project – Beach Haven Hotel and Marina. He has proposed a three-story structure, with a height limit of 44 feet to the top of the hotel roof, with an elevator tower not to exceed a maximum height of 45 feet, 9 inches. He had said the three-story design would enable the site to maintain the Ship’s Store building on the site, plus add gardens and other amenities. He said the hotel would provide a guest shuttle for the beach and activities in the area, and would also have guest parking on the ground level. On the north bulkhead, he is planning to add a wharf bar and public access for fishing, crabbing and sunset watching.

Vernon is also the developer and owner of the Bonnet Island Estate, the Mallard Island Yacht Club, the Mainland Holiday Inn complex, all in Stafford Township, and Hotel LBI in Ship Bottom.

At the meeting, Vernon gave a project overview not unlike some of his previous presentations before the council. However, at this meeting, the developer stressed how the facility could be used for special events, such as activities with the Beach Haven Marlin and Tuna Club.

“I plan to put up a public access pavilion that can be used for various functions,” he said. “To me, what’s extremely important is to have an active marina. It’s going to have 137 boat slips. Boating and sport fishing is so popular here, and the hotel can really enhance that use.”

Keith Davis, an attorney representing a group of homeowners who filed suit against the project earlier this year, urged the council to hold off on a vote.

“This is more of a zoning ordinance than a resolution, and it should have been made available for the public to review so they can intelligently ask questions and discuss it,” he said. “You need to be more deliberative and transparent, not just rush this through.”

During a public hearing, various residents spoke passionately, whether they were for or against the plan. John Harvey said more environmental impact studies need to be done.

“None of his (Vernon’s) other projects involves such a concentration of people that it will in Beach Haven,” he said.

Chris Anderson, who said he first came to Beach Haven in the 1930s, said, “It’s already so crowded during the summer with no place to park. This overdevelopment will ruin my way of life and drive me and my family out of Beach Haven.”

Barb Cona said Vernon’s display of artists’ drawings should have included renderings in 3-D.

“That would give us a truer picture of what this hotel would look like, and how it would affect the surrounding neighborhood,” she said.

Cona also said the public should have been able to ask more specific questions about parking, traffic, environment and other issues rather than have to wait for the land use board.

“We have an opportunity to put up a first-class hotel which will attract more people to Beach Haven,” said Steve Steiner, the artistic director of the Surflight. “That’s what we are, a resort, and we’ll have a different clientele who will shop in our stores and eat in our restaurants.”

“This can only help our commerce and our business,” said Kitty Snyder. “The hotel and the marina will be a good fit for that site.”

Resident Bob Stevens said, “I’ve seen his (Vernon’s) other developments around here, and he shows really good taste. I think he’s going to have a first-class operation here and we should support it.”

— Eric Englund

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