Fire Marshal Stops Morrison’s Project Hearing Due to Overcrowding

By Eric Englund | Jan 08, 2020
Photo by: Jack Reynolds The overflow crowd at Monday’s Beach Haven Land Use Board hearing on the Morrison’s project led to a postponement.

Beach Haven — Developer Christopher Vernon will have to wait another month to appear before the Beach Haven Land Use Board as Monday night’s meeting was shut down by the Ocean County fire marshal due to a crowd that exceeded the meeting room’s allowable capacity.

As a result, Vernon’s presentation to build a 102-room hotel at the Morrison’s restaurant site has been carried over to Monday, Feb. 3, 6 p.m., at Surflight Theatre.

The 82-seat meeting room has an allowable maximum capacity of 100. But with a large standing room-only crowd spilling into the hallway, the number of people was approximately 135, according to Police Sgt. James Lemmo.

The decision to close the meeting was made by William Hollingsworth, an investigator for the fire marshal. Hollingsworth was not on-site, but he was contacted by the Beach Haven Police Department due to overcrowing concerns. After discussing the situation with officers, he put a stop to proceedings.

His decision was made approximately one hour after the meeting was called to order at 5:30 p.m. However, Vernon’s presentation never began as the board took a break for a 15-minute closed door session and then reconvened in public for reorganization business, such as reappointing Bonnie Lenhard and Ken Yuha as president and vice president, respectively, as well as Frank Little as engineer and Stuart Snyder as attorney.

Then Keith Davis, an attorney for a group of homeowners who filed suit against the Morrison’s project, addressed the board, noting that many people standing in the hallway was a violation of the Open Public Meetings Act.

“Some of them are my clients and they don’t have the benefit of seeing the exhibits and being able to listen,” he said. “Everybody has a right to be in this room.”

Davis noted that when the borough council held its regular meeting in October to vote on a developers agreement with Vernon, it was held at Surflight.

“The board should have known this was going to generate intensive public scrutiny,” he said. “Doing this in a smaller room like this makes no sense.”

After the meeting, resident John Harvey, who raised many issues over the development on his Engage Beach Haven website, said numerous people flew up from Florida to attend the meeting.

“There were others who drove three hours,” he said. “There is no way this meeting should have been held here.”

Vernon seemed unfazed by the meeting’s postponement. “No big deal. I don’t mind waiting another month,” he said.

Jacqueline Fife, land use board secretary, said board members had discussed possibly moving the meeting to another location, but decided to keep it at borough hall. She said that because the meeting room is located in a newer building, it can accommodate video presentations and has other amenities to aid in proceedings.

— Eric Englund




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