Commentary

Revise Morrison’s Site Plan So All Stakeholders Benefit

By JOHN HARVEY | Jul 17, 2019

The Morrison’s Marina development project is arguably the largest and most controversial real estate development in Beach Haven since the construction of the Engleside Hotel (1876) and then the Baldwin Hotel (1908) well over a century ago.

The dialogue and disagreement to date have centered primarily on subjective issues such as esthetics, where the opinions are countless and infinite and there is no real right or wrong. For example, does it look like a railroad train, a cruise ship or a beautiful architectural outcome? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

My opinion is that the current property owners, the Enos family, should be able to cash in on the equity they have earned from being an integral member of the Beach Haven community for a very long time. A reasonable question is how much is this equity worth: $8 million, $10 million, $16 million?

This question leads to the developer, Chris Vernon. I also believe it is right that the developer should be able to make a profit based on his investment by purchasing the property, developing it for an expanded purpose in a responsible way, and then leveraging his risk to earn revenue.

Even with these beliefs there are so many variables and questions, including:

• Should the developer be able to construct to the scale of a restaurant that includes a venue and rooftop that can accommodate up to 800-plus patrons, a 200 percent-plus increase when compared to the old restaurant?

• Should Vernon be able to construct a 102-room hotel, so he is eligible for a liquor license, when no hotel existed previously?

There are other stakeholders in this decision who require a voice and consideration, and can benefit from effective leadership of this effort.

Environmentally, the world is in a very different place from the days of the Baldwin and Engleside hotels. In my opinion, we are in grave danger with varying forecasts on the future. Most of the world population believes our environment is deteriorating. Living in Beach Haven provides a front seat view of the human impact on the environment. Personally, I worry about the world we are leaving for my 3-year-old grandson Archie along with his buddies around the world. Especially in Beach Haven, we need to have a strong voice and effective leadership on behalf of our environment and the future.

Fortunately, there still appear to be some government agencies living up to their responsibilities on behalf of the environment. In New Jersey, we have the Department of Environmental Protection, specifically the Division of Land Use Regulation. Through this agency, the developer is required to obtain a coastal zone management individual permit, usually referred to as a CAFRA individual permit. Included in the regulations are specific restrictions placed on a developer with projects near bodies of water, such as Morrison’s.

One restriction is that a restaurant and/or hotel cannot be built within 100 feet (or 150 feet) of the bulkhead of a body of water such as Barnegat Bay. There is some leeway if the development directly supports a marina operation. The regulation specifically excludes a restaurant and hotel as consequential to the operation of a marina.

Revisions to the Morrison’s site plan can accommodate these environmental requirements. Hopefully, Vernon will do the right thing and revise his site plan to protect our environment. If he chooses not to do the right thing, I am confident the state agency will stand tall on behalf of our environment.

Then there is our Beach Haven community: residents, taxpayers, merchants and visitors who love being in Beach Haven. On behalf of the community, our elected representatives and borough management need to exhibit effective leadership by considering the needs of the property owner, the developer, our environment and our community. It is not an easy effort, but it is achievable.

One example: In January 2013, our borough council approved a revised parking ordinance with the stated purpose of simplifying the parking regulations in our community. The original ordinance required X parking spaces for so many seats in a restaurant, and a different formula for seats at a bar.

The new ordinance is based on the size of the building regardless of the usage. For example, a new bar and a new antique shop would have an equivalent square foot-based parking requirement, despite one business having a significantly higher demand for parking. This new ordinance has contributed significantly to the saturated level of parking and traffic that exists today.

The ordinance became outdated quickly with the surge of recent developments: Victoria Rose, the Buckalew’s expansion, and now Morrison’s. This is the ordinance that enabled the construction of Station 117, a new 160- to 170-person restaurant and banquet hall, requiring only a net three to four additional parking spaces. The impact on available parking, traffic, congestion and public safety has been apparent for the past several weeks.

Now we have Morrison’s, a 102-room hotel and a 400-plus-seat restaurant/venue/rooftop, along with the existing marina and marine store, and boat repair/storage facility. The actual capacity is an open question as the developer shared a number of 400, but it is not clear if this also includes the venue space and rooftop capacity.

Fifteen minutes of online searching will demonstrate how woefully inadequate the developer’s stated parking availability is for this project. Again, this is an opportunity for the developer to do the right thing: fund an objective and extensive study that clearly demonstrates the impact of the project on available parking, traffic, congestion and even the well-being of the community. There are options, but they may cost the developer and possibly the current property owner money.

If Vernon chooses not to do the right thing here, we need to count on local influence and the leadership of elected representatives and our borough manager. Local government’s silence or lack of influence on this important and far-reaching issue would be irresponsible, and a failure in leadership in my opinion.

My thoughts should not be interpreted as a voice against the development of Morrison’s. In fact, I support a responsible development that benefits all. I believe this is possible with community-focused and innovative solutions, and effective leadership.

The environmental regulations are in place to protect our environment, our future. They are more important than ever today. They should not be compromised at the expense of personal financial gain.

Effective and responsible leadership would mean considering the wants and the needs of the entire community, and then the property owner and developer. It means leveraging insight and knowledge to find a solution for parking, traffic, congestion, and the well-being of community members. A parking study conducted by one council member on a bicycle is inadequate.

The burden caused by inadequate planning and leadership should not be the daily burden of residents, taxpayers, merchants and visitors. First and foremost, it should be the responsibility of Vernon, who has said often he wants to be a positive influence in the community.

Then, it is our borough council and borough manager. Based on my observations of the recent developments mentioned above, I am not highly confident they will be able to exhibit the required level of leadership, but I am hopeful.

In a place as special as Beach Haven, we need to make sure profit falls in line behind the environment, and the well-being of our community. The determinant of our success will be the next generation. Let’s make them proud.

What do you think? Feel free to share your thoughts with an email to engagebeachhaven@gmail.com.

John Harvey lives on Second Street in Beach Haven.

 

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