The organizers took to the Belmar boardwalk with clipboards looking for signatures to force the borough council to reconsider its plan and instead to add a referendum questions for residents to vote at the polls as to whether the buildings were wanted.
Belmar's previous boardwalk pavilions were destroyed in Hurricane Sandy, and council approved plans to move forward on three new buildings which would not just include hurricane-safety upgrades to the previous buildings, but would also differ in architecture. One would add a watch tower to the beachfront, another would be topped with a miniature golf course and a third would house banquet space.
Though Councilman Brian Magovern said the plans came after in-depth discussions with the community in months of beach reconstruction committee meetings, the residents organizing the petition said the matter needs to go before voters at large. The plans passed in July's council meeting, with Councilman Jim Bean as a dissenting vote.
The full statement from the group on Saturday:
BELMAR, NJ, August 3, 2013 – Armed with clipboards and the power of their convictions, 17 Belmar citizens took to the streets in search of signatures for a petition geared to let citizens weigh in on super structures proposed for the beach front. By the end of the week they were successful in collecting more than twice the number of signatures needed to require the mayor and council to either adopt the ordinance Requiring a Referendum Before Building Multi-Story Beachfront Pavilions, Except for Public Safety Uses, or to place the proposed ordinance on the ballot.
Three new multi-story buildings, considerably larger than the former boardwalk pavilions, are proposed. “We’re concerned for three reasons,” said Noreen Dean, a Belmar resident and member of “Let the Citizens Decide” – the group behind the petition. “The buildings are overkill – far beyond what was here before Sandy and far beyond what a growing group of citizens feel is necessary. The town is already $52.6 million in debt and simply can’t afford to take on more. Ultimately this is going to have a major impact on the taxes paid by local property owners. People are also worried about how expanded commercial development will impact traffic, parking, noise levels, garbage and an extra burden to our police.”
“The problem is, there is only one plan on the table – the mayor’s plan,” said Belmar resident Larry Reynolds. He went on to say, “The proposed plan includes things like a 53 foot high, 146 foot long, elevator building with a full catering kitchen, aquariums and a second floor 200-seat banquet hall that is the size of three houses. A second, two story building is planned for 8th Avenue. It will approximately double the size of the original structure at that site and feature amenities like rooftop mini-golf and a 12-sink men’s room. I don't understand how a committee of seven people that are not from the affected neighborhoods had the unilateral right to change the complexion of these neighborhoods or make recommendations that will cost the town millions in additional costs. It should be a community decision."
Petitioners talked to hundreds of residents last week. According to Joy DeSanctis, the committee member coordinating the petition effort, “The overwhelming sentiment of the people we met was to keep costs down and rebuild based on the size of the structures that were there before the storm. But that was when people believed the mayor’s claim that FEMA and Beach Utility Fund would foot the bill. It now appears that claim is false.”
“Based on the agenda for the Belmar Council meeting on August 7, the mayor is no longer implying that FEMA and the Beach Utility Fund will pay,” said Fred Marziano, also a member of the committee. “The mayor is introducing an ordinance authorizing the issuance of a $7,125,000 bond or note to finance the beachfront buildings. This now becomes a legal obligation of the taxpayers, not something somebody else is going to pay for. This amount represents an approximate $1,228 for every man, woman and child living in Belmar, and that’s without interest.”
If the counsel ignores the petition and mounting resistance to the mayor’s plan and approves the bond ordinance, a second petition geared to get the bond on the ballot is ready to be launched.
Kimberly Paterson, another committee member, summarized, “Many taxpayers in this town are already strapped. If we’re going to add to that burden and force residents to pay the cost of rebuilding the boardwalk pavilions, we have the right to decide what will be constructed and to understand exactly what it will cost us before any plan moves forward. It is morally and fiscally wrong for the mayor to take a $7,125,000 commitment into his own hands and out of the hands of the voters. Let the people who pay have the final say.”