Site of the North End project, looking north toward Asbury. Photo by Paul Goldfinger
By Charles Layton and Paul Goldfinger
We recently reported that the Camp Meeting Association hopes to conclude a redevelopment agreement with Neptune Township soon and then, in 2013, to break ground on its North End hotel and condominium project. Before that happens, we hope the Township officials and the citizens of Ocean Grove will give this project a sober, fresh look.
The area in question is the vacant space next to the boardwalk between Spray Avenue and Wesley Lake. The plan, as presently conceived, would allow for a five-story hotel with approximately 80 rooms, plus a condominium complex of more than 70 units, plus a few single-family homes.
If this is built, it will be the most massive construction project in Ocean Grove’s modern history. Its impact on all of us will be substantial, and that impact will begin at the opening gun, with the start of construction.
Try to visualize this. Ocean Grovers are already experiencing two much more modest construction projects — the replacement of the burned-out homes and hotel on Surf and Atlantic Avenues, and the drainage work on Broadway. Both those projects have brought us inconvenience, but they are trifling compared to what the North End will bring.
The North End project will likely disrupt just about all of Ocean Grove. It will mar our landscape with piles of construction materials, heavy equipment, mounds of excavated dirt, trash, traffic congestion and noise – everything that a construction site of that magnitude implies. These disturbances could persist for a very long time. And after all that grief, what will we have to show? Scores of new condominiums which Ocean Grove doesn’t need and which most Ocean Grovers almost certainly won’t like. And that’s before we even consider the impact on parking.
When this plan was hatched about five years ago, the land in question was zoned for single-family homes. The Neptune Township Master Plan explicitly prohibited condos there. The landowner – the Camp Meeting Association — got around that by having the area declared “in need of redevelopment,” a legal designation typically used to rescue blighted areas, slum properties and the like.
Although that designation solved the Camp Meeting’s zoning problem, the trade-off was that it gave the Neptune Township Committee the authority to guide the project, deciding such matters as its size, density, number of housing units, number of hotel rooms, amount of required off-street parking and so forth.
The Township Committee was originally friendly toward most everything the developers wanted to do. When Randy Bishop first became mayor in 2008, he succeeded in reducing the size of what had been proposed. However, Bishop was in a relatively weak position at that time, because some on the Township Committee seemed inclined to allow a truly massive development. On the night the Committee finally approved Bishop’s compromise plan, Bishop said he personally didn’t much like it but that he had been forced “to look for the middle ground.” In other words, it was the best deal he thought he could get.
That was then. Now, the Township Committee’s composition has changed. So, perhaps, has the mood of this community. (At a Home Owners meeting in June, Committeewoman Mary Beth Jahn got a rise from the audience when she spoke of a radical scaling back, including the total elimination of all the proposed condos.) It appears to us that three of the five current Committee members should be willing now to further reduce the size of this project. Those three would be Bishop, Jahn and Eric Houghtaling. As a majority, they have the power.
Leaders of the Ocean Grove Home Owners Association also appear to be of a mind to fight for a better deal. Last year the Home Owners’ standing committee on the North End made a set of very thoughtful suggestions, which the organization’s membership voted to approve.
One suggestion was that the Township should require that the hotel be built first, then the single-family homes, and then, if condos are to be built, they should come last. One fear is that the developer might build the condos first and then decide that, after all, the hotel isn’t feasible. Another fear is that if a large hotel is built, and if it then begins to lose money, the Camp Meeting might be impelled to convert it into yet more condos.
Another proposal by the Home Owners is that the condos should be built in blocks, and that each block of condos should be 75 percent sold before the next block could be started. This, it is argued, would help insure that we don’t end up with empty, partially-built structures, as has happened in Asbury Park.
The Home Owners’ position paper contains quite a few such ideas, intended to reduce adverse impacts on the town and avoid a potentially disastrous outcome. We suggest that everyone read this document.
Before the North End project can proceed, the developers and the Township Committee must negotiate a contract spelling out the details in considerable specificity. During these negotiations, everything is subject to reconsideration. Although the negotiations themselves will be conducted behind closed doors, their product will have to be made public and enacted into law before work can begin. So, eventually, there must be public input. The Home Owners position paper also suggests ways to make things more transparent on an on-going basis, such as having the Township publish on its website regular updates including the text of all reports on environmental impact, traffic impact, water table tests and the like.
We urge the people of Ocean Grove who care about preserving the charm, character and livability of this community to start paying attention to this process now. Attend the monthly Home Owners meetings and ask questions. Keep in touch with your Township Committee members. Be curious.
As Grovers come to understand the implications of this project, we hope they will push with all their might for a better – which is to say, much less massive – redevelopment plan.
NOTE: For an outline of basic facts about the North End plan, go here. And also here. To read the Home Owners’ position paper on the North End, go here.
The entire North End Redevelopment Plan is available on the Township’s website, but it is quite hard to find. Go here, then scroll way, way down and click on “Redevelopment Plan-OG North End.”
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