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By Charles Layton

On Saturday, members of the Ocean Grove Home Owners Association endorsed a statement critical of the Neptune Planning Board’s proposed rewrite of the Township Master Plan. The statement raises concerns that the proposed rewrite could lead to an erosion of Ocean Grove’s unique historic character.

A special committee of the Home Owners, co-chaired by Joan Venezia and Francis Paladino, had already criticized the Planning Board’s rewrite on those grounds. Its criticisms appeared in a September 9 letter from that committee to the Planning Board.

Saturday’s action by the Home Owners membership simply affirmed the contents of that letter.

One concern is that the draft rewrite contains “a lack of clarity” on issues of central importance to Ocean Grove, including those pertaining to zoning, density limits and flared setbacks. The rewrite often simply recommends that a certain provision of the current laws and rules should be “reviewed,” “evaluated,” “redrafted,” “reconstituted” or “updated” without saying who would make those changes, in what manner, or why.

“Our fear,” the letter says, “is that so much broad language in the Master Plan, urging such sweeping changes, would give present and future administrations too much discretion to make whatever changes they might please.”

The letter also expresses fears that a new Township Land Use Advisory Committee, proposed as part of the new Master Plan, would “usurp the authority of the existing citizens boards, replacing their judgments with the judgments of various executives of the Township. This would potentially allow for more decisions to be made outside the public’s view, and would be an invitation to more political influence and insider dealing.”

OGHOA trustee Joan Venezia briefing the members. Photo by Mary Walton

The Planning Board has been working for many months on a total rewrite of the Master Plan, a document that lays out basic goals and guidelines for land use and zoning throughout the Township. The Master Plan contains special provisions that apply solely to Ocean Grove, because it is designated as a National Historic District.

In recent weeks Venezia and others on the Home Owners board have been urging the organization’s members to study the issue. At the beginning of Saturday’s meeting she distributed more written material to members. Then she delivered a briefing during the business portion of the meeting, prior to the vote.

One member of the audience asked Venezia why she thought the Township might be trying to “water down” Ocean Grove’s protections in the Master Plan. “There is no motive that we can detect,” Venezia said. (Venezia confirmed to me later that, so far as she knows, no one from the Planning Board has ever responded to the concerns expressed in her committee’s September 9 letter, not even to acknowledge having received the letter. She seemed puzzled by the Planning Board’s silence to the Home Owners’ concerns.)

Joe Krimko, a Home Owners member but also a member of the Planning Board, did attempt to speak in defense of the Planning Board’s rewrite at Saturday’s meeting. He said the proposed new language calling for redrafting and reviewing various provisions would not allow anyone to skirt the protections in current law. Any change would require an amendment to the Township’s land use ordinance, he said, and “any change to the ordinance has to have public input.”

Before Krimko could say more, the presiding officer, Home Owners President Denis McCarthy, cut him off, saying “Explanation is not needed now.” And with that, the question was called to a voice vote.

No dissenting votes were heard, although Krimko voted “abstain.”

Venezia and McCarthy reminded the members that the Planning Board is to meet on the evening of November 9 to review its rewrite draft once more. At that meeting, it is expected that the public will be allowed to speak. At the Planning Board’s most recent meeting on the Master Plan, on September 14, no public comment was allowed.

To read the entire text of the letter approved on Saturday, go here.

For more background on the issue, go here.

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Saturday’s Home Owners meeting also included a set of two forums featuring candidates for office. The first forum (pictured below) consisted of candidates for state General Assembly and state Senate. The second consisted of candidates for county freeholder and surrogate. It would be impossible, in this space, to even summarize the discussions except to say that they included the issues of property taxes, state deficits, pension and benefits reform and unemployment.

Of particular interest to many in the audience was the statement by incumbent state Sen. Jennifer Beck that, whereas she previously voted against gay marriage, she has now changed her mind and is in favor of it. — CL

Politicos on parade. From left: senate candidate Ray Santiago (D), assembly candidate Kathy Horgan (D), assembly candidate Vin Gopal (D), assembly candidate Dan Jacobson (I), incumbent Sen. Jennifer Beck (R), incumbent Assemblywoman Mary Pat Angelini (R) and incumbent Assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande (R). Photo by Mary Walton

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By Charles Layton

OK, all you zoning and land use nerds, we’ve reached the really important stage in the rewriting of Neptune Township’s Master Plan. Time to pay attention.

The draft proposal for the plan’s “land use element” – which deals in large part with policy and zoning issues for Ocean Grove – has just been posted online.

The proposal was written by a special committee created by the Planning Board. It deals with things like the density of our residential areas, the extent to which the flared setback should be protected (or not) and proposals to rewrite the entire zoning code for Ocean Grove, including things like the definition of building height limits.

This proposal is just that, a proposal. It is subject to change, for the better or for the worse. It will be aired at a Planning Board meeting on September 14 at 7 p.m. in the Committee Meeting Room at the municipal building, and there will be opportunity for public questions and input. But for Ocean Grovers to have effective input, they need to read and understand this document.

The proposal on land use is one of 10 “elements” of the overall Master Plan draft. The land use element is 34 pages long and begins with general statements about protecting the character of existing neighborhoods, with particular reference to the Historic District of Ocean Grove. It speaks of “maintaining the character, scale and privacy of established residential neighborhoods,” ensuring that renovations and new construction “are compatible with existing neighborhood character” and paying attention “to overall residential densities.”

These are pretty words. (If they were taken at face value it’s hard to see how the proposed North End hotel/condominium complex could be built, but nevermind.) The most interesting part of the document comes toward the end, in the “Recommendations” section, and especially beginning on page 28, which deals quite specifically with Ocean Grove. That section contains a proposal that the Township Land Development Ordinance regulations pertaining to Ocean Grove be reviewed and rewritten. That rewrite, one imagines, could get sticky.

Therefore, be it resolved that all concerned Ocean Grovers look this document over, print it out, scribble notes in the margins of it, discuss it among ourselves, attend the September 14 meeting, and remain vigilant as the process moves along. It’s a long process, and there’ll be time for suggestions and debate. But the time to get interested and start raising questions is right now.

NOTE: For a free, downloadable copy of the draft of the entire proposed new Master Plan, click on this link:   Master plan link  Be warned, however, that the document is very difficult to read online, and the maps it includes are so small that their details are almost a blurr.

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