Posts Tagged ‘pedal boats’

Swan boat on Wesley Lake. Photo by Paul Goldfinger, 2011

Here’s proof that spring is on the way:

Linda Occhipinti, who runs the pedal boat business on Wesley Lake, says she plans to open for the new season beginning Friday, April 6, “weather permitting, of course.”

This will be her second season. Last year she had a total of seven boats — 3 white swans, 1 black swan, 1 pelican and 2 dragons. This year she’ll add a couple more — in the shape of pink flamingos.

During the spring, Occhipinti says, the boat concession will operate only on weekends — Friday through Sunday — but starting on June 18 it will be open on weekdays as well, from 10 a.m. until sundown. A half-hour ride will cost the same as last year: $20 for two people, or three people if one of them is a child.

The dock is on the Asbury Park side of the lake just east of the Moonstruck restaurant.

— Charles Layton

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By Charles Layton

In a previous story, we reported comments by Mayor Kevin McMillan and Committeeman Randy Bishop to the effect that a plan for a pedal boat business on Fletcher Lake had been ruled on and approved by Township zoning officials. Those comments were mistaken.

The Township’s land use administrator, Bernard Haney, said in an interview with Blogfinger on Tuesday that the two men who proposed to operate the pedal boat business have never even applied to the zoning office for permission to do so.

“We’ve never said they can’t have boats, we’ve never said they can have boats,” Haney said. “The land use department and specifically the zoning officer cannot comment to public questions relative to a boat operation on Fletcher Lake [because] we do not have an application.”

When a group of Ocean Grove residents showed up at Monday night’s Township Committee meeting to voice concerns about the proposed boat concession, Bishop told them, “The land use officials made a ruling. The ruling says it can be done.” Mayor McMillan made a similar statement. (The opponents point out that both the lake and the adjacent land are zoned for non-commercial use.)

At that same meeting, one of the promoters of the fledgling business, Robert Hilton of Bradley Beach, said he and his partner, Clark Cate of Ocean Grove, had approval from the Historic Preservation Commission for a ticket booth on the bank of the lake next to the proposed boat dock.

Haney said on Tuesday that this was also wrong; not only has the HPC not approved such a ticket booth, it has not even received an application. Haney said Hilton had apparently planned to use an existing nearby shed, which had previously received HPC approval in one spot near the lake, by moving it to another spot. Haney said an HPC approval is not portable in this way and that therefore the promoters “are going to have to go through a zoning application and an HPC application” for the ticket booth.

Furthermore, Haney said, before the operators can start a business on the water they would need approvals from the state Department of Environmental Protection. That’s because, although the land beside the lake belongs to the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association, the water belongs to the state. Haney said “there are a multitude” of necessary DEP approvals. “They need to get all that.”

Opponents of the project in Ocean Grove say they have spoken numerous times with various people at DEP and cannot find any record of applications to or approvals by that agency. Neither, apparently, can the Township. The only state record of any kind that has surfaced so far is a May 19 letter from an administrator of the state’s “Green Acres” program to a Camp Meeting lawyer stating that the Camp Meeting would not jeopardize its tax exemption on the land if it granted a concessionaire the right to rent boats there.

Hilton had told me last week, in an interview, that he and Cate had received all the permissions they needed to proceed with the boat enterprise. “Everybody in the world is on board,” he said, including the DEP, the federal EPA and the state Division of Fish and Wildlife. And Cate, in a separate interview that same day, said, “From what I understand, we have the approvals that we need from everybody.” Those statements were false.

Over the past few days, Haney himself had told various concerned citizens that the issue of the pedal boat concession had been settled so far as the Township was concerned. Tuesday’s statements amounted to a substantial revision of his earlier, more lenient posture.

The Township’s position now, Haney said on Tuesday, is that Hilton and Cate “have to have every one of their i’s dotted, every one of their t’s crossed, and if they do not, we will shut them down.”

I left a message on Robert Hilton’s phone on Tuesday but have not received a response. I have also sent emails to McMillan and Bishop asking for comment, but have not received a response. However, I did receive an email response from Committeewoman Mary Beth Jahn, who was smoking hot about what she considers Hilton’s unscrupulous behavior in trying to promote his project to the Camp Meeting and the Township.

“He lied to [Camp Meeting Administrative Officer] Nancy Hoffman about having DEP permits. He lied to Land Use about having a ticket booth. He lied to the Township Committee on the record about zoning and HPC approval,” Jahn wrote.

She said the only things the Township Committee members knew about Hilton’s plans, as of the Monday night meeting, were that Hilton wanted to have a floating dock, that he claimed to have a permit, and that the neighbors were angry. “He was trying to insinuate last night that Randy knew all about it; all Randy knew was what he [Hilton] had told Camp Meeting and Land Use: temporary floating dock, DEP permit approved. That’s it.”

Jahn and other officials became suspicious of all Hilton’s claims when they heard him say at the meeting that he had obtained HPC approval. The officials — and many in the audience — knew that to be untrue.

Jahn said that Hilton called her on Tuesday. “He’s freaking out now,” she said, “because he and Clark ordered $30K worth of swan boats yesterday. I told him he had almost zero chance of getting a DEP permit this year, a slight chance at a zoning variance, but he has lost the good will of the community and the Township, and in talking to Nancy, of the Camp Meeting. He said he and Clark were going to make a decision about what to do.”

It should be noted that the Hilton/Cate proposal for pedal boats on Fletcher Lake has nothing to do with a similar business that opened this past weekend on the Asbury Park side of Wesley Lake. The owners of that business say that their governmental approvals are all in order.

Update: On Wednesday, we are told, Robert Hilton began lobbying officials in Bradley Beach for permission to locate his swan boat business on that side of the lake.


For previous articles on this subject, go here and here.

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Fletcher Lake. Photo by Paul Goldfinger

By Charles Layton

Quietly, without publicity, a proposal is being advanced for a commercial swan boat operation on Fletcher Lake in Ocean Grove. This would be in addition to the one soon to open on the Asbury Park side of Wesley Lake.

The Fletcher Lake project, though, is more problematic because that area — between the boardwalk and Central Avenue — is not zoned for commercial use. However, the promoters may have a way around the prohibition of commercial activity there. One of the businessmen involved, Robert Hilton, formerly of Ocean Grove, told me that zoning would not be a problem because the business he and his partner are proposing would not be year-round. A floating dock would be installed in the spring and then removed in the fall, Hilton said.

Bernard Haney, Neptune Township’s land use administrator, also said zoning wouldn’t be an issue, but for a rather different reason: “The dock [would be] in the water; we have no control of the water.” If the promoters were building something beside the lake, on land, that might present a zoning issue, Haney said.

Hilton and his partner in the venture, Clark Cate of Ocean Grove, gave a presentation to the Fletcher Lake Commission about two months ago, in which they described pedal boats operating from a small floating dock next to Ocean Grove. (The Commission is composed of members from both Bradley Beach and Ocean Grove.) Hilton said he has also consulted with Neptune Township Committeeman Randy Bishop of Ocean Grove and various other officials and has received encouragement. “We wanted to make sure nobody had any issues before we started the project,” Hilton said.

However, those not consulted were the homeowners near the site of the proposed dock. Some of them do have issues, and they are complaining that they only found out about the plan two weeks ago, more or less by accident, and have had a difficult time getting further information.

Marilyn Laverty, who lives on Broadway directly across from the site, said a boating concession would harm the environment and would also “commercialize an area that should be preserved and in fact improved environmentally rather than damaged.”

Another neighbor, Carol Woidt, also worries about opening up the lakeside to business activity. “I don’t want that to be an opening for other commercial things over here like food or that kind of thing,” she said. “Also, I wonder how it’s going to be advertised, are we going to have big signs over on the lake or in that area?”

Jeannine Rudolph, who also lives nearby, said, “I’ve been involved in the annual community cleanup of Fletcher Lake for five years now. Every year, we find that people have used this protected wetland as a dumping ground — from beer cans to bicycles to tires.” She fears that a pedal boat business “will add to the pollution in this already fragile ecosystem.”

Cate said he and Hilton would not permit food on their boats and that they “would make a point of going around and doing cleanups. We want to keep the lake the way it is, it’s gorgeous.”

Cate said he expects to get the business going sometime this summer, starting perhaps with six pedal boats and expanding if needed to as many as 10. He said they were considering two-person boats or four-person boats. Hilton emphasized that “nothing is 100 percent finalized yet,” but he said that “everybody in the world is on board” including the state Department of Environmental Protection, the federal EPA and the state Division of Fish and Wildlife.

Some of those questioning the project say there is no record so far of the DEP approving a commercial enterprise on the lake. Some opponents also question the notion that the zoning issue could be avoided by having the dock float in the water rather than being attached to the land. Regarding that, Cate told me, “From what I understand, we have the approvals that we need from everybody.”

The Camp Meeting Association, which owns the land, won’t charge the operators for its use, said Rev. Scott Hoffman, the CMA’s chief administrative officer. “We’re just allowing them to do it because we think it’s a good thing for tourism.”

Hilton also argued that boats on Fletcher Lake would be good for the town’s tourist economy.

Cate and his wife, Margaret, owned the Manchester Inn on Ocean Pathway, which burned down last year. Since then, he said, “I have been trying to find some new, people-related business that I could get back into and enjoy… Right now this is not a big business for us, this is something we could actually run ourselves.”

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