Posts Tagged ‘robert hilton’

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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