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Posts Tagged ‘swan boats on Fletcher Lake’

By Charles Layton

One of the most disturbing things about the recent fuss over swan boats on Fletcher Lake was the way information about that proposal was withheld from our citizens.

One example: Sometime this spring the promoters gave a presentation to the Fletcher Lake Commission — a public body — but the fact that they did so was never made public in any way. People in Ocean Grove who care passionately about that lake, and who normally ask to be notified about the Commission’s meetings, were not notified about that particular meeting. This, they say, was suspiciously unusual. Even now I cannot find anything on the Neptune Township website about that meeting. If you click on “Agendas & Minutes” and then click on “Fletcher Lake Commission,” you get a blank page. The Bradley Beach website is equally unhelpful. We only learned what was afoot with Fletcher Lake because some Ocean Grovers got wind of it, purely by accident, and spent an inordinate amount of effort digging out the facts.

Why the official silence?

Another issue of huge concern to our town was the recent settlement between the Neptune Board of Education and the ACLU. But have you seen anything on the school district’s website explaining the terms of that settlement? I can’t find it there. Have you heard school board officials describe the terms in any detail? Blogfinger published those terms in full because no one else was doing so, questions were flying and erroneous accounts were starting to spread. But the details we published didn’t come to us from school officials; we had to get them via the ACLU.

Again, why so much official reticence?

Here’s something else Ocean Grovers urgently care about: the North End Redevelopment Plan. But there’s a general lack of understanding among our citizens as to what that plan contains. The plan’s full text is available on the Neptune Township website, but just try to find it. Here’s what you have to do: Type “redevelopment” into the search field. (Typing “north end” gets you nowhere.) Scroll down to “Economic Development” and click the phrase “Read More.” Then scroll way, way, way way down until you get to “Redevelopment Plan-OG North End.” It took me two days to figure this out; it was like searching for The Lost Chord.

On Saturday the Home Owners Association passed a resolution about the North End, and that resolution includes a request that the Township use its website to keep citizens informed and updated. Good idea, and we hope the HOA continues to press the point.

Here’s another transparency issue: demolition by neglect. We try to keep people up to date on the court proceedings against the owners of problem properties in Ocean Grove. But wouldn’t it be better if the Municipal Court kept its schedules of trials and hearings online so every citizen could keep up — not just about code enforcement cases but all cases? This is the 21st century, the information is already in the court’s computers, and it is a basic public record.

Sometimes information that rightfully belongs to the public is kept from us because someone in authority wants it so. And sometimes it’s kept from us because no one cares enough to make the effort to share it. But whether the motives are active or passive, the result is the same: people are left in the dark about the workings of their government.

We used to rely on the media to keep us informed, but our local news media are weaker and more overextended than ever before. Given the economics of the news business, this won’t change. So if people in Ocean Grove want sound information, they’ll have to start demanding it.

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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.

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

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