LOWER TOWNSHIP — Council has decided to pursue a $900,000 county grant to put a sidewalk along the Delaware Bay coast even though residents don’t seem to want it.
About 250 residents signed a petition opposing the project and many sounded off at the meeting this week when council voted 5-0 to apply for the county grant.
Franklin Avenue resident Jessica Devivo pushed for a public meeting on the issue before applying with the county.
“I see no community support. I urge you to postpone this proposal until a public meeting can be held and we can discuss it further,” she said Monday night.
The proposal would include a 6-foot wide sidewalk for about 1.5 miles from Lincoln Boulevard to Avalon Road. The sidewalk would be on the dune side of the street facing the bay. The project also includes painted crosswalks to the beach, handicapped access ramps, and some stop signs to improve public safety and beach access on Beach Drive and Shore Drive. The two streets are empty in the winter but packed with joggers, pedestrians, roller-skaters and cars in the summer. The plans call for maintaining two 12-foot travel lanes on the road and allowing parking on one side.
“It will make it a safe roadway,” said Steve Morey, a member of the township’s Recreation Advisory Board, which recommended the application.
Police Chief William Mastriana, and former Chief Brian Marker, both support the project.
“Do I think it would be safer, absolutely? It would be nice to have something to walk on to stay away from the traffic pattern,” Mastriana said.
Residents expressed concerns the sidewalk will cut into the dune and increase the possibility of flooding while raising flood insurance premiums. They were also worried the improvements could eventually lead to parking meters, beach tags on what are now free beaches, public bathrooms, garbage, and traffic congestion.
Councilman Jim Neville, who represents the ward the project is in, said after the meeting the application would be delayed so he has time “to reach out” to residents and the local property owners association, of which he is a member. The county accepts the applications four times a year and Neville said they would miss the April 22 deadline for this funding cycle. Construction is not allowed anyway from April 15 to June 30 due to the presence of rare shorebirds on the beach.
In spite of the delay, Neville said he still supports the project. He noted the work would also include fixing the roadway in areas where it is sagging into the dunes.
“I believe it’s a safety issue and it’s the best alternative to what exists now,” Neville said.
Other ideas were proposed, such as turning the road along the bay into a one-way street. Some supported stop signs and crosswalks but not the sidewalk. Several residents worried the improvements would draw more people to the bay, causing parking issues, and one said it would turn the area “into a parade ground.”
Morey disputed that there would be any damage to the dunes and noted the state Department of Environmental Protection approved the project in January. He said some sand would even be brought in to bolster the road on the north end of the project where the roadway is collapsing. Morey said dune grass would be planted.
Morey recounted the numerous public meetings and newspaper advertisements on the project dating to 2011.
Morey also noted the beach is a community asset for 23,000 residents that hosts large events such as Independence Bay fireworks and athletic events.
“We all want to enjoy the beach, not just 250 who signed a petition. There are 23,000 residents who would like to enjoy the beach as much as you do,” said Morey.
Several long-time residents said there have not been accidents on the bay roads, though Neville recalled one bicyclist getting hurt. Mastriana said there have not been major problems but he noted the beach is getting more popular every year.
“Every year that beach gets more crowded. Will this bring more people? I think you’ll have that either way. They have a way to improve it and make it better,” Mastriana said.
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