The question of Sewell Point has wound in and out of Cape May politics for years. Most recently, it flared up over a question about adjacent areas the city plans to include in its recreation and open space inventory.
The properties include thousands of square feet behind privately owned lots along Pittsburgh Avenue. According to Mayor Clarence “Chuck” Lear, the designation would protect the property from future development.
The matter was discussed at the May 5 City Council meeting, during which Councilman Zack Mullock opposed the resolution. He said it is foolish to list the property without negotiating something in return from the state, and that the city should have a plan for the properties. He argued it would devalue the land.
“It’s critical that it gets preserved,” said Councilwoman Patricia Hendricks. “This is a vision. Once we have this, we can work through a beautiful plan that the stakeholders can agree to.”
“This has everything to do with the Sewell Tract settlement,” Mullock said. “Putting it on the ROSI (Recreation and Open Space Inventory) list without having a plan makes zero sense.”
He said the resolution related to the ongoing court case, not to preserving the land.
The city is already preserving the land, he said, while Councilwoman Stacy Sheehan said the resolution limits what the city can do in the future. All those involved said they want to preserve the property.
“You can say that you’re for the preservation of the Sewell Point tract, but the votes aren’t consistent,” Lear said. “Three of us have voted for the preservation of that property.”
Over the course of the lengthy meeting, council members traded accusations in increasingly angry tones. It included questions about which council members had been deposed as part of the ongoing lawsuit over the site.
Both city Manager Jerry Inderwies and city Attorney Frank Corrado chastised council members for how the discussion proceeded.
“City employees have been working very hard. Diligently. It’s been a tough process, keeping the city going on a daily basis,” Inderwies said, praising the dedication and team spirit of the employees. He said he has had no complaints, despite the extra work. He asked council members to show a similar spirit.
“They’re working awfully hard, and to see council argue and to be divided on issues; you’re the leadership of this town. This is what the public sees,” he said, calling the bickering “disheartening."
Corrado said council members have been subpoenaed in the Sewell Point case, and three have not yet given depositions. In strikingly frank terms, he described the council as “squabbling” and said it was inappropriate that they were engaged in petty public disputes in the middle of a public health crisis.
“The things that you guys are talking about are policy decisions that you guys were elected to make. Make them,” Corrado said.
The resolution was approved 3-2.