A public hearing this evening will give Beach Haven residents and property owners another chance to weigh in on a consuming local issue. A developer, Christopher Vernon, wants to spend a lot of money turning a struggling marina into an all-new complex with a public-access marina, hotel, restaurant and public-access pavilion.
Some see advantages for local taxpayers and businesses, citing what they call Vernon’s other “first-class” developments such as the Mallard Island Yacht Club and the Boatyard and Mainland Holiday Inn complex in Stafford Township, and the Hotel LBI in Ship Bottom. Steve Steiner, artistic director of the Surflight Theatre in town, told the Sandpaper that the marina complex would draw “a different clientele who will shop in our stores and eat in our restaurants.”
Others see more people as increasing traffic that is already heavy in summer, and wonder if the project would create environmental issues, since they haven’t seen an environmental impact assessment.
Regarding traffic, perhaps the more pertinent question for the public and the Land Use Board tonight is whether the increase in traffic is worth what the complex would contribute to the community. Look along the Jersey Shore and you’ll see plenty of islands packed in summer, but only some are thriving and others are struggling despite summer crowds.
Environmental impacts such as stormwater runoff are a concern anywhere, but in this case the marina complex would have to meet not only local requirements but the powerful and stringent conditions imposed by the N.J. Coastal Area Facilities Review Act. That’s enough to make us confident that the Department of Environmental Protection will ensure sustainability in design and building.
Mayor Nancy Taggart Davis, who supports the development, said it will allow the borough to keep a functional marina on the property. Indeed, this project or something much like it is probably the only way to keep a marina there.
Davis also eloquently addressed the fond feelings residents have for their familiar Beach Haven and the desire to make time there stand still. “There’s no way we can stay the way we are,” she told The Press. “Change happens. I don’t particularly like change myself, but we can control the quality of the change we have.”
Foes of this change may think they can stop this or any development if enough people don’t want it.
Not necessarily under the law. They might sufficiently sway local officials or discourage this developer enough to make him look elsewhere, but developers are allowed to develop as long as they meet the law’s requirements and can go to court to assert that right.
If the marina complex plan fails, perhaps a different developer would see an opportunity for something like a multi-family dwelling with a significant affordable housing component. Those have popped up along the shore with state backing. Beach Haven may even have an unmet affordable housing obligation under current court rulings.
Our advice to Beach Haven officials and residents is this: Assume the Morrison’s Marina property will be developed one way or another. Consider the alternatives to the current plan and what the law might allow.
Then support what seems best for the community in the long run.