Discussion Continues on Footbridge Gates in Ocean Grove

By DON STINE

Asbury Park officials said they will continue to urge Neptune to open gates that close off access at night on two bridges across Wesley Lake into Ocean Grove. City officials are arguing that the gates, which prevent public access from Asbury Park into Ocean Grove from midnight until 5 am, may be illegal.

Asbury Park Councilwoman Eileen Chapman, who attended the last Township Committee meeting with Ocean Grove resident Daniele Boglivi Fiori, said that she has reached out to Neptune officials about the matter but “there has not been much of a response yet.”

“I am disappointed and I was hoping to have some discussion by now. And we would like to have this discussion. As neighboring communities, I believe that we should have an open dialogue regarding issues that impact both of our municipalities and all of our residents,” she said.

Chapman said Asbury Park officials understand that there are Ocean Grove residents who want the gates to continue to be locked and others who want them to come down.

“The issue is not really how different people feel about the gates, the real issue is whether they are legal or not,” she said.

“I think they are closing off a public right of way illegally. Access over these public bridges belongs to the people, not to the city or township, and no one has the right to randomly close it off, especially if there is an emergency. I think Neptune may be opening themselves to potential litigation by maintaining the gates,” she said.

Chapman said she also sits on the Wesley Lake Commission, which is comprised of an equal number of members from both Neptune and Asbury Park.

“Often questions and issues will arise and it’s not always clear to the commission who actually has oversight over the area surrounding Wesley Lake. I had attended last week’s Neptune Township Committee meeting hoping for a better understanding of the policies and oversight but left just as confused when the governing body gave conflicting answers,” she said.

Neptune Mayor Carol Rizzo confirmed that township officials have not yet met with Asbury Park officials.

“While I certainly welcome the opportunity to engage in constructive dialogue with my counterparts in Asbury Park, my responsibility is to the residents that call Neptune home. This is still under discussion but we will not be forced into making a decision that serves no other purpose than to make it easier for visitors to spend their money in Asbury Park, especially at the expense of the tranquility and safety of our Ocean Grove neighborhood,” she said.

Rizzo said the governing body is trying to gather more information, get legal opinions, and reach out to police officials for input.

“I think we need more information and have to make a decision about where we are. It is still early in the process. And it is also about how the residents of Ocean Grove feel about the matter. We just can’t ignore the residents and they count. That is what we are here for,” she said.

Officials at the Ocean Grove Camp Meetings Association could not be reached for comment on the matter.

In 1995, Neptune installed gates at the southern end of the two Wesley Lake bridge crossings between Asbury Park and Ocean Grove. They are locked between midnight and 5 am and were originally installed as a crime-prevention measure. Locking the gates has been a controversial matter ever since they were installed.

Some city and township residents said the issue of the gates being locked may now have more to do with parking than with safety. People heading into Asbury Park sometimes park in Ocean Grove, where parking is free as opposed to metered parking in Asbury Park.

Boglivi Fiore, who has lived in Ocean Grove for five years and also owns Sweet Dani B Cookie Kitchen and Petite Party Studio at 717 Bangs Ave.,  Asbury Park, said she frequently walks and bikes to work.

“I do not like the idea that I have to run home before the gates are locked or else I have to walk way around. And I don’t think they deter crime. There is still crime in Ocean Grove,” she said previously.

Posted in Asbury Park City Desk, Shore Communities and tagged , .