By DON STINE
An Asbury Park City Councilwoman believes it’s wrong to have locked gates on two footbridges over Wesley Lake between Asbury Park and Ocean Grove, and it may be illegal.
Asbury Park Councilwoman Eileen Chapman said earlier this week that the gates, which prevent public access from Asbury Park into Ocean Grove from midnight until 5 am, are a mistake and that both municipalities need to look into the matter.
“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 will ask Asbury Park officials to look into the matter and urges Neptune officials to do the same.
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 a.m. and were originally installed as a crime-prevention measure.
Chapman and Asbury Park business owner Daniele Boglivi Fiori attended Monday’s Neptune Township Committee meeting to discuss the matter.
Boglivi Fiori, who has lived in Ocean Grove for five years and also owns Sweet Dani B Cookie Kitchen & Petite Party Studio at 717 Bangs Ave. in Asbury Park, said she frequently walks and bikes to work.
“I am really more embarrassed by the social message the gates present than anything. I think it sends the wrong message to people and I just want them taken down. It is an outdated idea and really inconvenient.
“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.
Neptune officials said that they are looking into the matter and gathering more information.
The gates were first installed in 1995 and have been a controversial issue ever since.
Former Mayor Randy Bishop, who became a member of the Township Committee in 2005, said he believes the issue over the gates is more over parking today than safety.
Bishop, who has owned a bed and breakfast in Ocean Grove, also said he believes there is no one cohesive opinion about the gates among Ocean Grove residents.
“Some look at the gates as a symbol of past racism and others as helping to address crime and today’s parking issue. There are a lot of different opinions,” he said.
Bishop said he believes the gates, although perhaps on Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association property, are owned by the township.
“They bought them, installed them, and still lock and unlock them. I imagine they have to belong to the township,” he said.
Ocean Grove Homeowners Association President Barbara Burns agrees with Bishop that there are various opinions about the gates in the community.
“Some people want them and some people don’t- it is really difficult for the Homeowners Association to take a position,” she said.
Burns said she agrees with Bishop that parking is a big issue now regarding the gates.
“But this is not for us to resolve; it is up to the township,” she said.