By JOANNE L. PAPAIANNI
The old saying “you can’t fight city hall” was put to rest last week in Asbury Park when the City Council heeded the concerns of hundreds of citizens protesting the north end boardwalk construction project and voted to direct iStar to stop production.
After listening to a long line of residents and non residents complain bitterly to Brian Cheripka, Vice President of Land Management for beachfront developer iStar and his team of professionals, the council voted unanimously to halt the project.
The resolution also seeks to have iStar come to the table to amend the waterfront agreement.
The city has reached out to iStar but has not gotten a response by press time this week.
“We are hoping they come back to the table,” said Deputy Mayor Amy Quinn.
Mayor John Moor said the city wrote a letter to iStar within 24 hours of last week’s meeting, sent an email and also a certified letter on Nov. 9 but they have not heard back from the developer.
“We sent letters asking them to come back to the table as soon as possible to figure things out,” Moor said.
At the work session last week a team from iStar, including an attorney, planner, landscape architect and engineer outlined the project which includes a 15-foot meandering boardwalk, cutting the current boardwalk width in half.
Plans called for dunes to be planted on either side with 54 benches installed.
Another major component of the project is the paving of Fisherman’s Parking Lot, which had many protesters claiming it would present an environmental hazard to Deal Lake.
Major complaints by protesters included the exclusivity of the project, which they say will look like a place built for the wealthy.
Future plans call for a private beach club to be built on the beach for residents of the Asbury Ocean Beach Club and Resort, now under construction at the beachfront, and a public beach club to follow within 18 months.
Protesters also complained about the lack of notification before the project began.
At a press conference held before the council meeting, business owner, Kay Harris, who grew up in Asbury Park addressed the crowd invoking memories of the former pool at the Monte Carlo Hotel where she was denied access because she is African American
Harris said plans for a future private beach club at the north end boardwalk reminded her of “divisions, that we’re not included.”
Many who spoke echoed that view, saying the exclusionary nature of any private club that requires dues, does not belong in Asbury Park.
Asbury Tower resident Joyce Grant, an outspoken activist, said she and others have been fighting iStar who she said has “maneuvered” to take over the north end.
“It’s anti diversity,” she said.
Reverend Gilbert Caldwell, who marched with Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King during the Civil Rights movement, said the gathering at the press conference and council meeting demonstrated what democracy is.
He also addressed the “elephant in the room” saying iStar should recall its plans and say “we made a mistake and renegotiate the plan.”
Pam Lamberton, who has lived in the city for 18 years, addressed a lack of transparency, saying elected officials were not informed that construction on the boardwalk would begin.
On Tuesday, Mayor John Moor confirmed that, saying he learned about the construction from North Beach residents who had been notified.
Environmentalists from the Surfrider Foundation, the American Littoral Society, The Sierra Club, Clean Ocean Action and the Deal Lake Commission spoke about the environmental harm the project could incur on the lake, wildlife, and pollution.
The paving of Fisherman’s Lot with an impervious substance will cause floods to Deal Lake and the ocean, they said.
Once inside council chambers which has a capacity of 150, many people stood, while others could be heard outside banging on the windows and urging that the curtains be open for them to at least see the proceedings.
Mayor Moor said that was not possible because the curtains are very old and are not operational.
Attorney for iStar Jennifer Phillips Smith presented current plans saying although the agreement dated back to 2004 permits have been updated with the Department of Environmental Protection for the Coastal Area Facilities Review Act permit in 2014 and again in April of 2018.
Planner Keenan Hughes said the new construction represented the next phase of infrastructure improvements and was designed to create a more residential, quieter feel to the area.
He also emphasized the boardwalk would be handicapped accessible and dunes would provide protection from coastal storms. The area would also provide a safe habitat for wildlife and birds.
Another highlight, he said, would be the boardwalk’s connection, for the first time, to the Village of Loch Arbour which is just north of Asbury Park.
Hughes said the the necessary DEP permits were acquired and CAFRA signed off on the plans in September.
Landscape Architect Tom Bauer said the new boardwalk would be a composite material, similar to Belmar’s, and would extend an extra 400 feet from what is currently there. He also said the area would be completely handicapped accessible.
“It will accommodate everyone,” he said.
There will also be bike racks, benches and new lamp posts.
Bauer said the dunes will not exceed four feet in height and children and those in wheelchairs would be able to view the ocean through natural openings in the dunes.
Professionals also said the storm water management plan included in the project will filter water runoff into Deal Lake removing oils, debris and other pollutants.
Following the presentation Mayor Moor contested much of what the presenters said claiming the city will lose 80 to 100 feet of the beach, which will impact beach revenues, causing the room to erupt in applause.
He also said he does not like “bump outs” which he believes the meandering boardwalk represents. He also chastised iStar for not updating council each time they applied to CAFRA.
Attorney Jennifer Smith stated that iStar would not discuss plans for the private beach club at the meeting, saying the plans are ongoing and not finalized.
But that didn’t stop protesters from bringing it up time and time again.
Plans call for a private beach club at the site and then a public beach club within 18 months of the completion of the private club.
Sunset Avenue resident Conrad Neblet said he was appalled when he saw the boardwalk torn up without nearby residents being notified.
“We live here, you work here,” he said.
Former resident Thomas DeSeno said he attended the meeting as a “peacemaker” defending the current council who he said inherited the Waterfront Redevelopers Agreement.
“Don’t be angry,” he told the crowd.
He suggested, however, that council combine the 2002 WRA and the 2004 Subsequent Redevelopers Agreement into one document and post it on the city’s website.
Former Councilman Joe Woerner said the meandering boardwalk project is a precursor to the construction of the Bradley Cove project with would bring townhouses to the beachfront.
Quinn reminded the crowd that council did not move the meeting to a larger venue due to time constraints but said the group’s attending the meeting wanted the Nov. 8 meeting to go forward.
She also told the crowd several times that iStar does not manage the pavilions on the boardwalk, which are managed by Madison Marquette.
Quinn reminded the room that in 2002, before the city’s revitalization began, “no one was on the beach.”
She agreed that the vision in 2018 “might need tweaks.”