By PETE WALTON
If Bradley Beach voters are to decide the future of a borough-owned former church, it will not happen in November.
At a workshop session of the Borough Council earlier this week, several council members said they could not vote to conduct a referendum if the question would not include the possible costs connected with their decision.
Mayor Larry Fox said at the council’s previous meeting that any potential referendum question would have to be submitted by Aug. 13 in order to appear on the general election ballot.
“I have significant reservations trying to move forward within the time frame we have,” said Council President Al Gubitosi. “My biggest concern is that we’d ask our residents to vote on something without having a sense of the cost.”
Borough Administrator Kim Humphrey said that T&M Associates of Middletown, the engineering firm hired to look at the costs connected with the church building, was still some time away from providing any estimates. The mayor said he was confident that figures would be provided by October.
Councilman John Weber said a referendum question without cost information would be problematic.
“Voting yes amounts to giving the government a blank check,” Weber said. “Regardless of your political stripes, most people are really reluctant to do that.”
The borough purchased the former First United Methodist Church on LaReine Avenue for $1.3 million in January 2020. The building has been considered as a possible location for a new community center.
However, questions remain about how expensive it would be to make that a reality.
The public comment portion of the workshop meeting illustrated the range of opinions in the town about the future of the church building.
“This church has history,” said resident Jack Gentempo. “Cultural history, art history. It has so much going for it with its relationship to Asbury Park [and] Ocean Grove.”
Another resident, William Psiuk, wants the borough to “tear down the building, subdivide the property and sell it.”
“You have four ratable lots that you could get out of that,” Psiuk told the mayor and council.
At its regular meeting after the workshop, the council introduced a number of bond ordinances, one of which includes additional funds for studying the cost of converting the church into a community center.
Borough Clerk Erica Kostyz said she and Humphrey have set up an email system for citizens watching the proceedings online to comment and ask questions during the meeting.
Many of the in-person and email comments at the end of the meeting referenced an item that was not on the agenda and has yet to be formally proposed.
The idea of merging the borough’s zoning and planning boards has been floated unofficially, prompting a number of residents to weigh in on the concept.
Most of the comments were negative. Many of those expressing their thoughts were members of the two boards.
State law allows smaller towns to combine planning and zoning review functions if they choose.
Neptune City, Bradley Beach’s slightly larger neighbor to the west, has one panel called the Land Use Board to handle both planning and zoning.
To the south, Avon, with a much smaller population, has a planning board that deals with both functions.
Bradley Beach’s northern neighbor, Neptune, has separate boards. Neptune’s population is 6.5 times that of Bradley Beach.