Ball is rolling on S.B.

redevelopment plan
Phase I will be a study
to determine what
residents want to happen

By sherry cohonan
Staff Writer

Ball is rolling on S.B.

redevelopment plan

Phase I will be a study

to determine what

residents want to happen

By sherry cohonan

Staff Writer

After residents expressed their fears about "redevelopment" and what it means, the Sea Bright Borough Council passed a resolution retaining Heyer, Gruel & Associates of New Brunswick to undertake a town study to recommend how it should channel growth and renovations.

The resolution, approved by the council at its Nov. 19 meeting, authorized the expenditure of $4,000 on Phase 1 of the study by the planning firm, which is anticipated to cost a total of $60,000 over five phases.

The next phase, if the council chooses to proceed further, would cost $10,000, and the succeeding phases would cost $16,000, $20,000 and $10,000 each.

The first phase will focus on public participation. It will include an initial public meeting so residents may sound out their thoughts on the direction of the redevelopment. A follow-up meeting would also be held at which general design concepts will be presented based on the issues and "vision" identified at the initial meeting, according to a revised proposal submitted by Heyer, Gruel.

The 6-0 vote of the council came after occasionally testy comments were voiced by council members and speakers in the sizable audience.

The council also approved the transfer of $14,000 between accounts to cover the first two phases of the study.

James Forsman worried whether eminent domain would accompany the proposed redevelopment plan.

It will be up to Heyer, Gruel to recommend the area the town study should cover, but Mayor Gregory Harquail suggested it focus on the downtown district, from the Sea Bright bridge to the 7-Eleven and Donovan’s Reef.

"Many senior citizens are living on those streets and are afraid they’ll be pushed out," Forsman told the council. "If you eliminated the name ‘redevelopment’ and call it ‘improvement,’ the people would sleep easier."

Bill Black shared the same worry. He spoke about Long Branch, which is in the midst of a massive redevelopment project, and said the feeling here is that "things have run amuck" in that city and gone too far.

"The real fear is that you’re going to come in and bulldoze houses — condemn properties — and remake the town in a different image," he said.

Councilman Andrew Mencinsky said that unlike Long Branch, Sea Bright doesn’t have any blighted areas.

"I’m not looking to bulldoze the town," he said. "But why can’t we do a better job of bringing in better stores? We need a plan."

Harquail said that what’s proposed is not "full-blown" redevelopment but determining what should be done with the big pieces of vacant land in the town.

"I think a lot of people moved to Sea Bright because they like it the way it is," he said.

JoAnn Kalaka-Adams asked what assurance residents have that future councils would feel the same way when a redevelopment plan was ready to be put into action, as it could take as long as eight years to craft one.

"Unless someone can tell me that the fears I have are not real fears, I just feel it’s a dangerous situation," she said.

"I can’t say who is going to be on the council in a year," Harquail said.

Kalaka-Adams asked Councilman Charles Galloway what he meant when he said at the last meeting that if the whole town was put in the redevelopment plan, it could do different things under the law.

Galloway said that under a redevelopment plan the borough is entitled to go after funds to help people with their homes — to raise them up — and to fix some bulkhead problems. He also said he understood that a redevelopment plan can supersede the borough’s master plan.

"We’re hiring professional people to take us to the top of the mountain and tell us this is what we can do… and come up with recommendations," he said.

Borough Attorney Scott Arnette said that if a zone qualifies to be called "redevelopment," eminent domain — or condemnation — can be used. He asked residents if they wanted to handcuff the borough by asking it to not term the plan "redevelopment."

"Yes. I believe there’s a strong feeling that we want to handcuff you," Black replied.

"Not that we don’t trust you," he added after a pause.

Robert Long urged that there be more public participation in the development of a plan.

Harquail said that’s what would be done with the planner being hired — meetings would be scheduled. He noted that a redevelopment plan has been under discussion for a year.

Forsman suggested the issue be put on the ballot for a vote.

Councilwoman Maria Fernandes noted that the council committee on redevelopment, of which she is a member along with Galloway and Councilman Bill Gelfound, had not met since the last council meeting, when it was asked to go back to Heyer, Gruel to pin down a price and get some questions answered. She said she had just received the company’s revised proposal from the borough clerk.

Fernandes suggested proceeding with Phase I in the proposal.

"I prefer to do it in dribs and drabs and have full control," she said.

Galloway, who’s been the point person on redevelopment, had contacted Heyer, Gruel in the interim and gotten the revised proposal listing the five phases.

"They have agreed to do a step at a time," Galloway told the council.

Councilwoman Elizabeth Smith told Galloway she knew he was very close to the project but she still had a lot of questions. She expressed disappointment that the redevelopment committee didn’t meet.

"We need to communicate and the council is not communicating outside of meetings," she said. "I don’t count e-mail."

Galloway said he thought they had bent over backwards trying to communicate.

"We’ve had meeting after meeting," he said.

"This small step we are taking is very serious," Smith said. "It’s time to have a full understanding now. It is imperative to be brutally honest about what is pro and what is con."

Mencinsky said the borough needed to go forward with developing a plan.

Turning to the audience, he said, "You have concerns, but we don’t have all the answers."

Then turning to the council, he said, "I’m willing to hire Heyer, Gruel. I think they’re right for the job."

Gelfound suggested crossing off the words "redevelopment" or "revitalization" from the resolution hiring Heyer, Gruel, and calling the plan a "town study" instead.

Galloway urged the council to alot the money to pay for the planners now while it’s available in this year’s budget, but for the work to begin at the first of the new year, after the holidays.

The council agreed and the budget transfers were approved.

Phase II in the Heyer, Gruel proposal would be delineating the redevelopment area. Phase III would include an analysis of existing conditions in and around the study area and preparation of design concepts, with sketches based on the municipal vision. As part of this phase, the company will contact redevelopers to determine whether the concepts are reality and market-based. Phase IV is preparation of the redevelopment plan and Phase V would be soliciting quotes or proposals from prospective redevelopers, and screening those who respond.