By LINDA G. RASTELLI
Sea Bright’s public buildings don’t exactly show the tiny seaside borough in the best light.
Scattered along a quarter-mile stretch of Ocean Avenue, they constitute a ragtag bunch, from the cramped, stuccoed Municipal Building complete with a wheeled trailer that serves as the borough court office to a beach management and ticket office at the the north end that’s not even worth renovating, officials say.
Millions of dollars need to be spent to upgrade or replace aging infrastructure; that is unanimously accepted by members of the borough council. “We all agree on what we need,” says Susana Markson, the newest council member. The question is how best to do it.
Well, they’re working on an answer, and last week, the governing body unveiled rough, preliminary plans for a new borough hall, police station, skate park, seasonal pool club, public works building and boardwalk, most of it concentrated on a 15-acre parcel that serves as the town’s gateway to the Atlantic Ocean.
A cost estimate, however, is still months away, Mayor Maria Fernandes said earlier this week.
To start the process, the council recently used a $50,000 Smart Growth grant to defray the expense of hiring New York planner Phillips Preiss Shapiro Associates, which came up with three options. The council then combined those ideas to come up the the plan laid out last week.
That plan, which council members emphasize is open to revision based on input from residents, shows the town’s municipal buildings arranged in a horseshoe configuration on the former site of the Peninsula House hotel, at the north end of the 15-acre parcel that’s now used for beach parking.
While the existing police station would be too costly to upgrade, both the firehouse next door to it and the free-standing pubic library are in good shape, says Councilwoman Dina Long. A pedestrian walkway would link Ocean Avenue to the beach just south of the fire station.
Still, council members suggested the library be moved from its current location to a spot adjoining the future location of a beachfront skate park already in the works. A new borough hall, combined with the police station, would be erected west of the new library, near Ocean Avenue, and the existing borough hall would be remodeled as a community center.
Several residents who attended last week’s discussion were eager to see the plan brought to fruition. One, Northshore Menswear owner Brian George, praised the plan and asked the council to keep the focus on “bringing people to the beach.” He also suggested a bandshell be built on the proposed boardwalk.
Other residents also praised the plan. First Aid volunteers, noted a resident and volunteer, have been waiting seven years for a better facility, despite the fact that the funding is already there.
But former councilman Andrew Mencinsky suggested that the plan was a misuse of borough property. “This could be a destination, a mini-Pier Village, for lack of a better word,” he said, referring to the mixed-use project on Long Branch’s beach.
While he favors developing the beachfront with amenities such as a year-round pool, Mencinsky said he opposes adding new municipal buildings that wont “add value” to the town. He suggested instead that that municipal services be shared with neighboring towns and that and existing buildings be expanded.
“Why build a $7 million court to use once a week?” he asked. “It makes zero sense.”
Fernandes said efforts to consolidate services would continue to be made, but Markson said that “some towns don’t want to consolidate,” adding that Monmouth Beach had turned down one such proposal already.
A few residents, including George, expressed concerns about adequate parking, although council members said the plan would actually result in additional spaces because much of the vacant Peninsula House property would be used.
Resident George Stinson wanted to know how the state’s plan to replace the Sea Bright-Highlands bridge would affect the plan. “Once they finish the bridge, theyre going to widen that highway (Route 36)” he said.
Long and Fernandes, however, said the town has been assured by the state Department of Transportation that it has no plans to widen Ocean Avenue.
“Long Branch wants that highway to bring money to them,” Stinson maintained.
Input from lthe discussion will be used to make the final decisions at the next SmartGrowth meeting on March 27, said Fernandes.