DRAWING A PLAN FOR A WATERFRONT FUTURE

fh-williams-house-061610Unclaimed boats and kayaks will be removed next month from the beach at the former Charles Williams estate, Fair Haven officials say. (Click to enlarge)

By DUSTIN RACIOPPI

By this time next year, Fair Haven Mayor Mike Halfacre anticipates that the borough’s prized beachfront property at 78 DeNormandie Ave. will be open for public use.

First, though, a few things need to happen — including the demolition of the house that’s been on the property for 150 years, for one.

A formal naming, too, although the working title is “Robards Park,” in honor of the last resident of the house, Winifred Julia Decatur Robards.

Town officials also hope to answer the abiding question of what exactly to do with the property.

A general idea has already been established — to provide a “passive” waterfront recreation area for residents — and was the driving force to purchase the two-thirds-of-an-acre parcel for $1.2 million last year. But now is the time to get down to the specifics, borough officials say.

Allow canoes and kayaks? Tables and benches? If so, how many? Create parking spaces? Will there be safety barriers put up so nobody drives into the Navesink?

Fair Haven leaders took Tuesday morning to address those questions in the first of an anticipated series of meetings to gather input on Robards Park.

“I think we all have an idea of what the park is,” Halfacre said. “This is really brainstorming and trying to figure out what our plan is from here and what the process is going to be.”

Halfacre and department heads tackled the most immediate issues facing them: pulling an oil tank from the property and getting the title to the house “clean” so Fair Haven can close on the property.

The tank shouldn’t be a problem, and is slated to be removed in two weeks, Halfacre said. The title isn’t really a problem, either, he said. But because so many people have lived in and owned the historic house — it was built by Charles Williams, a freed slave, in 1855, and a number of his descendants, all the way down to Robard, took up residence — the title company is having difficulty tracking everybody down to alert them of borough’s plans to acquire it. Notifying them would give them a chance to assert a legal claim.

“(The house) has been handed down generation after generation. Some people died with a will, others died without a will,” Halfacre said. “It’s technical title problems. None of this is insurmountable. It’s just time consuming.”

Halfacre and company also tried to decide what would be done about parking, if anything. They tossed around an idea to create two handicapped parking spaces; others motorists would have to park elsewhere, given the restrictions of the narrow street.

They also wondered if the foot of the street could be widened and bumped out to create a turnaround area for cars.

“Something better than just terminating,” said Rich Gardella, the borough’s public works director, “because right now it just terminates.”

Halfacre said the sidewalk that lines the western edge of the property will be completely redone, and perhaps that will provide an opportunity to improve the surrounding area so cars can drop off kayaks and canoes, then turn around to park elsewhere.

“That sidewalk is a disaster,” he said. “Forget about the fact that it’s dangerous. It’s just unsightly.”

Police Chief Darryl Breckenridge suggested that, considering what happened in Red Bank last week, when a Staten Island man drove from Maple Avenue into the river, that a barrier be put up at the street’s end to avoid accidents.

Barring any problems with the tank removal and cleaning up the title, borough leaders appear to be ready to move into the demolition phase, then get the rebuilding of the land done. The collection of kayaks and canoes occupying the beach will be taken away by public works if they’re not claimed and removed by July 10, they said.

Once the property is owned by the borough, things will move quickly, Halfacre said.

“The day we close, I want to start the demolition,” he said. “I would like to think we’re going to close this year and start working on it so it’s open for spring next year.”

Meantime, more meetings, which are open to the public for input, are planned. The next one will be on the property at 5p on August 2, with the goal of devising a detailed plan for the property.

“I want our plan in place when we close,” Halfacre said.