Frank Lawrence addresses the audience of Sea Bright residents at the Holy Cross gym. Below, Sea Bright resident Louise Golda, left, with Marie Banich, whose mother lives in town. (Photo by Sarah Klepner. Click to enlarge)
By SARAH KLEPNER
“Ask and ye shall receive,” a prophet once famously said. That’s also what the Federal Emergency Management Agency is telling residents of Sea Bright as the town continues to recover from Hurricane Sandy.
About 140 Sea Bright residents gathered Wednesday night at the Holy Cross School gymnasium, in Rumson, along with about 40 FEMA workers, representatives of several non-profit organizations, and Rutgers University planning experts, with the goal of deciding what to ask for.
The Sea Bright 2020 Community Recovery Workshop kicked off a series of meetings between now and November through which residents can contribute to long-term planning for the borough’s turn toward the century’s third decade.
Large posters, each staffed by a FEMA worker, lined the perimeter of the room, with headings denoting the four areas being addressed: Community Facilities, Economic Recovery, Housing and Neighborhoods, and Waterfront Restoration. Residents used yellow Post-It notes to propose ideas for each.
“This is our process, and it’s going to be led by us,” said Mayor Dina Long in her opening remarks.
The community has a key part to play in the process, said Sea Bright 2020 Steering Committee chair, Frank Lawrence.
“Federal Sandy money has been put aside for recovery towns,” said Lawrence, who has logged thousands of volunteer hours in town. “We have a short window right now where we can get this money, but we have to do it correctly.
“If [the recovery plan] doesn’t come from the community, it will be more difficult to convince agencies to release funds,” he added. That’s the purpose of going through this process.”
Adding that the town only has a few months to get its ideas together, Lawrence urged residents to “be creative, think big. What do you want the town to really look like?”
Resident Liz Homer, vice-chair of the steering committee, assured her neighbors that their input has real weight.
“This is real, this isn’t fluff,” Homer said. “This isn’t ‘Let’s just get their opinion and blow it under the rug.’ This is the real deal.
“We have to band together to make our town sustainable,” she said. “If we spend all this money rebuilding our homes and there’s no town to back it up, what’s the point?”
Speaking afterward, Homer elaborated. “I hope Sea Bright gets bigger and better. My theory is that people need to take responsibility for their own homes while the rest of the town is spruced up.”
However, Homer doesn’t want to see a replica of the mall-by- the-shore a few towns down.
“Definitely not a Pier Village
,” she said. “It could be a cool artsy place, it could be so many things, but I don’t want it to be touristy.”
Other Sea Bright residents weighed in.
“I miss the pharmacy and the library, where we have our book club and people gather to read the paper,” said Dani Reid. “We want places people can go year-round. And the senior citizens who grew up here want to stay here. So many are lost – living in Fort Monmouth or moving house to house with friends.”
One of those seniors, Louise Golda, who was fortunate in the storm, said, “I’d like to see walking areas, pocket parks, more meeting places. I also need a place to buy cards.”
Resident Veronica Burke, 25, said “This was one of the best meetings I’ve been to yet. After the focus on rebuilding the beach clubs, now we’re focusing on residents and what needs to be done.”
FEMA Community Recovery Crew Lead Kim Wilde, explained that the this process is a new initiative for the agency.
“In the past, we’ve addressed immediate needs, but the long-term has been missing,” he said. “This is an opportunity for people to think about rebuilding sustainably. It’s an opportunity for the community to get engaged and think about what kind of community they want…If it’s gonna happen, they’re gonna make it happen.”
Wilde said he’s seen some disaster-struck communities make the most of this kind of opportunity, while others do not. “It depends on the leadership of the town and the energy and interest of the citizens,” he said.
Sea Bright is one of a handful of towns that has invited FEMA to help structure the community-input gathering, Wilde noted.
The posterboards are available on the borough’s site and residents are invited to submit input via email
The four committees will be meeting next Wednesday and Thursday evenings at borough hall.