RED BANK: COUNCIL GIRDS FOR POSSIBLE SUIT
The clay tennis courts at Marine Park as seen last month, above. Below, an architect’s depiction of the proposed Red Bank Harbor plan. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
Red Bank’s mayor and council held a closed-door meeting Wednesday night to discuss potential litigation over the process that could lead to a makeover of the hurricane-damaged clay tennis courts in Marine Park.
Mayor Pasquale Menna told redbankgreen shortly beforehand that the topics to be discussed by the governing body in executive session included “possible litigation” concerning the tennis court site, though he declined to be more specific.
What prompted the discussion wasn’t publicly disclosed. Menna also said that no action would be taken.
Of the three groups contending for the borough approval to take control of the tennis court site, only one could be reached for comment Thursday morning: Jetsun Enterprises, which submitted the most far-reaching proposal, calling for a privately-owned, $3.5 million multiuse facility offering miniature golf, a miniature artificial-ice rink and rentals of canoes, kayaks and other watercraft.
Anthony Jude Sestaro, a principal in Jetsun, told redbankgreen that he and his partners have not filed a notice of claim alerting the municipality of an intent to sue — a necessary step under state law. He declined to address other questions.
“We’re still waiting to hear about the recommendation from Parks and Rec to council and have been advised not to discuss the proposals further until a decision has been made,” Sestaro said in an email.
The Jetsun plan, dubbed Red Bank Harbor, is one of two competing proposals to develop the site of the borough-owned courts, which have been unplayable since they were swamped by the Navesink River during Hurricane Sandy. The other, dubbed the Marine Park Activity Center, calls for a conventional boathouse with a catering facility.
A third plan, funded by a $500,ooo donation by Jim Cullen, of Locust, would restore and upgrade the courts and provide a budget for maintenance.
Cullen and a representative of Marine Park Activity Center could not be reached for immediate comment.
But the specter of litigation was raised last month when, during a council meeting, Republican party Chairman Sean Di Somma accused Councilman Mike DuPont of having “leaked” information from the ongoing bid-review process to the media.
In a letter to the triCity News that was shared with redbankgreen, DuPont wrote that he had “been advised that there is going to be a recommendation to support the Jetsun proposal for the reconstruction of Marine Park,” and went on to criticize that proposal, saying it “puts 10 pounds of potatoes in a 5 pound bag” and would turn the park into “Coney Island South.”
Di Somma suggested that DuPont had unfairly interfered with a process in which the proposals should get equal consideration, like any bid in which vendors compete for borough business. That could expose the borough to a lawsuit, he said.
DuPont denied the allegation.
Litigation would likely complicate an already controversial sorting-out that began when Councilwoman Cindy Burnham suggested that a portion of the closed, storm-damaged tennis courts be set aside for a dog run. That led to a process in which the borough solicited requests for proposals for the site.
Meanwhile, a widely anticipated recommendation to the council on which of the three plans, if any, the town should move ahead on was once again postponed Wednesday.
When Burnham asked Menna during the open meeting whether there was “time limit” on the borough’s review of the proposals, Menna responded that “the borough attorney will advise you on that in executive session.”
Councilwoman Linda Schwabenbauer told redbankgreen that a three-member committee consisting of herself, Councilman Ed Zipprich and Councilwoman Kathy Horgan had not forwarded a recommendation to the council because the committee needed to meet one more time.
“We need to circle back,” she said, because the committee “has some open questions relating to the financial aspects of all the proposals, as well as some open questions about the Green Acres regulations and how they would apply” to use of borough parkland.
That meeting has not been scheduled, she said.