FAIR HAVEN: FIREMEN’S FAIR BACK ON TRACK

The fair will return in August, said Councilman Mike McCue. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

By JOHN T. WARD

The summer-ending food-and-fun extravaganza known as the Fair Haven Firemen’s Fair will return in August, borough Councilman Mike McCue said Monday night.

That sparkler of news, another sign of the waning COVID-19 pandemic, came amid council action on the budget, cannabis, waterfront property and more.

Among the highlights of the council session, conducted via Zoom:

• McCue said the volunteer fire department will bring back its highly popular fair, “one of the greatest traditions in our state.”

The weeklong fair, which first ran in 1960, bills itself as the largest firemen’s fair in New Jersey, and the second-largest fair of any kind in the state. But last year’s edition was cancelled over concerns about the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Now, McCue said, prep work that normally begins early in the year is quickly gearing up to bring the event back to life.

“The plan is to go on essentially as normal as possible, with the only exception being the seafood not available, not for dine-in or takeout, but everything else,” he said.

•  Councilwoman Betsy Koch thanked the members of the finance committee for their work on the 2021 budget, and then voted against adoption, “on behalf of all the hardworking families of Fair Haven.”

She had previously called the budget’s five-percent municipal tax increase “unacceptable.”

All other members voted in favor of adoption except Councilwoman Suzanne McCabe, present for her first regular meeting since filling the seat vacated in April by Jim Banahan. She abstained.

• The council approved a plan to seek New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection Green Acres funding to acquire a vacant house on the Navesink River, adjoining the municipal dock.

The borough is in the “very early preliminary stages” and exploring various grants and other funding sources for buying the site, at 21 Fair Haven Road, said Administrator Theresa Casagrande. An application for Monmouth County Open Space funding is also expected, she said.

The borough had the site appraised in 2017, when it began considering the purchase; it was then valued at $1.42 million, said Casagrande. A new appraisal would be needed, she said.

The house is owned by the estate of Joseph Spagnuolo, who died in April, 2020, and the estate is aware of the borough’s interest, said Bill Kastning, of the Monmouth Conservation Foundation, which is assisting the borough in the process.

The site would be used for “public open space and recreation,” according to a hearing notice.

“This piece is vitally important, I believe,” said Mayor Ben Lucarelli, given its location next to the onetime ferry dock, one of the historic “pillars of our community.”

While people may get “anxious” about the price tag, he said, “you really have to look at this as something that’s a multigenerational benefit to society.”

“I think the idea of a public space next to the dock is really good,” said Riverlawn Drive resident Sean Bailey.

• In what he said would be the final update of the COVID-19 crisis, McCue said the borough’s active case count stood at two residents.

The state health department will no longer provide detailed data to municipalities, he said. To date, 510 residents have been reported as infected.

• McCue read a letter from the borough Police Benevolent Association voicing support for Red Bank Animal Control Officer Henry Perez, who provides the same service in Fair Haven under an interlocal agreement.

Perez’s job is on the line in Red Bank, where the council is mulling a contract with the Monmouth SPCA. If his job is eliminated, Fair Haven would have to find a replacement.

Casagrande said the borough had not received formal notice of Red Bank’s intent to terminate the interlocal pact, which runs through the end of this year.

• The council agreed to take steps to ban cannabis-based commerce in the borough, from growth through retail sales.

In 2018, the council approved a ban on the retail sale of marijuana and related products, except medicinal marijuana. Under the newly enacted state law legalizing recreational use, municipalities must formally act, even if they had previously done so, to either allow or prohibit cannabis growing, distribution and sales, said Attorney Greg Cannon.

Red Bank, where Cannon also serves as borough attorney, last week informally approved a plan to allow and regulate cannabis commerce, and Little Silver was poised to ban it Monday night.

Towns may not bar direct-to-consumer cannabis delivery services, Cannon said in Red Bank last week.

• Casagrande said she expects the borough to resume in-person council meetings June 28.