Among a standing-room only crowd of environmentalists and residents with an interest in commenting on a proposed restaurant at Traders Cove Marina and Park in Brick was a surprise face – Ocean County Administrator Carl Block.
Block and another county official, Michael Fiure, the county’s Director of Management and Budget, read a scathing letter into the record at the meeting penned by Freeholder John C. Bartlett. Bartlett could not attend personally since he was receiving chemotherapy treatments for cancer.
The hearing was being held under a state Green Acres requirement since state funding was used in the purchase of the site.
“I do not regard a bar on this site to be in the general public interest,” the letter from Bartlett said, taking township officials to task for their apparent failure to respond to a separate letter penned by Bartlett last year in which he cited concerns over the use of county parking spaces for the proposed restaurant.
The plan to build a restaurant and bar on the 11 acre site “constitutes a breach of faith between the county of Ocean and the township of Brick,” the letter said. The county, Bartlett wrote, “will lend every effort to protect its investment,” which includes the entrance and egress from the site.
Mayor John Ducey, after the letter was read, said an earlier planning document mistakenly referenced the county-owned lot – located in the county’s portion of the park, next to the Mantoloking Bridge fishing pier and walkway – as being utilized for restaurant parking, however current plans do not reflect that.
“The county parking is not included, so that takes care of that part,” said Ducey.
Block, who also spoke, said county officials were most concerned over traffic in and near the park.
“The park was bought for a low-intensity use,” said Block. “Right now, it appears that this is more than we anticipated happening, and there may be a negative impact on the road and traffic.”
The restaurant plan, which includes a dock-and-dine bar and eatery, a rooftop deck, sand lounges and tables, has been touted by Brick officials as a way to help generate money to repay about $15 million in loans for which township taxpayers are responsible. Chefs International, the developer of the restaurant, will pay the township $75,000 per year to lease the site in a 24 year deal that includes a 2 percent escalator each year.
Ducey said a restaurant on the site also helps solidify the area around the bridge as the “gateway to our beautiful town” and will produce 97 jobs.
The plan meets Green Acres and other state park regulations because the restaurant will be one component of the park, rather than its primary use.
“As is the case with countless public golf courses, marinas and state parks, a restaurant is an ancillary use,” said Ducey, citing the recent decision by the state itself to open a bar at Island Beach State Park. There is also a bar and restaurant at the Farley state marina in Atlantic City and the publicly-owned marina in Belmar, he said. The Belmar bar and restaurant, which is also operated by Chefs International, has not had a single police complaint in its existence, Ducey added.
“The restaurant has a great reputation in Belmar and has had zero police incidents since it opened in 2012,” said Ducey.
The restaurant plan elicited a negative response from a number of people organized by Save Barnegat Bay, a local environmental group. The contingent wore stickers on their shirts that said, “Save Traders Cove,” and filled most of the seats in the township council chambers.
“This plan amounts to an intensive development of the site,” said Brice Bennett, a Toms River resident.
Christine Scheller, a Brick resident, said she was concerned a bar at the site would present safety issues for children at the nearby playground.
A Mantoloking resident, Nancy Boden Harris, was concerned that her bayfront home is located opposite the site.
“he safety of our children on the bay, with this restaurant in front of us, would be intensely compromised,” Boden Harris said. “We are trying to keep Barnegat Bay clean and safe, not attract more traffic to the area.”
Toni Granato, a representative from the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club, said her organization also opposes the restaurant because it would “commercialize” the site.
“This proposal will seriously change the park, preventing a majority of people from using it,” she said.
Those in favor of the plan countered that the project would likely bring new patrons out to enjoy the park and its natural surroundings. Ducey said the establishment is a welcome addition for the township’s business community as well, even earning an endorsement from the owners of the former Hinckley Yacht Club marina across the street.
“They believe that our project will greatly enhance their operation, the bay, and the gateway to our great town,” said Ducey.
The leasing fees will double the park’s revenue, which stood at $77,000 last year, and help defray the annual $1,155,100 in debt service taxpayers fund each year.
“This is the impact it has on the taxpayers of Brick, and that is why it is so important to come up with additional revenue sources,” Ducey said.