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Alternate Plan Unveiled To Turn Vacant Long Branch Theater Property Into Park

LONG BRANCH: A Long Branch resident is hoping to have a property that currently contains a vacant movie theater and several stores turned into a park.

Vincent Lepore, of 38 Ocean Terrace, said at the May Monmouth County Freeholders Meeting that he, and other supporters, are looking to Expand West End Park to the property through the use of a Monmouth County Municipal Open Space Grant Program. The grants are part of a competitive matching-funds program for municipalities and are administered by the Monmouth County Park System and funded through the Monmouth County Open Space Trust Fund and can be used to create, expand and improve local parks.

"We want to expand the park that's there by acquiring the land from those who are willing to sell, and they are willing to sell," Lepore said during the meeting. "This program gives West End the ability to stabilize itself."

Chabad of The Shore is also looking to use the same land to build a mixed use building that would contain retail on the first floor and a Jewish community center on the second floor. Chabad sued the Long Branch Zoning Board of Adjustment after it denied the applicant a use variance to build a structure that would have just contained a Jewish community center. The new plan is part of negotiations between the city and Chabad to end the litigation and come up with a mutually-beneficial plan for both parties.

Long Branch would have to support Lepore's plan for the park expansion, as the grant application would have to come from the city, and would have to be willing to commit to a 25 percent match for the grant which could total as much as $250,000. Lepore said he plans to present the plan to the city.

"If the local government is not willing to go with it, we will have a petition drive of local organizations that will see this through," Lepore said. "If need be, we will go for a referendum."

Long Branch Mayor Adam Schneider said he didn't agree with the plan as the city would have to buy the land to expand the park.

"I've got an idea what that's worth and it would be pricey for us," Schneider said.

Schneider said the newly-adopted C-3 West End Overlay District was created to get West End "moving again."

"It took 10 years of work to get this active...there's no reason to disrupt that," Schneider said.

Lepore said feels the park expansion would be good for the neighborhood.

"If we're going to have tax exempt land, it might as well be tax exempt for the public good," Lepore said.

The Chabad property on the second floor of the proposed building would be tax exempt but 85 percent of the space on the first floor would not be, Schneider has said.

Read more from: Long Branch

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