LONGBRANCH: The city council is taking a second look before giving up an easement to a property developer.
The Long Branch Council appeared ready to adopt an ordinance at its March 22 meeting which would vacate the easement, which runs perpendicular to the ocean near an undeveloped lot at 907 Ocean Avenue, but correspondence claiming it would take away public access caused the council to hold off on the vote until April 12 meeting.
Long Branch Business Administrator Howard Woolley said there are public access easements to the north at Plaza Court and to the south at Adams Street, but that the easement at 907 Ocean Avenue is not one of the city's nearly 30 public access points.
Attorney Larry Shapiro said the tract was acquired by the state in 1939 to give the city maintenance access to a jetty and bulkhead in the area, but now a prospective developer is asking the city to vacate it so he can have a clean title to the property. The property is now owned 907 Ocean Ave., LLC, which is a subsidiary of a real estate investment firm partially owned by Jason Labaz, of New York City.
Mayor Adam Schneider said the land in question has been used by fisherman and maybe some surfers to get down to the ocean.
"We want to investigate that further," Schneider said. "If in fact we find that there is a public access issue there, we're going to deal with it before we do anything."
The city still held a public hearing on the ordinance where several members of the public spoke out against it.
"For 78 years, this has been a public access by both residents and non-residents," resident Vincent Lepore said. "By accomplishing what you want to do with this ordinance, there will be no access to that beach."
He said the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) also was unaware of the city's proposed ordinance when he spoke with a representative there.
Tim Dillingham, Executive Director of the American Littoral Society, a coastal conservation organization based out of Sandy Hook, thanked the council for holding off on the vote to take a closer look at the ordinance.
"We are very concerned about the broad trend that seems to be picking up a bit of municipalities abandoning rights of way to the shore that might be used to provide for public access," Dillingham said. "I would urge you to look at where this fits into the opportunities to provide public access."
He said the beach just east of the easement will soon be replenished by the Army Corps of Engineers, and will be a "brand new resource."
"You should not be closing an opportunity to provide that to your citizens...by moving prematurely on this and abandoning this right -of-way."