Victoria Rose Plan Rejected by Beach Haven Board

Aug 29, 2018
File Photo by: Ryan Morrill

In a very close vote, the Beach Haven Land Use Board has denied an application for the proposed Victoria Rose development.

Earlier this year, partners Terry Moeller and Tom and Joan Bertussi announced plans to tear down the bank building on Bay Avenue and build a retail/residential complex. The complex would contain 20 residential units, each covering 1,200 square feet. Five apartments would be set aside for affordable housing.

The development would also include five yet-to-be-named retail businesses, covering less than 40,000 square feet. The current brick structure was built in 1963 as the headquarters for the old Beach Haven National Bank. Over the years, it became the home of several different financial institutions, with the most recent being Sovereign Bank.

Board members Councilman Donald Kakstis, Joseph Pisani, James Stevens and board chairman Bonnie Lenhard voted for the application, while Dan Allen, James Kilcommons, Ken Muha and Penny Edels voted against. Mayor Nancy Taggart Davis abstained, resulting in the plan being turned down.

Reading from a statement, Davis said that during her eight years on the borough council, she had “never seen a project or issue divide our community to the same extent that the Victoria Rose project has.”

“When this project was first brought to the council, I thought it had the potential to have a positive impact on Beach Haven,” she said. “I believed then, and still believe, that it had the potential to transform a blighted property in the heart of Beach Haven’s business district into a thriving commercial and residential space that would enhance Beach Haven by adding new store fronts, additional tax revenue while removing a building that has been left vacant (and) neglected for close to 15 years now.

“I thought the project would help Beach Haven keep its post office. I know that many residents and businesses depend on this office. and I likewise know that the U.S. Postal Service has been looking for any excuse to close it down and divert Beach Haven’s postal customers to the other two post offices (not including the one in Barnegat Light) on the Island.

“Finally, I thought that the Victoria Rose project could help Beach Haven become COAH compliant by providing much-needed affordable housing units. I believe the addition of these units would attract younger, year-round residents to our town who would work in our businesses, join our fire company and shop in stores and restaurants. These are the reasons that I have supported this project and why I still think that it would be good for Beach Haven.”

But she also said the project “has divided friends and neighbors here in Beach Haven, and there is no denying the anger and animosity it has engendered amongst a small but vocal group of residents.”

“I don’t think this group speaks for the majority of Beach Haven, but I think their passion has merit and that we would be wrong to not factor their concerns into the decision-making process,” Davis said. “On top of that I am disappointed that the Victoria Rose developers have not been able to successfully convince Beach Haven’s residents of the benefits this project offers our town, or at the very least convinced more supporters of the project to attend these meetings and to publicly speak in favor of this project. I think that would have made a big difference and would have helped us avoid a lot of the anger and recrimination that is running through Beach Haven at the moment.

“Beach Haven is too small a town and too tight-knit a community for one development project to cause the animosity that the Victoria Rose has brought to Beach Haven. I love this town, I love my fellow residents, and I think we all are better off when we work together and not against one another. It is with that in mind, and with great reluctance, that I have decided to withdraw my support from this project and abstain from the vote.”

Christopher Norman, an attorney who represented a group of residents opposed to the project, said the board “made a sound and rational decision.”

“They had a lot of valid concerns, and they could see that some of what was being presented by the applicants just wasn’t credible,” he said.

At the Monday special board meeting, the applicants were finishing testimony continued from a meeting earlier this month. David Shropshire, a traffic engineer hired by the applicants, said Victoria Rose “would not be a high volume generating site.”

“Much of what you have are condos, which is not going to bring in a lot of cars that a commercial development would,” he said.

However, some board members said that during the summer, it could create problems because of the already congested traffic. They noted the area also has intense bicyclist and pedestrian activity.

That was raised during the public comment portion, when resident Pat Sullivan said pedestrian and bike traffic “lasts from early in the morning to late at night.”

“I wonder if one of these stores will turn into a white elephant because they’d have difficulty leasing it,” he said. “Maybe you’re better off with one big store instead of a group of smaller ones.”

Other speakers feared the project would change the character of downtown Beach Haven

“Look at all the people in this room,” said resident Theodora Lambert. “We all love this town, and we have had families who have been coming here for a long time. This project is a mistake.”

Jill Denkar, a resident of nearby Holgate, fought back emotion in saying that the project “would change the landscape of Beach Haven forever.”

“Beach Haven is the heart and soul of LBI,” said Denkar. “People embrace the Victorian charm, and now you want to change the future and turn it into New York City.”

Some speakers favored the project because of the affordable housing.

“We’re not getting many young people into Beach Haven because they can’t afford to live here,” said Bill Hutson of the Holgate section of Long Beach Township, president of the Joint Council of Taxpayers Association of LBI. “This would help with our severe shortage of volunteers as well as getting people who work in Beach Haven to also be able to live in Beach Haven.”

Moeller said he and his partners are looking into options, such as perhaps appealing to the Ocean County Superior Court.

“I don’t know what we’ll do,” he said. “We still feel it’s a great project for Beach Haven, and we hope we can still move forward on it.”

— Eric Englund

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