Since announcing plans to build a proposed restaurant and a 102-room hotel in Beach Haven at the vacant site of Morrison’s restaurant, Christopher Vernon has stressed reaching out to the community, whether it is appearing before the borough council to answer questions or meeting privately with concerned residents. Vernon continued his outreach last Saturday with a presentation and meet and greet at Bonnet Island Estate, one of several area properties owned by his company, Mercer Management.
Vernon is also the developer and owner of the Mallard Island Yacht Club, the Mainland/Holiday Inn complex and Hotel LBI, currently under construction in Ship Bottom at the former site of the State Room and, before that, the Quarter Deck Inn.
He said that due to seeking Coastal Area Facilities Review Act permits, the Beach Haven hotel would probably not come to fruition for two to three years. He said he also has no date yet for appearing before the borough land use board.
“I believe in taking my time with this,” he said. “I want to seek community support with this type of project.”
With a standing-room-only crowd inside the ballroom, Vernon presented two concepts for the project, a three-story hotel and a two-story hotel along Second Street. The three-story would be the same height as the borough hall and open the sightline along Second Street, renovate the Ship’s Store building and add a welcome garden with dedicated access to the charter boats. The second-story concept would stay within the 35-foot height requirements in the zone and feature architectural breaks in the building.
“We have been working with Craig Brearley Architects to add historic Beach Haven elements to the building,” Vernon said. “Other professionals on the project include Coastal Environmental Consulting and Taylor, Wiseman and Taylor Engineering.”
Pointing to the various architectural renderings displayed behind him, Vernon said the aim of the project is “to create a very special design for the Beach Haven maritime district.”
“Our hopes are to bring this family-friendly, fun-focused plan in the next few years,” he said. “The marina is certainly a gem, and our plan is to enhance the marina with amenities for boaters and hotel guests as well as creating pockets of public access areas to enjoy life on the Little Egg Harbor Bay. Our focus is and has always been warm hospitality in great neighborhoods. We are delighted to continue to work with the community to enhance the maritime district.”
He said the hotel would have a guest shuttle for the beach and activities in the area, and would also have guest parking on the ground level of the hotel.
On the north bulkhead, he is planning to add a wharf bar and public access for fishing, crabbing and sunset watching.
The complex would provide 342 parking spaces, 64 more than the required number of 278.
As during past presentations, residents raised questions about its impact on infrastructure. It was for this reason neighbors of the property have filed suit to block the project as they seek to overturn an ordinance amendment that modified the borough maritime district redevelopment plan. They cite pedestrian safety, traffic and drainage issues.
Kenneth Goldmann, one of the plaintiffs, said the borough recently filed a motion to have the suit dismissed.
“We expected it,” he said. “It’s part of the process.”
Another plaintiff, Bill Moreno, who was in attendance, said the neighbors are not against the idea of a hotel, but have a problem with its enormity.
“He (Vernon) needs a 102-room hotel so he can get a liquor license,” Moreno said. “So now we have liquor setting up zoning? The impact on infrastructure and the ingress and egress is going to be huge. Every night during the summer is going to like the Fourth of July. These are issues which must be addressed, but all we’re hearing is how beautiful it (the hotel) is going to be and how wonderful Chris Vernon is.”
Vernon said he had hired numerous professionals to address traffic, drainage and similar issues, but they would make their presentations as testimony during land use board hearings.
Resident Colleen Lambert said that while she found the plan “impressive,” she would prefer the two-story concept. She noted the three-story plan had originally proposed 48-foot towers, but they have been lowered to 44 feet.
“But if more people do this, then Beach Haven is going to wind up with a skyline,” she said.
“With a 102-room hotel and the restaurant with a few hundred people, traffic control is going to be a huge issue,” said resident John Harvey.
“You also have issues with flooding,” said resident Jack Hughes. “It’s bad enough as it is now after rainstorms. This could make it a lot worse as that water has nowhere to go.”
— Eric Englund