Stafford Planners Greenlight Causeway Marina Improvement Project

Enhance, by definition, means to increase or improve in value, quality, desirability or attractiveness, according to the Merriam Webster dictionary. Nowhere in the definition does it say anything about change, but that doesn’t prevent the two words from being incorrectly interchanged.

Locally, the three-phase, multi-year project for Causeway Marina in Stafford Township drives the point home.

“We’re looking to keep it as is, to enhance it,” Megan Jacobs, of Mercer Management, which is still finalizing conceptual plans for the project, said this week. “We want to create something that is casual, comfortable and laid-back.”

That’s the plan for phase one, which includes concession-style food service in a biergarten atmosphere, similar to The Mainland at the Holiday Inn on Route 72. Mercer Management was awarded Stafford Township’s newest liquor license for consumption. The township’s uptick in population, which has reached 27,000 residents, gives it a total of nine consumption liquor licenses. That doesn’t include other types of liquor licenses, such as packaged goods.

“We lack waterfront dining,” Jacobs said, noting the intention is to bring casual food service to the marina for customers and transit boaters who just want to tie up and have a cold drink, something quick to eat and something for the kids to do.

Phase one also calls for the existing structures to remain in place. The 325 boat slips will also remain, according to Jacobs. When the Stafford Township Planning Board approved the final site plans for phases one and two earlier this month, it included approval of a pool. Jacobs said that might or might not happen during phase one.

“We’re still learning about the marina,” she said, adding boat rentals for crabbing and just “a day on the bay” will continue to be available.

At some point in the future – whether that’s five or 10 years down the road remains unclear – the marina could enhance its guest services further by offering a provisions market, floating vessels – think houseboat that looks like a cottage – and other amenities.

Jacobs said the floating vessel rentals are for those individuals who want to vacation right on the water. The market would “make the day on the bay easier for guests,” she said.

Making things easier for guests is a common theme for the project, with plans to offer a shuttle between Hotel LBI, a 105-room hotel at the site of the former State Room at the entrance to Long Beach Island, to the marina for guests who want to spend a day on the bay. That same shuttle could be used to take guests from the Holiday Inn on Route 72 to the marina as well, Jacobs said.

Before the township planning board approved the project, township planning professionals discussed at length parking, and moving traffic to and from the site, which is currently accessed eastbound by a U-turn lane off the Causeway. The bridge, the sole thoroughfare on and off Long Beach Island, is currently undergoing a $312 million federally funded rehabilitation and expansion project.

The Causeway project is also expected to improve bicycle access for both commuting and recreational activities by providing a contiguous path between the mainland and Long Beach Island along the north side of Route 72. Pedestrian sidewalks will be provided along Eighth and Ninth streets, Barnegat Avenue, Central Avenue and Long Beach Boulevard in Ship Bottom as part of the pedestrian safety improvements and connectivity for the Island during the final phase of the project. Construction for the entire project, including the bicycle and pedestrian improvements, is scheduled to be completed by the end of 2021. The project to build a new bridge parallel to the existing one over the Manahawkin Bay began in 2013. Its main goal is to provide the safety of a redundant route on and off the barrier island. The new bridge is 2,400 feet long with a vertical clearance of 55 feet over Manahawkin Bay. Ultimately, it will function as the bridge for eastbound traffic once the project is completed, with the rehabilitated original bridge carrying westbound traffic.

In considering traffic flow, Jacobs said, Labor Day weekend figures were used to help ensure traffic would not be heavily impacted. Mercer Management is also the developer and owner of the Bonnet Island Estate and the Mallard Island Yacht Club in Stafford Township, along the north side of the Route 72 Causeway, so the company knows something about traffic flow in the area, according to Jacobs.

While the township has greenlighted the project, Mercer Management still needs Coastal Area Facilities Review Act approval. One of CAFRA’s goals is to keep marinas, Jacobs said, noting it doesn’t allow boat slips to be sacrificed for improvements.

“It (CAFRA) loves public access,” she said.

Phases one and two, which currently include the razing and reconstruction of the existing building and the boathouse as well as others, don’t need CAFRA approval because the work is being done in the existing footprint of the 33-acre bayfront site.

The final phase of the project includes converting the tented seating area built in phase one to a pavilion, relocating the boat ramp, and building three four-story buildings for a total of 168 total guest suites. The “hotel” would be capped by entry columns and an 8-foot-by-8-foot attendant booth.

“This is a 20-year plan,” Jacobs said, adding the idea is to keep the area family friendly on the bay. “We want to add fun and amenities to the marina.”

For questions about the project, email hello@mercermgt.com.

— Gina G. Scala

Reposted from The Sandpaper