Vote on Beach Haven Hotel Plan Could Be Months Away

A vote by the Beach Haven Land Use Board on whether to approve or reject the proposed Beach Haven Hotel and Marina development might not be taken until well into the spring.

The board conducted the initial hearing Monday at Surflight Theatre to accommodate an expected large crowd. It had planned to hear the application initially last month, but the session was shut down by the Ocean County fire marshal due overcrowding at the borough hall meeting room.

Jacqueline Fife, board secretary, said hearings will continue on Monday, March 2, 6 p.m. at the LBI Historical Association Museum auditorium. She said the applicant, Christopher Vernon, will testify along with two other professionals. Keith Davis, an attorney who is representing several homeowners who have filed suit against the project, will present his own team of professionals to serve as rebuttal witnesses.

Fife said that like Monday’s meeting, proceedings would end between 9 and 9:30 p.m., at which time any leftover business would be carried into April’s meeting. Fife said she was uncertain if a vote would take place then.

“We’ve never had a project of this magnitude before,” she said.

Vernon, who was not present at Monday’s meeting due to a personal matter, has proposed a 102-room three-story structure at the former site of Morrison’s Restaurant. It would have a height limit of 44 feet to the top of the hotel roof, with an elevator tower not to exceed a maximum height of 45 feet, 9 inches. He has said the three-story design would enable the site to maintain the Ship’s Store building on the site, plus add gardens and other amenities.

Davis raised three objections at the onset. He said the marine commercial district where the hotel would be located mandates that a buildings contain all uses and activities within the structure.

“Here, you have a restaurant and a hotel development that is consisting of four buildings,” he said.

Davis said that in Vernon’s development agreement with the borough, issues concerning density and stormwater management were specified to be addressed by the state’s Coastal Area Facilities Review Act.

“You can’t act on this now while waiting for a review by CAFRA,” he said.

Davis said the nature of the application had changed in that originally, the hotel and restaurant were not to be used for private parties.

“But now we learn at this hearing that it is,” he said. “That should be refiled and then heard at the March meeting.”

Arnold Lakin, attorney for the applicant, said the restaurant would contain 400 seats and a rooftop lounge area would accommodate another 200. The complex provides for 246 parking spaces, approximately 60 more than the zoning ordinance requires.

In addition, the marina would have 137 boat slips.

“In our development agreement with the borough, it was insistent that it must be a public marina,” he said. “I know there has been opposition to the plan, but there are advantages and disadvantages to any project.”

Lakin said Vernon’s main aim for the complex was to make it a family-friendly, fun-focused area, featuring amenities for boaters and hotel guests as well as creating pockets of public access areas to enjoy life on Little Egg Harbor Bay.

Architect Craig Brearley said the hotel’s design will feature historic elements to make it consistent with Beach Haven’s character, including a dark-colored roof and vinyl shingles with white trim.

“There will also be a landscaped courtyard area with access to both the marina and hotel lobby,” he said.

Bonnie Lenhard, board president, raised several issues. She noted that the parking plan called for 29 spaces designated for members of the Marlin and Tuna Club.

“We shouldn’t be giving parking to privileged people,” she said. “The parking should be open for everybody.”

She said a pavilion area where people could drink and eat should have restroom facilities. Lenhart also said she did not want the lighting to look like Hotel LBI in Ship Bottom, also owned by Vernon.

“That’s not what we are,” said Lenhard. “In Beach Haven we’re more classic and understated. We don’t want bright lights.”

She drew a few laughs when she noted that a bait shop would be located close to an area where people could consume alcoholic drinks.

“I am also concerned that some handicapped spaces look too far away from the (hotel) entrance,” she said.

Elizabeth Dolan, traffic engineer for the applicant, said she had conducted various traffic flow studies throughout the year at intersections near the complex and concluded that her projections “indicated that the hotel would not have any adverse effect on traffic.”

“It might even help the (downtown) parking situation because more people will probably be going to the hotel area,” said Dolan, drawing a few guffaws from the audience.

Board member Tom Medel said Dolan should have considered traffic impacts on Centre Street.

“That’s one of the busiest streets during the summer,” he said. “I know that very well because I’m a police officer (a department captain).”

— Eric Englund

Reposted from The Sandpaper, Feb. 5, 2020