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Ortley Beach Residents Fume Over ‘Approved’ Boardwalk Expansion That Wasn’t Made Public

The Ortley Beach boardwalk will be expanded into the area once occupied by Joey Harrison’s Surf Club, but the details of the expansion plan have never been revealed to the public, prompting some residents and officials to question what they see as a lack of transparency.

The Toms River township council on Wednesday night approved a payment of $6,000 to the state Department of Environmental Protection that represents a fee to execute a Land Use Management Program at the site of the former nightclub, which was brought into public ownership with a combination of state and local funds. The state holds the title to the property and the township is tasked with maintaining it, however correspondence dating back to at least December 2022 representing varying plans to expand the neighborhood’s boardwalk and re-pave a parking lot has been held back from the public even though it has purportedly already received some form of state approval.

The Ortley Beach boardwalk, July 2023. (Photo: Shorebeat)

The Ortley Beach boardwalk, July 2023. (Photo: Shorebeat)

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The final approval will come after the fee is paid and a final review, however the physical exhibits that depict the length, positioning and makeup of the boardwalk will have already been decided without public input. At Wednesday night’s council meeting, officials declined to reveal the application exhibits to residents, sparking anger by members of the group that facilitated the negotiations that led to the site’s preservation – the Ortley Beach Voters and Taxpayers Association.

“This management and use agreement has never been shared,” said Paul Jeffrey, an Ortley Beach resident and leader of the OBVTA. “I’m extremely annoyed that we have asked repeatedly to see the plan and you’ve refused to share it.”

The sentiment was echoed by Councilman Justin Lamb, whose ward includes Ortley Beach.

“I asked for the attachments and I’m told by the legal department that until it’s finalized by the state, I can’t see them and I can’t forward them to the OBVTA,” he said.

Anthony Merlino, the assistant township attorney, said the state has approved the plans showing how the properties will be developed, and the DEP will be the agency to release those documents after the permit fees have been paid and it is formally granted.

His answer, however, did not pass muster with Jeffrey.

“How can you submit a plan – and get it approved – that no one has ever had a right to comment on?” he asked. “We are getting very annoyed that you are submitting plans we never get to comment on. Why? Why is it so secretive?”

He continued: “You are making decisions about what the Ortley Beach boardwalk and parking lot, and everything else, should look like, without the input of Ortley Beach.”

“That agreement is with DEP for final execution and the state will supply all of the exhibits with that document,” Merlino replied.

Merlino said discussions of a management plan for the Surf Club site began almost immediately after the state took ownership of the property after drawn-out negotiations that included township and county officials. (Mediation for those negotiating sessions was funded by the OBVTA.) The lengthy wait is not the fault of the township, he said.

“We could never get the meetings we needed to with the appropriate agencies within DEP,” he said, so the negotiations went “back and forth.”

The Ortley Beach boardwalk, July 2023. (Photo: Shorebeat)

The Ortley Beach boardwalk, July 2023. (Photo: Shorebeat)

The Ortley Beach boardwalk, July 2023. (Photo: Shorebeat)

The Ortley Beach boardwalk, July 2023. (Photo: Shorebeat)

It has been previously shared that the state reversed an earlier position that a parking lot once used for the nightclub, and now proposed for extra beach parking, should be paved. Jeffrey said the majority of residents believe the parking area, spanning the distance between Sixth and Seventh avenues on the oceanfront, should have a clam-shell surface. Merlino and other officials, however, said paving is preferred since more cars will fit in the lot if it is traditionally striped and marked.

Shorebeat, following the meeting, filed a request under the state’s Open Public Records Act to obtain copies of the relevant exhibits from the Department of Environmental Protection. The response will be published in a future article on the matter. The council meeting ultimately ended without additional details of the boardwalk expansion being shared.

“This goes on and on and on that you’re not collecting input from people about what they want,” said Jeffrey. “You guys didn’t listen, and when you don’t listen to the public, guess what? You get voted out.”

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