By John Burton
SEA BRIGHT – Mayor Dina Long is insisting that rumors about a planned redevelopment for the borough’s downtown business district are simply that – just rumors.
“I’ll tell you what, I’m on the warpath about it,” she said, referring to the persistent flurry of rumors about what will happen to the stretch of Ocean Avenue businesses, as those locations work to recover from devastation caused by Sandy. “I’ve been nothing but up-front and transparent about saying over and over again there is no redevelopment plan.
“Anything we come up with is going to be the product of working together,” Long said.
What has Long so upset is the popular growing notion around the community that the area will be developed as an elevated commercial district.
Another rumor is that new structures would be built at a higher elevation, as a preventive step for future storms and flooding. Plus, as the story goes, there would be an elevated boardwalk and parking available under the buildings.
While there is no plan, Long said there is an artist’s rendering of the concept that has been making the rounds. The picture was done more than a decade ago by an architect at the behest of individual property owners. Following the effects of Sandy, with property owners – residential and business – and officials contemplating where to go from here, that image was taken down from the shelf by the architect and offered as a possibility. The image or the concept, “was unsolicited by the borough,” Long stressed, and “was never discussed by the borough council as a body.”
The concept plan has not been discussed by the borough council but it has been discussed by the Recovery Action Team, she said. The team was formed after the storm and consists of borough citizens “to talk about the recovery of Sea Bright and talk about different ideas,” team member and Borough Councilman Marc Leckstein said.
Leckstein, like Long, insists the idea does not represent anything under consideration or being advocated by the council.
“It’s simply not true and we’ve made that clear at every single meeting we’ve been at,” he said.
During a recent public meeting at Borough Hall, Long stood before the audience and tore up a copy of the drawing, telling them the concept wasn’t an actual plan or anything under consideration.
“Whoever is putting it out there right now is working their own agenda,” Long said. “Whoever is putting it out there is directly sabotaging our long-term recovery process and causing a lot of cynicism and suspicion that’s threatening the unity of the community.
“Wherever this is coming from, it’s starting to become harmful,” she said.
Business owners who she has spoken to have weighed in on the concept, and “pretty much rejected it out of hand,” believing it would be too expensive an undertaking, she said.
What is being discussed are various flood-proofing technologies, like the flood panels officials in New York City are considering installing in the Wall Street area, the mayor said.
She and other local officials are working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on its National Disaster Recovery Framework. It is a conceptual guide, drafted by FEMA, coordinating recovery efforts on all levels of government, according to FEMA information.
Sea Bright is also in the process of hiring a professional disaster recovery specialist urban planner to help steer the borough through the process of creating a long-term recovery plan. Officials are looking for alternative ways to cover the cost of the planner, Long said.
Long acknowledged there is “an offer on the table” for Donovan’s Reef. The popular beachfront bar on Ocean Avenue was destroyed by Sandy. Now, Besen and Associates and the property owner are in discussions for the sale, Long said.
Besen has been inquiring about other Ocean Avenue commercial properties, as well, according to the mayor.
Representatives from Besen have declined the mayor’s offer to appear at an upcoming town hall meeting as the firm has yet to make any purchases, she said.
Besen and Associates, which has a Red Bank office in addition to New York locations, is described on its website as a realty investment brokerage, established in 1988 and with annual sales reaching $1 billion. The firm works with clients for the disposition of commercial real estate, according to the site.
Repeated calls to the firm’s New York and Red Bank offices were not returned.