By John Burton
SEA BRIGHT – The seven clubs that span the oceanfront along the borough’s Ocean Avenue are all in the process of working on plans for the coming summer season.
“From what I hear, all of them are going to be open in some form this summer, said Mayor Dina Long, “though they’ll be at different stages of operation.”
The clubs sustained varying degrees of damage as Super Storm Sandy swept through the area on Oct. 29 and are requiring varying degrees of repairs – and borough approvals – to move forward with rebuilding.
As James LoBiondo III, who owns and operates the Surfrider club and is a borough councilman, said “50 percent is the magic number.” That means that those sustaining less than 50 percent damage only need to obtain administrative approval, such as construction permits; those sustaining more than 50 percent will need to go before either the borough’s planning board or zoning board of adjustment to get approval before proceeding.
As of late February, two clubs – Edgewater and Chapel beach clubs – have appeared before boards and received the green light to do the necessary work, according to Colleen McGurk, a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) employee who is working as the temporary planning board secretary.
“Both of these were barely damaged in the storm,” Long said. The damage was enough that the owners had to apply for a board approval.
“They’re already drilling pilings at Chapel, as we speak,” LoBiondo said. Work is progressing.
Edgewater received approval in January to reconstruct 41 cabanas with support pilings, plus its bulkhead, parking lot, site lighting, fencing and concrete and wood decking. In addition, the club owners plan to build an additional 34 cabanas, using the space that was used by a restaurant/banquet facility before the storm, according to McGurk.
The Sands plans on “doing exactly what was there,” before storm damage, McGurk said.
Waiting for a date to appear before the busy boards, are the Sands and Ship Ahoy clubs, McGurk said.
To help expedite the process, the borough council revised a planning ordinance, now specifically defining a cabana, as opposed to having it labeled as a building, thus making it less onerous to win board approval, Long said
Ship Ahoy and Sands, located in the northern end of the borough, were two that experienced the most extensive damage, LoBiondo said. “They were destroyed.”
But even with that amount of work pending “they’re telling me they’ll have something operational. They just don’t know yet how far,” the councilman said.
LoBiondo said that in his discussions with other owners, the worst-case scenario is that they will have “parking lots and access to the beach,” without other amenities for the 2013 summer season.
According to blueprints, Ship Ahoy is looking to reconstruct its buildings, cabanas, lockers, decking, ramps and swimming pool in the existing property footprint. It will remove piles of sand now in the parking area and repair and restripe the parking lots; and whatever else is deemed necessary to get it to where it was previously.
Michael Stavola, who owns and operates the Driftwood Cabana Club on the borough’s southern end, said his facility wasn’t as heavily damaged as some of the others. “We’ll be 100 percent open for our summer season,” he said. Work has been ongoing.
His grandfather built the beach club in 1957. “When the place was originally built, we anticipated the ocean might get angry one day,” Stavola said.
There are floodgates and other safeguards in place and, “generally speaking, it did work,” he said.
Which is not to say Sandy didn’t take its toll. Stavola said about 40 percent of the club’s cabanas were damaged or destroyed and the kitchen area’s refrigerators damaged, while the main building weathered the storm fairly well.
The rebuilding will cost him “in the millions,” he said. “For us that was substantial and a huge undertaking.”
LoBiondo, too, will be fully operational by Memorial Day, he said, thanks to the design changes incorporated following the 1992 storm and the luck of not getting hit as hard by the tidal surge.
“My place is coming along pretty nicely,” he said. “So we’re excited for the new season.”
Long said, “The beach clubs are very important to Sea Bright’s economy because all of those guests at the beach clubs patronize our business district.”
“It really is the lifeblood of Sea Bright,” LoBiondo added.
The benefits of the beach clubs are many, Stavola noted.
“It provides a local place for the neighboring communities to enjoy the summer and the beaches and to have security for the kids,” as well as offering “a pretty neat social environment for the kids,” he said.
But there is the economic factor, too, Stavola said, such as what the officials noted. Along with that, “We provide jobs for the local economy,” he said, as Driftwood hires about 100 people for the season.
“I think the town has prospered over the years mainly because of the beach clubs,” with other businesses, especially restaurants, offering another draw to the town, Stavola said.
“The good news for Sea Bright is that the beaches are still here,” and will be welcoming the club members, as well as its day-trippers coming for the public beaches, Long said.
All of the borough’s businesses are working hard to get back up on their feet, as they rebound from the October storm, she said.