By John Burton
SEA BRIGHT – As the borough continues its long journey toward restoration and rebuilding after the devastation of Sandy, discussions are beginning to outline what changes should be made to the borough’s downtown business district.
“What we’re envisioning is a total redevelopment of the downtown area,” Borough Councilman C. Read Murphy said.
Discussions on what would or should be done to the commercial area “is really preliminary.” While there hasn’t been any formal discussion about it yet, Murphy said there have been very informal talks about what the future should look like.
What is being floated mostly involves the western side of Ocean Avenue/ Highway 36 to be reserved for a stretch of local businesses.
Murphy said, first and foremost, any plan would have to address revised elevation for any rebuilding that might occur.
Borough officials are awaiting the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announcement regarding new elevation requirements to try to prevent a reoccurrence of the flooding and damage caused by the late October storm and its accompanying tidal surge. That announcement is expected at any time now, Murphy said.
Preliminary talks have centered around having a possible elevation that is 15 feet higher than the current standard as the benchmark for future development, the councilman said. There also has been preliminary discussions about erecting an elevated boardwalk in front of the elevated business.
The plan is expected to encourage mixed-use development, combining retail and other businesses with residential units on upper floors, Murphy said.
“We haven’t nailed any of this down yet,” Murphy stressed.
As for any future redevelopment, “We’re looking at a myriad of different ways of doing that,” including possible public/private partnerships, he said.
“We’ve had assurances from the governor (Chris Christie) and lieutenant governor (Kim Guadagno) that they’ll assist us and aid us in this process,” Murphy said.
Calls this week to the governor’s office seeking comment were not returned.
Northshore Menswear on Ocean Avenue was destroyed during the storm. Its owner, Brian George, has temporarily relocated to Rumson but expects to be back in the borough by March 1.
He acknowledged there is a plan but that could be as far away as two years.
“The main thing right now is to get the businesses opened” by the all-important summer season, George said.
Many of the buildings have been so severely damaged that they have been condemned and will have to be rebuilt. Others will require substantial work to get them ready for businesses to return, George said.
The possible plans he has heard about for a future downtown meet with his approval.
“Absolutely,” he said, indicating it would create a picturesque, “Nantucket-ish” look with its design.