Category Archives: Highlands Happenings

by Mayor Frank Nolan
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The Math Doesn’t Add Up

frank nolanSEASONS GREETINGS TO ALL. The election cycle has past and the end of the year is approaching quickly. I have never used this article for political reasons but I must take a second to thank everyone that voted for me to be reelected as mayor of Highlands. I am truly thankful and humbled with your trust. The people who did not vote for me I hope I can earn your support through my actions and future record. Typically at this time of the year a lot of things tend to slow down because of the seasonal parties and events.

In Highlands we have extra meetings scheduled to try and accomplish things this year instead of waiting until next year. Also, we have pending vacancies on all of our boards. We will meet individually one on one and try and decide all of our appointments together.

Our CFO has told the borough he will be retiring this year after many years of service. We wish him well and hope he has a long and joyous retirement. The right thing to do would be to explore a shared service agreement to try and maintain the level of service while saving a few dollars. The bare minimum that should be done would be to advertise the job and see if someone qualified applies. Our current CFO will still be on the job another five months which is plenty of time for the council to do the open and honest thing.

As of this writing, there is a contract being written for someone to fill that position that already has 6 municipal jobs across the state. If this individual was to be given this 6 municipal job at our council meeting on December 18th they would be one of the top paid public employees in the state and hold 2 jobs in the Borough of Highlands. His current salary listed on the state website is $244,606 for his 5 current positions. If we add another $65,000 to the total and highlands would be putting him over the $300,000 per year mark.

I am all for people making all the money they can but not on the taxpayer’s backs. This is a classic example of what is wrong with the municipal process. Why would any council person rush to give someone their 6th position without even advertising the job or exploring shared services? I do not buy the argument that we have to rush into this because of all the pending financial issues with Sandy. This is a classic example of a scare tactic to try and get something done fast without telling the public the real reason.

By definition most part time jobs are about 20 hours per week. The average fulltime job is 40 hours. If you have 4 part time jobs, that means you are working, in theory, 80 hours per week on those jobs. Plus you have 2 full time jobs. That’s another 80 hours. The person who is potentially being given a 6th municipal job at the December 18th council meeting will be working 160 hours per week. There are 168 total hours in a 7 day week. How can someone work 6 jobs and be effective? The answer is: they can’t.

Something is radically wrong with this picture. You have to ask yourself, “who would think this is a good idea and why?” I have already started the process of gathering information on any possible shared service agreement and will ask that we advertise the job for 30 days to see what candidates are out there. I encourage everyone to ask the other council members’ if they think giving this individual a 6th municipal job is a good idea and if they do think this is a good idea, why? Also, in our most pressing time of need, how much attention are we getting from someone with 5 other positions? If you are the best at any particular field and excel in your position, you simply could not put in the amount of time required to get the job done. The math does not add up. 

Highlands Receives Gifts and Volunteers

frank nolanHappy November to all! We are approaching the Holiday season in Highlands and like so many of the residents myself included just want to be back in our own homes for Christmas. It has been a long and emotional journey this past year.  Tim Hill and I have been working with the Robert Wood Johnson foundation to try and secure grant money for a specific project in our town. Representatives from the foundation and the Super Bowl hosting committee visited Highlands and toured the Robert D. Wilson memorial community center. Many sites from across the state of New Jersey were chosen to be part of this multi-million dollars grant. I am proud to say we are one of the recipients.

On Friday November 1st I was asked to attend a meeting in Perth Amboy at the Puerto Rican Association for Human Development. This is a non-profit that dedicates itself to helping all of the citizens in their community especially the children. Their site was devastated by super storm Sandy and was rebuilt with money from this foundation as well as other funding. In attendance were the board members of the foundation as well as Woody Johnson the owner of the New York Jets. I spoke with him briefly and explained to him the impact from Sandy to Highlands and how devastated we were. Mr. Johnson assured me we would receive a substantial gift from his foundation and we would keep the lines of communication opened moving forward. The foundation works with other groups and corporations to try and get matching funds so they can spread the money out to other groups or towns in need. The exact amount of funding the borough will receive is not known at this time. Stay tuned.

On Friday November 8th the VFW in highlands will be repaired and refurbished with the help of Scripps and Verizon-HGTV. The volunteers will arrive at 9:30am. There will be a Press Conference on site at 11:00am. Scheduled to attend are Congressman Frank Pallone and Freeholder Director Tom Arnone who will both make brief statements. We can’t thank the organizations enough for helping our veterans who have sacrificed so for us. Please come out that days and see the project from start to finish. 

Getting these two buildings back up and running with little or no money from the Highlands taxpayers is tremendous because we do not have to bond or increase our taxes to rebuild these two sites.

An application was filed last week with our planning board to build new housing on the former site of Paradise Park mobile home community. The total cost of the project is roughly 30 million dollars. Currently the taxes for the site bring in around $30,000.00 dollars. With the approval of the new project pending at our planning board the site will bring in around $750,000.00. This is more than a 200% increase in revenue for the Highlands taxpayers. We can use that money to pay down current debt and reinvest in our infrastructure. The application does not need any variances for height, density, or any other bulk variances. It will be single family homes, a new restaurant, and an administration building for a renovated world class marina.

Highlands has had 75 permits for lifting filed in the last 90 plus days as well as several hundred permits for construction. By January I believe the number of permits filed for in the borough for construction will approach 1,000. This is truly a town well on its way to recovery and rebuilding. We have a lot of hard work ahead of us and it is never fast enough for me. Working together and thinking out side of the box will make us stronger than we were before.            

On November 5th we have elections all across the state. Please go out and vote so you can be part of the process. Historically Highlands has had a larger percentage of turn out than the surrounding towns. Hopefully this trend will continue in the face of Sandy’s aftermath. 

New Playground to be Dedicated Sunday

frank nolanApproaching the end of October is a busy time in the bay-shore area and for the Borough of Highlands. We are so very blessed and honored to be chosen as one of the towns to receive a playground from the Sandy Ground Project, Where Angels Play. This organization has been installing playgrounds all around the country in honor of the students and teachers killed almost a year ago during the school shooting at Sandy Hook elementary school. On October 24th an army of volunteers came to Highlands before dawn and begun installing the playground at Veterans Park on Bay Avenue. The new equipment was basically all installed that night and looks beautiful. Highland’s playground is named in honor of Daniel Barden. His family picked the color scheme and donated some of the drawings he made before his death. These are incorporated into the playground. It is a beautiful site and many of our residents will use this facility for generations to come. Sunday October 27th we will have the official ribbon cutting ceremony to open the facility. The event will begin at 10:00am with his family walking from where they are staying down Bay Avenue to the site. Many first responders from Highlands and other towns will be lining the streets when the Barden family is walking by. This family and the other families involved have shown us such courage, strength, and dignity throughout this whole year. Highlands is honored and humbled to be involved with them and this project.

On a totally different note Highlands will be hosting our annual Halloween costume contest on Sunday October 27th at 1:00pm. The location will be the basketball court outside of the Robert D. Wilson memorial community center located on Snug Harbor. There will be prizes and refreshments. This year’s event is two years in the making do to the cancellation of all our festivities related to the impact of Sandy. We are hoping the weather is good and we see a lot of little goblins and monsters.

Monday October 28th is my next mayor’s town hall meeting. This meeting will start at 8:00 pm and will be held at Henry Hudson regional school located at 1 Grand Tour. The meeting will have a presentation from the Army Corp of Engineers based on their plan to lessen flooding in the Borough of Highlands. This is a long term federally funded plan that will take 5 plus years to complete. We hope to have this plan done sooner than later. However, it is only part of the solution for Highlands. We must implement this plan as well as the boroughs plans to truly eliminate most of the flooding in Highlands.

The first thing the mayor and council will be working on in 2014 will be to repair our sanitary sewer system. We believe after the impacts of Irene and Sandy there is a double digit percentage of inflow and infiltration causing our flows to go up. This is important because we are being charged for the I & I into the system. Please try and make this meeting on Monday night. This presentation will have a long term impact on Highlands.

On Tuesday October 29th we will mark the one year anniversary of Sandy slamming into Highlands. In Huddy Park at 6:00 pm we will be holding a celebration of hope event. Many of our religious leaders will be attending and reading words of encouragement to the residents. Several of these leaders we involved in the aftermath of the storm and feed residents, helped them both spiritually and financially, and also visited the residents in the shelter as well as their homes. The ceremony is meant to be an uplifting remembrance of how far we have come and how well we came together after the storm to help each other. The Lt. Gov. Kim Gaudagno as well as many other officials are scheduled to attend this ceremony. I know there is a lot happening but all these events are worth attending for different reasons. It’s a great time to live in and visit Highlands.

FEMA Long Term Recovery Meeting Oct 23

frank nolanHappy mid-October to everyone! This has been an extremely busy month for everyone. With fall in full swing and many activities related to the season happening it makes for a lot of great times but not much spare time. This election season seems like the most challenging due to the fact of there being special elections as well as so many other meetings and conferences you did not have in the past due to the impact and long term recovery from super storm Sandy.

Highlands started the month of October with our Oktober fest. Traditionally this is the first Saturday in the month and has a pretty good turn out. The attendance has steadily grown over the past 5-6 years.Since the beginning of the event there have been a core group of volunteers working each year. I normally have sold the tickets for the various types of beer as I did this year. It gives me great pleasure to tell you this was the busiest and most attended festival we have ever had. This is a tremendous sign for the boroughs long term recovery outlook. The last two events on our schedule, Bike New York and Oktober fest, have been our greatest amount of people present and have gotten the most attention since their inceptions. Also, we had a lot of new faces there to volunteer. This is also a good sign to see the level of the community involvement rising.

The borough has had another tremendous honor being given to us being selected as one of the communities to receive a new playground through the Sandy Ground Project-Where Angels Play. The team of volunteers from the FMBA has already begun dismantling the old equipment from the site in Veterans Field on Bay Avenue. We will be placing that equipment in our recreational center playground to help upgrade that site also. The program builds these playgrounds in communities they select which have been impacted adversely by some event. In our case last year’s hurricane. The Firemen’s Benevolent Association has gone into several communities and with the help of their members as well as many local volunteers to prep areas for the future site of the playground. Within a short time they return to install all the new equipment. Highlands is at that stage right now. Each playground is named in honor of one of the victims from the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newton Connecticut last year. The playground in Highlands will be dedicated to Daniel Barden one of the school children killed that terrible day. We have our official groundbreaking ceremony scheduled for October 24th at 7:30am. The ribbon cutting is scheduled for October 27th at 10am. The Barden family and their extended family will be in attendance to see the dedication of the site to their son.

On another note this Wednesday October 23rd Highlands will hold our final FEMA long term recovery meeting @7:30 pm. The location is Henry Hudson Regional School, 1 Grand Tour. This meeting will present to the public the top ideas that came out of the various sub committees. We have had a series of public meetings where many projects were proposed by our residents to assist in the long term recovery of Highlands. This meeting will analyze the cost estimates and strategies on how to get these projects funded and built. We will also choose project champions. I hope to see everyone at the meeting.

Public Meeting Wednesday, September 25, 2013

frank nolanFall is in the air and we are moving right along in the Borough of Highlands.

On September 25th at 7:30 pm we will be holding our next public meeting connected to the FEMA long term recovery process. The location of the meeting is Henry Hudson Regional School. The address is 1 Grand Tour. The purpose of this meeting is to show the public the ideas that were formulated by the sub committees which meet every Monday for 5 weeks. Also, to gather further data from the public to formulate our town wide recovery plan. I will open the meeting and then defer to the chairperson of each individual sub-committee to present and explain their groups’ top ideas that have come from those meetings. I hope everyone can attend and add their voice to the dozens of people who are already involved. When this process is complete many of the ideas will be presented and hopefully incorporated into our new master plan for the town. The master plan process should start after the New Year. Generally that process takes a year or so of our town planner weighing in, our engineers, our planning board members, and of course at every meeting the public. We need an updated and aggressive master plan to offset the anticipated loss of ratable.

After super storm Sandy many businesses were destroyed and some had to move. Highlands was fortunate that many of our business have returned. We are also lucky to add a new one in the form of Sea Bright Service Center AKA Ricky Hennessey. He is located on Bay Ave in Highlands. He is just getting settled in and figuring our parking as well as entry and exit of the tow trucks. I will say this is an upstanding family and have done so much for all the towns around us as well as our schools and PBA’s. Ricky has a hearing with the zoning board in Highlands on October 3rd at 7:30. The location of that meeting is the Highlands Elementary School. Let’s show our support for a good neighbor and a friend to our town and be at the zoning board meeting. If we need to address parking and how and when vehicles are dropped off we can do so at this meeting. You don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

A few months ago I reported that Highlands was nominated for WIFI grant with the TDF foundation. We were nominated by Congressman Frank Pallone. We received the grant and we are scheduled to go live this Thursday morning. Our area of coverage to start is Huddy Park. We had some technical issues mounting the equipment and I want to thank Skip from the Sand Witch Shop for helping out the people on the scene. We probably would not be going live this week without Skip’s help. If you get a chance and are near Huddy Park go into the Sand Witch Shop located right across the street and say thanks. You can have lunch or breakfast while you are there.

It’s Oktoberfest again. Veterans park Saturday October 5th 2 pm – 9pm. We offer free admission and parking. There will be traditional German food, beer, many contests,and a 50/50. This event is brought to life by the Highlands Business Partnership. Hope to see everyone there. The rain date is October 6th.

In Search of Recurring Revenue

frank nolan

The last week of August has the town council in search of sources for reoccurring revenue streams. During the past 9 months, in between disaster relief meetings and conducting the regular business of Highlands, we have been receiving a tremendous amount of interest from people in and outside of our town with ideas of how to redevelop.

It has become clear the past twenty years of inactivity in economic growth has given the borough a reputation of being hard to deal with when it comes to doing business. Recognizing this, the entire council voted to take steps in order to change that perception. We did this because perception very often is reality. We worked tirelessly to stream line permit process’, we rezoned much of our under developed areas, and instituted a 5 year tax abatement. This all happened pre sandy. Fast forward six months post sandy and we realized we needed to do more and be more aggressive in our search.

The council started looking at areas that had not been developed and held the most potential. In some cases we would have to do feasibility studies or economic analysis. When we looked at our biggest tract of land in town, Shadow Lawn trailer park we realized the borough was only seeing a complete tax ratable of $88,000 for the entire property. Clearly we should start on this obvious site.

Looking directly next to the trailer park is East Point condominiums. The high rise has 165 units and the borough complete ratable is $960,688.70 or almost 11 times the amount of revenue. We looked at this as an opportunity to help us offset the current 7% loss of ratable base and the future forecast of a 20% after all the abandoned and structurally damaged houses are counted. This is a serious long term economic situation. In July the council drafted a proposed ordinance that would allow a high rise at Shadow Lawn similar to the property next to it and we gave the area the same density as East Point. The density is 32 units per acre.

The trailer park property has 14 acres so it would allow 448 units on this sprawling lot. If we used the same calculation to determine future revenue from this potential development the increase for the borough is dramatic. Rental units at the site that were comparable in price to the rentals at 1000 oaks down the road on highway 36 would bring in a minimal of $1,400,000. If the development is done and the units are for sale as a condominium use, the minimal revenue generated would be $3,100,000. This is roughly 35 times the current revenue generated at this time. Also, the development would provide some relief to the 250-300 home owners currently unable to return to their homes because of the impact to the housing stock from the storm. The one constant in talking to many developers about all the areas of our town was the ability for the projects to be maximized. It has to be cost effective to do or there is no reason to develop here.

The FEMA long term recovery coordinator specifically told us we need to think big and think out of the box. We are in a crisis situation relating to long term economic recovery and must act now. The governing body is elected to make decisions for the town and sandy was a game changer. This is the only reason we are being as aggressive as we have been. I am happy to say the proposed ordinance has not received one vote against its inception at the borough council or the planning board. A 21-0 record so far and scheduled to be read and voted on in September. It’s very good to see the boards all working in unison to try and pull our little town out of this disaster.

On another note, I am involved in a campaign to “Go Gold” for childhood cancer awareness. I am asking our town and others to paint the town gold to help further awareness for child hood cancer. We all know someone in the area affected by cancer and it’s the most heart breaking when children are affected. Hopefully we can raise awareness and further research to try and find a cure. Monday night August 26th at 8:00pm I will be conducting the next town hall meeting. The location will be Henry Hudson High School. The agenda that night is an update on town business and hopefully an idea of where we stand moving forward.

Army Corps of Engineers to Consider Elevating Town

frank nolanThe last month of summer finds Highlands in a familiar position. We just wrapped up the 19th Annual Clam Fest. The town was really jumping the last three days of the event. The first night, Thursday, was a wash out. By all accounts it was a successful event. Many out of town people came back to our borough to see the progress and were surprised how far we have come. The volunteers, borough employees, and support staffs did a great job. I was at the festival the last three days and spoke to many residents. By all the smiling faces it is fair to say we needed this return to normalcy for the people, like me who are still not back in their homes but are getting very close.

Continue reading Army Corps of Engineers to Consider Elevating Town

FEMA Long Term Recovery Meeting Scheduled

frank nolanWe are well into summer at the time of this writing and I am happy to say Highlands is coming back stronger than before. Our little seaport village is being looked on very favorably by the state and private individuals for all the smart decisions we made pre super storm sandy. The borough took an approach of conservative controlled spending. We entered into shared services agreements for our municipal mechanic and our municipal court.

The borough council looked at our zoning in some areas and updated the uses as well as some bulk limitations. The economy was still very bad when we started this process so to initiate investment in our business and commercial district we instituted a 5 year tax abatement as an incentive to develop and build in the borough of Highlands. This was just the beginning of the process.

Then super storm sandy hit and severely impacted 1250 of the 1500 downtown homes in our town. Clearly we had to switch gears and handle the immediate needs of our residents and make sure we stabilized the situation. During those first 90 to 120 days we realized how many dear friends we had in our own town as well as the surrounding towns especially Atlantic Highlands who’s residents as well as Mayor Fred Rast and council were personally in our town and doing anything they could to help us through this trying period. By the grace of god we have come through this and are fully in rebuilding mode.

The next phase officially starts August 7th with our first public FEMA long term recovery meeting. During the next 60-75 days we will ask residents to commit to 4-5 meetings serving on a sub-committee. Each group will have a specific area of interest to give recommendations and feedback to our steering committee. The areas of interest are Economic Development, Planning and Zoning, Housing, Cultural and Historic character of the town, Infrastructure, Flood mitigation, Health and Social services, and Visioning. We have established chair people for each of these groups and will solicit volunteers to serve on them. In my opinion this is the most important time to get involved. What comes out of the 60-75 days spent going through everyone’s thoughts and ideas will shape the future of Highlands. This is a 4-5 meeting commitment to make and I know everyone is busy. If you do not participate now I don’t think you are allowed to complain later and say no one told me what the town was planning. We have the notice posted on our website, we have given them out to business, we have a flyer posted in the borough buildings, I am writing about it here, and we will do a reverse 911 information call in the days leading up to the meeting. Let’s have a massive turn out on August 7th and truly have many voices and ideas go into shaping the vision of our future.

On a lighter note we have the Highlands Clam Festival starting August 1st through August 4th. Please come out and support our town. We will have many rides for children as well as games. There will be several restaurants from town with food for sale as well as entertainment and contests in Huddy Park. I hope to see you all there.

Zoning, Planning Boards Meet with Governing Body for Post-Sandy Planning

frank_nolanHello everyone.  My job took me to Europe for a few weeks. I am the service manager at a Mercedes Benz dealership. After 22 years with the manufacturer I was selected to go on a tour of 7 plants in Germany that are involved in some aspect of the production of the automobile. The group was able to visit Switzerland as well as 7 cities in Germany.  It was a once in a lifetime experience. 

Back to Highlands.  The borough received good news in the form of a revocation of the V zone in relation to the new FEMA flood maps. Also, the height was set at 11 feet as a minimum to raise your home above average sea level. The borough ordinance we past to allow people to raise their homes above the height limit adjusts as the FEMA flood maps evolve because we did not mention a measurement but the base flood elevation. If the maps change in the future, higher or lower, the ordinance is designed to change with it.  

The borough has been approached by many private individuals as well as companies to develop areas that have either been vacant lots, abandoned homes, or were different uses traditionally in the past.The mayor and council held a tri-board meeting with our zoning board and planning board. I think this was the first time these boards ever met and discussed a plan of action or direction moving forward. The public was invited. We took comments and listened to our residents experiences related to rebuilding after Sandy.  

What we concluded is we have to be very aggressive in rebuilding the town and expedite the process. The state has issued loans to municipalities affected by sandy to help offset the loss of income from taxes. This is very appreciated but only a temporary band-aid. When the three year window is up each town needs to have other money coming in to make up for the continued loss of tax revenue but also the absence of the state money.  The Highlands town council has to act now to make sure we are prepared for the next phase of rebuilding.  The good news is we are acting.

We have moved our flood mitigation project to the next level and approved the financing with the hope of being reimbursed 75% of the 4+ million dollars. We can’t ask home owners business to rebuild and invest in Highlands ankle deep in water. As individual projects related to building come to fruition I will post the details on a case by case situation.  We are working on many exciting projects. When I can make them public I will. Thank you.

Council to Consider Waiving Construction Permit Fees

frank_nolanOn May 15th at our second regularly scheduled council meeting I will be introducing a potential ordinance to waive construction fee permits to residents affected by Sandy. The last time this ordinance was voted down by the majority of the council.

Highlands was honored to welcome Governor Christie to our town for a news conference. Secretary of HUD Donovan accompanied him to announce the beginning of the process to release some of the 1.8 billion dollars to towns ravaged by Sandy. The council is in the process, with input from our insurance carrier, of evaluating the next steps moving forward in relation to our borough buildings. We have received our elevation certificates for each site. We now must make a decision based on current use needs as well as future cost and potential storms or events and the impact they would have on those sites. The borough built a new firehouse on Shore drive about 7 years ago and owns the property south of that site to the municipal lot. This might be a potential area to place a new first aid building, police station, and municipal building. We are having special meetings over and above the regularly schedule meetings to discuss this. Refurbishing the current buildings is an option also. If the town hall stays in the area it is currently located we have been advised by our insurance carrier we run the risk of a $500,000.00 deductible per building per incident.

The rebuilding of Highlands continues with many of our residents, including me, having a goal of Memorial Day weekend to be back in their homes. This will help the town on many levels. Many of us are renting houses or apartments, staying in hotels, or living with friends and family. When all the residents are back the town will feel right again. Many of our restraunts closed since Sandy hit are opened or are reopening before Memorial Day. There are special events at these sites all during the month of May. Check our website at www.highlandsnj.com for all the details.

On April 27th Highlands was selected to host Comcast Cares Day. We registered 500 plus volunteers to do clean up, painting, demolishing, and many other tasks around town. This was a tremendous day for the borough. The Today show did broadcasts from Veterans Park highlighting some of the volunteers and their efforts. Comcast, who has sponsored many events in Highlands for more than a decade, presented Hope for Highlands with a check for $25,000.00 to help the residents and business try and get back to where they were before the storm. Sherwin Williams had dozens of volunteers in town and donated a tremendous amount of paint and supplies to help the rebuilding. They also helped the American legion renovate the kitchen in their post which suffered do to Sandy’s impact. Quick Chek supplied a lot of the beverages and food to the volunteers and were handing out five dollar gift cards. I encourage everyone to use the new site on highway 36 to show you’re thanks to them. Raymour & Flanigan also provided volunteers as well as furnishing to families in need of assistance. Many of these groups also painted some of the business and residents in town with paint supplied by Sherwin Williams. We will never be able to thank all the volunteers and companies for all their help.

The borough council chose to wait until the council meeting on May 15th to vote on our proposed ordinance to relieve height restrictions as well as setbacks. The document describes types of lifting and what is required in different zones. Many people from FEMA and the governor’s office have told us the flood maps will probably be changing in relation to the type of zone downtown Highlands will be designated. The current proposed maps have Highlands as a V zone which requires building on pilings. The V zone does not allow a closed foundation under your lifted home and the costs are a lot higher than other types of lifting.

Highlands received a grant which allowed us to higher staff at the solution center and two DPW employees to help with rebuilding. The grant was initially set to expire at the end of April. It has been extended to January of 2014. We are grateful for the much needed assistance. This will help us long term with not having to raise taxes and still be able to provide residents with the services they need as the situation in town evolves.

My next town hall meeting will be held at the Highlands Elementary School located on highway 36. The date is May 20th. The time is 8pm.