Category Archives: On The Horizon

On The Horizonby Dennis “DJ” Mikloay
___________________________________

Long Branch: Meet Your Candidates

mikolay headshot 2011 120After what seems like an eternity, it’s finally Election Day. Frankly, and many will likely agree with this sentiment: it couldn’t come quickly enough. At long last, the nationally divisive campaign, which has monopolized almost all media coverage and a large chunk of social media interaction, is nearing completion.

Here in Long Branch, as with most of the United States, the race for the White House will likely be the motivating factor for most who trek to the polls. Many will case their vote for the 45th President of the United States without giving any thought to the down-ballot candidates, those embroiled in less glamorous races. However, it is important to remember not all candidates on this year’s ballot are hoping to relocate to Washington, D.C., and some have their sights set much closer to home.

Below the presidential, Congressional, and Freeholder contenders, in the non-partisan box at the bottom right-hand corner of the ballot, are the oft-overlooked hopefuls aspiring to positions on the Long Branch Board of Education. This year, the contenders include Avery W. Grant, Michele Critelli, John D. Zuidema*, Jr., Donald Covin, William Chasey, Jr.*, and Lucille Perez. Of these six ballot qualified contenders, three will be tasked with assuring the children of this city receive the education they deserve. That’s quite the responsibility. Yet, aside from scattered lawn signs and the occasional Facebook endorsement, their campaigns chugged along with little fanfare and scarce press coverage.

In many ways, the candidates for the Board of Education remain an enigma to the majority of voters. That’s a shame, because this election is just as important as any other. The Board will make decisions that impact Long Branch students in the classroom, but also property owners on their tax bills. And so, on the eve of this most historic election, it is time to take a look at the candidates for Long Branch Board of Education:

Avery W. Grant, a retired U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel and former mayoral candidate, is an incumbent member of the Board. A regular fixture in the community, Grant has been active in Long Branch and its various political and social causes for decades. Perhaps most notably, he was as an opponent of the use of eminent domain during the city’s controversial redevelopment efforts.

During last week’s candidate debate, Grant highlighted an example of past experience securing funding for the school district: “It’s important that you be very active, in not only the community, but in the state, and as a director of the New Jersey School Board Association, I learned that under President Obama’s revitalization program, money was going to be made available in the next week. I came home from that meeting and called [former Superintendent] Joe Ferraina at about nine o’clock and night and said, ‘Let’s jump on it!’ And he jumped on it, and the result was we got about 1.25 million dollars in federal funding. So what I am saying is you’ve got to move around, don’t pass up anything…you never know what you can do!”

Dr. Michele Critelli, Ed.D, Supervisor of Guidance at Monroe Township High School in Middlesex County, is an incumbent member of the Board of Education. With vast experience in education, she received a Doctor of Education from Rowan University in 2014.

At the candidate debate, she addressed the issue of revenue: “Well, I think one of the things when your looking at funding or additional moneys, one of the areas you can pursue are grants. Here in Long Branch, we’ve had a drastic increase in the number of grants that have been awarded to our district, and as a result, it’s had a major impact on our students and on our staff. So it’s something that will help with student achievement. It will help them socially and emotionally…also, when your looking at funding you have to constantly assess and review what you currently have, what’s working, what isn’t working, where those funds are being spent, and whether or not it’s something we want to continue to do.”

“Coach” Donald Covin, who is an incumbent Board member and the Chairman of the Long Branch Housing Authority, agreed with Dr. Critelli in regards to funding, and said: “We just received over half a million dollars in grant money for after school programs, and I believe if we continue to go after the different grants that are out there, that are significant like this one that is over half a million dollars, we can continue to put programs into place and then assess what we are doing with those programs, and as we assess it, we can continue to go out and get more and more funding.”

Lucille Perez, who served on the Board of Education for eighteen years, lost re-election by a mere three votes last November. Now seeking to reclaim a spot on the Board, she cited an admirable attendance record and equally commendable history of adherence to the Code of Ethics as qualifications. Perez stands out among the candidates for being particularly accessible to voters via Facebook.

When asked what the most pertinent issues facing the school district were, Perez responded: “The easy answer is adequate funding, which is, of course, the most important. But after my years as an involved parent and time on the Board, I truly believe that the hiring and retention of good, qualified teachers is the key to everything. Our teachers must not only be prepared with professional development but they must also feel supported and respected. Dr. Salvatore’s rigorous standards for interviewing and hiring of staff has been very successful and his philosophy of nurturing and supporting all staff is being received very well.”

Note: Long Branch’s voters should also note there is a Board of Education related ballot question, which seeks approval to appropriate $6,940,000 and bond $6,940,000 to refurbish the historic high school building, which isn’t currently utilized.

———–

*John D. Zuidema and William Chasey, Jr. did not participate in last week’s candidate debate.

 

Breaking New Ground

mikolay headshot 2011 120It has been said, “nothing stays the same forever.” Nowhere is that more evident than Long Branch, where it seems the cityscape changes as frequently as the weather. This summer, which was no exception, saw the groundbreaking for a new colossus in the Beachfront South redevelopment zone, an upscale complex comprised of forty-seven units on Ocean Avenue.[i]

Naturally, this latest project has raised a few eyebrows from residents, concerned about potential adverse effects on waterfront visibility and municipal tax revenue. It seems, after all, the City is constructing a wall of condominiums along the oceanfront, which will block the views and sea breezes for those inland. To be clear, nobody is opposed to “progress,” as communities must evolve, grow, and change if they hope to remain economically viable. However, Long Branch’s redevelopment has been anything but responsible, as time and time again, taxpayers have found their interests overlooked for the benefit of private developers.

According to Word on the Shore, those pioneering this new development originally wanted to build homes on the lot—a good idea—but in typical Long Branch fashion, the project eventually evolved into a towering mass of high-density housing.[ii] And as usual, of course, there is a catch. This time, the city has provided a “payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT)” abatement, allegedly to incentivize building. But really, is this constant “incentivizing” necessary? No, of course not. It’s especially egregious if the previous redevelopment efforts were as successful as the Mayor and his allies frequently claim. But this behavior, no matter how fiscally irresponsible, is simply the latest manifestation of a thirty-year tradition in Long Branch, where developers get what they want, no matter the cost to taxpayers. (For the record, when the tax abatement was proposed, only Councilman John Pallone voted against the measure, for which he should be commended).[iii]

This newest project has again illustrated the Administration in City Hall is all-too happy to subsidize private development at the public’s expense. Remember: this latest tax-abatement scheme means revenue that would have otherwise gone to the city’s public school system—a former Abbott District, no less—will not be generated. That’s less money in the classroom, but more in the pockets of a private developer. The City will gladly take money from the state, but turns down the chance to generate it organically at the local level. Why? So they can sell oceanfront condominium units, and in two years, the Schneider Team and their bi-partisan allies can point to a shiny new waterfront tower as evidence of their success.

This clear illustration of the Administration’s priorities, or lack thereof, shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise to those familiar with local political history. Remember, this is the same local government that, earlier this year, gave one of the richest developers in New York, Kushner Companies, a twenty-five million dollar redevelopment area bond to complete Phase III of Pier Village. Kushner Companies, it must be noted, was sued by residents of Perth Amboy for failure to complete a sixteen year-old waterfront redevelopment project in that city, which doesn’t exactly instill confidence in where Long Branch has decided to send taxpayer money.[iv]

And get ready, there’s more “redevelopment” on the way. Since the elections in Long Branch aren’t competitive enough to incentivize the Administration to be fiscally diligent during this process, it’s almost assured tax revenue is going to take another hit.


[i] Radel, Dan. “Ceremony Kicks off Construction of Luxury Condos at Long Branch Beach.” Asbury Park Press. August 02, 2016. Accessed September 04, 2016. http://www.app.com/story/news/local/redevelopment/2016/08/02/south-beach-at-long-branch-redevelopment/87708056/.

[ii] Sheldon, Chris. “Developer Breaks Ground On Latest Long Branch Oceanfront Project.” Developer Breaks Ground On Latest Long Branch Oceanfront Project. August 09, 2016. Accessed September 04, 2016. http://wordontheshore.com/developer-breaks-ground-on-latest-long-branch-oceanfront-project-cms-5127.

[iii] Walter, Kenny. “Long Branch Approves Tax Abatement for Beachfront Project – Greater Media Newspapers.” Greater Media Newspapers. May 24, 2016. Accessed September 04, 2016. http://www.gmnews.com/2016/05/24/l-b-approves-tax-abatement-beachfront-project/.

[iv] Brian Amaral | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com. “Perth Amboy Residents Accuse Landings at Harborside Developer of Fraud, Neglect.” NJ.com. December 05,2012. Accessed September 04, 2016. http://www.nj.com/middlesex/index.ssf/2012/12/perth_amboy_residents_accuse_l.html.

Don’t Cut a Deal…in Deal

mikolay headshot 2011 120Deal, New Jersey, has beautiful beaches – but good luck actually getting to them. The affluent coastal community, which has a long history of subtly deterring public access to their beaches, is well known for being short on parking and high on demand. Unlike many Jersey Shore towns, Deal remains almost wholly residential; there is no boardwalk, promenade, or public concessions along the waterfront, which is populated primarily by multi-million dollar summer cottages. Thus, visitors who wish to enjoy the treasured coastline are presented with two options: 1) purchase a membership at the local beach club (a move that comes with a hefty price tag), or 2) try and fight for one of the few open spots available for on-street parking.  

It’s a reality that has drawn the ire of surfers, fishers, and conservationists for decades, and it has only gotten worse lately. Remember, Deal’s beaches were just replenished by a federal government project: they are truly nicer than ever. Some residents, hoping to maximize their enjoyment of the town’s oceanfront without having to deal with pesky visitors, have sought to deter those from neighboring towns and states from using their beaches.

It’s a tragic irony; the nicer the beaches, the less people will likely be able to enjoy them. Every inch of government subsidized sand acts as an incentive to prevent visitors—be they “benny” or “local”—from reaping the benefits of their own tax dollars.  

This debate became particularly heated last fall when a brazen proposal to restrict on-street parking to residents of the community resulted in fierce opposition. Most saw through this charade, a thinly veiled attempt to keep the masses from setting foot on the sand their taxes paid to replenish. The rationale, as presented by proponents of the restriction, was that there simply wasn’t enough parking to accommodate residents and visitors alike. Of course, the notion that Deal homeowners were somehow disadvantaged by the lack of parking spaces on the streets was absolutely without merit.  Deal is, after all, the land of the mansion, and most of the “cottages” along the oceanfront have driveways larger than the average middle class house.

Besides, it wasn’t as though the oceanfront magically appeared one day without warning. Deal has always been known as a beach community, and almost all these residents purchased their summer homes well after the advent of the automobile. In other words, it shouldn’t have come as a shock that people would be parking along the ocean and using the beaches in the summer, as such was likely what incentivized these property owners to buy there in the first place.

Thankfully, in the wake of intense public criticism, the municipal government decided against the parking restrictions. It was a move near universally hailed as being appropriate…but the victory was rather short lived. Now, less than a year later, a “compromise” is in the works. On Wednesday, Deal’s municipal leaders will introduce a new ordinance, essentially a watered down version of that proposed last year, to issue parking permits to residents and restrict the public’s right to park to one side of the road. Essentially, this means the space available for non-residents to park for the beach will be cut in half.  

The ordinance will be presented at Deal’s Borough Hall this Wednesday at five o’clock. Hopefully, those who recognize the fallacy of restricting parking in the town will either appear in person or e-mail their disapproval to the municipal leadership, including Mayor Sam Cohen, who can be reached at [email protected] It is time the newly elected Mayor and Commissioners recognize not all situations deserve a “compromise.” Sometimes, one side of a debate is simply wrong. There really couldn’t be a clearer example of that fact than the parking debate, so let’s hope the municipal government once again stands up for public beach access and does the right thing, because this definitely isn’t the time to cut a deal.

 

Beach Access: Two New Developments, Two New Challenges

mikolay headshot 2011 120The varied controversies regarding beach access at the Jersey Shore are nothing new, having raged for decades. Yet, with summer just around the corner, last week proved particularly spirited for opponents of beach access restrictions, with newspapers reporting on two rather unexpected developments along the Monmouth County coastline.

The first was in Deal, where the Department of Environmental Protection fined Agate Construction, whose brazen and atrocious environmental violations were documented here, for illegal dumping. It was the end result of months of pressure from local activists and groups like Clean Ocean Action, the American Littoral Society, and COBRA: Citizens Opposed to Beach Restricted Access, which launched a well-coordinated effort to publicize the transgressions unfolding under the subcontractor’s watch. Now, as a result of this vigilance, Agate Construction faces a fourteen thousand dollar fine. [i] It’s definitely more than the symbolic slap on the wrist they were probably expecting, but given the huge profits their will likely reap, is less than local environmentalists desired.[ii]

“Despite the urgings of local citizens and letters from Clean Ocean Action representatives, I did not think the DEP would actually fine Agate,” attorney Andrew L. Chambarry of COBRA said. “We were surprised and pleased that Agate was fined. However, Agate should have received a much heavier fine. Their blatant disregard for the ocean was disturbing. $14,000 is only a tiny fraction of the profit they will make on this job.”

Agate’s illegal dumping was certainly disgraceful, and one could make a convincing argument the punishment wasn’t severe enough for their deviance. However, Agate’s behavior was not really an anomaly: the disregard developers, contractors, and homeowners have shown to the ocean has galvanized beachgoers, aghast at the increasingly haphazard handling of refuse at other locations in Deal and Long Branch.

On Tuesday, a diverse array of activists, some representing the aforementioned organizations, attended Long Branch’s City Council Meeting. There, before the municipal government, two of COBRA’s recurring criticisms were laid highlighted for the Administration: 1) Long Branch appears unwilling to hold construction crews accountable for their flagrant disrespect for the beaches, and 2) Public beach access is largely inadequate in the non-urbanized neighborhoods of the city.

In addressing the issue of pollution, surfer Sara Beverage attested, through tear-filled eyes, to the deteriorating condition of the beaches:

“I have now, for the first time in my life, called the EPA—three times—on the builders at Takanassee [beach] for leaking diesel oil into the water,” Beverage said. “I had a local surfer have diesel oil all over him. What does that do to the fish? Mammals? Everything else like that? Down on Plaza [Court] there is a new house going up…Friday, I picked up pieces of Styrofoam that were bigger than my body: I am five-eight. I literally had to go, myself, to retract them out of the ocean. I also have called the EPA on them three times, nothing has been done.”

It was a rare heartfelt moment that touched on the root of the problem: no landowner possesses the beach in a vacuum. The ecosystem is interconnected, so the abuses that have become dishearteningly common in the Elberon neighborhood not only disrespect all residents and visitors to Long Branch, but also disrupt the delicate environs of the Atlantic Ocean. Nobody wants to go back to the 1980s, when the beaches were awash in sludge, so its about time someone kept an eye on exactly what is going into the waterways in Long Branch.

To the second point—public beach access—the Administration had already drawn the ire of beach access proponents before the meeting even started. Ordinance #1:16, which sought to vacate an easement along Ocean Avenue, had generated quite the buzz on social media, particularly among surfers and fishermen and women. This easement, which crosses a currently undeveloped lot, was originally intended for the transportation of construction materials, but has evidently been unofficially used as an access point for several decades. The owner of that property now seeks to develop it and wants the easement vacated. Activists, fearing a precedent could be set and the opportunity for a public access point lost, took notice and quickly identified some rather curious facts about the proposed ordinance.

“Its an intellectually dishonest ordinance,” activist Vincent Lepore told the City Council, noting the easement’s purpose was to allow the State of New Jersey, not the City of Long Branch, access to the jetty and bulkhead.

“This ordinance raises more questions than answers,” Lepore said. “Why, from 1943 until 2006, was this property marked 475 foot, extending eastward from Ocean Avenue? Then, in 2006, with the cooperation and involvement of the Aaron Law firm, did Madison Title Company, the go to title-company for Solomon Dwek, override the dimensional delineations of the established deeds…and extend the [property from] 475 to 575 eastward to the waterline, wiping out the state property? I’m going to say that again: that title company wiped out delineations from 475 eastward to 575, wiping out the state property right to the water line.”[iii]

Interestingly, Lepore claimed, the State of New Jersey wasn’t actually aware of the proposed ordinance, despite the obvious impact it could have on access to the jetty and bulkhead, perhaps even by for the US Army Corp of Engineers during beach replenishment. Lepore was not alone in his concerns. Tim Dillingham, Executive Director of the American Littoral Society, John Weber, of the Surfrider Foundation, and Andrew L. Chambarry, of COBRA: Citizens Opposed to Beach Restricted Access, also argued against vacating the easement.

Still, it seemed as though this confederation of beach-goers faced an uphill battle. The Mayor appeared adamant in his support for the ordinance, and it looked as though it would be approved. Then, a most unexpected development: the City Council voted three to two not to vacate the easement. It was a rare split amongst the incumbents, who were re-elected as a ticket two years ago, with Councilwoman Mary Jane Celli, Councilwoman Joy Bastelli, and Councilman John Pallone all casting “no” votes. Their rationale for opposing the ordinance differed from that of the beach access watchdogs:

“I believe there is no need for Council to act on vacating the easement,” Councilman Pallone said, “because once the work was completed, the so-called easement, in my opinion, and in others, was extinguished. It stands to reason, that if the purpose of the easement, or agreement, whatever you want to call it, was to provide temporary construction access, once the construction was completed, the easement or agreement would be terminated.”

The three Council representatives who voted “no” need to be commended, even if their reason for not vacating the easement doesn’t match those presented by COBRA, the Surfrider Foundation, or the American Littoral Society. Perhaps, as Councilman Pallone believes, the easement already no longer exists. Or maybe, as Councilwoman Celli stated, the floodgates would be opened with easements from all over the City, many of which aren’t even identified yet, hauled before the City Council to be either validated or shot-down. Regardless, that these Council-people even presented their interpretations of the situation is commendable: it would have been easy to just give the property-owner what he wanted, that five-foot staircase, while ignoring the complex legal issues at hand, the public’s interests, and the potentially dangerous precedent that could be set for the municipality.

Now if the property owner still demands the easement be vacated, the courts will likely have to decide what to do, not the Mayor and City Council. But remember: an extra hundred feet was allegedly mysteriously added to that title, the city attorney’s law firm was involved in the sale, and if the matter goes before a judge, this will all certainly raise a few eyebrows. Also, it is also quite possible the courts will rule the easement still exists, that it is necessary for maintenance of the jetty, or has even been added to the public trust. This is by no means a slam-dunk for either side.

Does the defeat of Ordinance #1:16 guarantee a new public beach access point? No, of course not. But in Long Branch, where anything other than a unanimous City Council vote represents an abnormality, the independence exercised during the previous voting session was refreshing. It keeps the door open to further discussion regarding the accessibility of beaches in the non-urbanized neighborhoods of town, where parking is often limited, and doesn’t completely remove the option of turning the easement into a bona fide access point.

Have comments about local beach access?

Tweet: @MikolayNJ.


[i] Mary Anne Spoto. “Contractor Fined for Illegal Beach Dumping.” NJ.com. April 12, 2016. Accessed April 16, 2016. http://www.nj.com/monmouth/index.ssf/2016/04/contractor_fined_for_illegal_beach_dumping.html.

[ii] Mary Anne Spoto. “Contractor Fined for Illegal Beach Dumping.” NJ.com. April 12, 2016. Accessed April 16, 2016. http://www.nj.com/monmouth/index.ssf/2016/04/contractor_fined_for_illegal_beach_dumping.html.

[iii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qZ-E_i2SWX0

 

No More Summers of Sludge

mikolay headshot 2011 120There was a time when I, like many political science students, would have argued the need for government-regulated environmental protocol was greatly exaggerated. The market, after all, would incentivize individuals and corporate entities to behave in a responsible manner, lest news of their disregard for ecological stability negatively impact consumer perceptions. As time passed, and in light of personal development and the observation of calamities of varying degrees, it became apparent there are indeed instances in which the state needs to intervene. Sometimes, Uncle Sam is simply the best suited to protect the environment from those who would do it harm.

Many who live at the Jersey Shore have probably come to recognize this, and one doesn’t have to go all the way back to the infamous 1980s, when medical waste washed ashore with alarming regularity, to find examples of the ocean, beaches, and bays subject to unjustifiable abuse. Thirty years ago, those rather grotesque scandals prompted beach closings and unfavorable press coverage, predictably resulting in loss of maritime life, municipal revenue, and prestige for our beautiful beaches. For example, think back to 1988: that year, there was an HIV and Hepatitis scare after contaminated blood sampling vials were found in the sand of Island Beach State Park.[i] Or how about 1986, when the beaches closest to the amusement pier in Long Branch were closed because of abnormally high levels of bacteria (attributed in part to sewage leeching into the sea from Kids World amusement park)?[ii] And then there was Labor Day weekend of 1985, when the Asbury Park beaches were closed due to sewage leaks.[iii]

There are undoubtedly dozens of examples that can be dredged up from those summers of sludge, which have become something of a running-gag to those with an affinity for mocking the Garden State. After all, it’s easy to look back and make light of the absurdity of something that happened thirty years ago. But New Jersey has made great progress, right? Our ocean beaches are cleaner than ever, and the days of “the Jersey Shore” being synonymous with “improperly disposed of medical waste, debris, and high fecal contamination levels” are far behind us. And they will continue to stay in the past, a rapidly fading memory, so long as those of us who love the shore—who swim, fish, and enjoy Jersey’s gorgeous coastline—remain vigilant.

Proof that residents and visitors shouldn’t let their guard down and simply trust others to do the right thing when it comes to caring for our ecosystem surfaced about two weeks ago, when rumors started circulating via Facebook that workers in Deal were dumping construction debris directly into the surf. It sounded unbelievably brazen that someone could be so callously indifferent to the earth’s well-being…but the photographs didn’t lie. Soon, activists from the Citizens in Opposition to Restrictive Beach Access, the American Littoral Society, and Clean Ocean Action were on the case: environmental agencies were called, and investigation was conducted, and a the Department of Environmental Protection issued a Notice of Violation to the perpetrator, Agate Construction.

The saddest part?

Agate Construction was accused of disposing debris onto the Long Branch beach only three months ago. Remember? Back at the end of last year, surfers noticed a suspicious oil slick in the water off the Elberon section. Subsequent visitors were aghast to find wood, which smelled of chemicals, being hurled across the Takanassee Beach from a nearby construction site, where luxury homes are being built (ignore the fact that parcel often floods and the previous structures on the lot were literally torn to shreds by Hurricane Sandy, because the foolhardiness of building on such a spot is another story). Government agencies were contacted, and it appears as though the company was issued a warning and asked to clean the site. Within a few days, the foul-smelling wood was piled alongside a nearby jetty. Obviously, that wasn’t a world-class cleanup effort, as the wind and rain could still wash the chemicals, wood, and whatever else had been unleashed into the ocean. The minor slap on the wrist wasn’t enough, apparently, because a few weeks later, Agate was doing the same thing a mile south in Deal.

Its disgraceful, and one has to wonder why the municipalities aren’t actively watching their construction sites in such environmentally sensitive areas? Thankfully, local residents were keeping an eye on things; had it not been for these concerned citizens, nobody knows how much more debris would have been disposed of in the ocean and Agate would have gotten away scot-free. If we don’t want a repeat of the 1980s, remember to keep an eye on the ocean, as there is always someone willing to use it as an easy, free garbage disposal.


[i] Berry, Coleen Dee. “Consensus Reported Closer in Tracking Waste.” Asbury Park Press, July 22, 1988. Accessed February 27, 2016.

[ii] Press Coastal Monmouth Bureau. “Long Branch Beach Still Closed Because of Bacteria.” Asbury Park Press, August 6, 1986. Accessed February 27, 2016.

[iii] Press Coastal Monmouth Bureau. “Sewage Pipes Beneath Pier to Be Probed.” August 12, 1986. Accessed February 27, 2016.

 

For the Good of the Developers

mikolay headshot 2011 120Social media is abuzz regarding the proposed redevelopment of Monmouth Mall! The recently announced project, which will cost an incredible five hundred million dollars, is set to turn the aging retail facility into a marvel of Avant-garde commercialism.[i] It is the brainchild of Kushner Companies, and a sign of how incredibly powerful and forward thinking that developer has become; indeed, they are one of the country’s most prolific developers, as evidenced when they purchased the mall for thirty-eight million dollars last year.[ii] Their pockets are as deep as their projects are grand. So, naturally, one must ask: why did Long Branch just hand them twenty-five million dollars in taxpayer money to complete Pier Village Phase III?

Kushner’s obvious vast financial resources and capabilities are well-known, so one must ask why the Long Branch taxpayers should pick up the tab for yet another new wing of Pier Village. Last night, that very question was raised during the public portion of the City Council meeting. Activist Vincent Lepore, perennial critic of the Schneider Administration, criticized the relationship between City Hall and the real-estate developers, noting that a proposed ordinance misrepresented the meaning of “redevelopment area bond” as it applies to Pier Village, making it seem as though they were always an option to expedite commercial development when such is not the case.

pier village boardwalk

PHOTO: This section of boardwalk will not be restored until Phase III is underway

“Is Pier Village Phase III really an area in need of redevelopment?,” Lepore asked. “It was a cruel joke by convicted felon Joe Barry and Applied Developers, when the City, put on the back of the residents a proposal for a twenty-five million dollar redevelopment area bond to a company that had one of the most privately held, well financed development companies in the country. And now it’s inconceivable that you’re looking in this resolution to assign a twenty-five million dollar redevelopment area bond to a four billion dollar ex-convict developer named Charles Kushner.”

Lepore continued:

“In the body of the resolution it states, ‘[the redevelopment area bond’s] purpose is to provide for a better, equal, and higher quality project.’ That is not the requirement for an [the redevelopment area bond],” he said. “The developer has to demonstrate the need for the [the redevelopment area bond’s], and with that need he has to show he can’t complete the project without the twenty-five million. Mr. Kushner—convicted felon Charles Kushner—just made a deal on Monmouth Mall for its acquisition in excess of two hundred million dollars. Why Council, are you approving a resolution tonight, for the citizens of this City to give a four billion dollar developer twenty five million dollars? And I also may add, there are conflicts on this with the [City Attorney’s] Aaron Law Firm, representing Charles Kushner before the Eatontown planning board. This matter should have no involvement with City Attorney Aaron.”

pier village phase 3

PHOTO: Future home of Pier Village Phase III.

Could Kushner not have afforded to complete Pier Village if not for that twenty-five million taxpayer-funded bond? Or perhaps, as is so often the case, City Attorney Aaron is simply protecting the financial interests of his private clients at the expense of the taxpayers. It seems like a lot has changed in Long Branch since the early 1990s, the foremost among them Mayor Schneider’s view of new development. Back when he first ran for office, Schneider was the face of opposition to over-development. Remember, in the 1980s, he led the crusade against a proposed residential development in Jackson Woods, a project backed by then-incumbent Mayor Philip Huhn, who envisioned eighty-two townhouses in the northeast corner Long Branch.[iii]This was to be the next phase of a development scheme promoted by a shadowy group of financiers known as PALS. The problem, as the developers saw it, was that if Jackson Woods wasn’t developed within a certain span of time, ownership reverted to the municipality.

The project was lagging. There was allegedly difficulty in securing loans due to the uncertainty regarding potential ownership, and in an attempt to prevent the land from reverting to the City’s ownership, the Huhn Administration removed that clause. To opponents of the development, it appeared as though City Hall was safeguarding the interests of private developers at the expense of the public.

Sound familiar?

Today, similar shenanigans are at play in City Hall. Pier Village is lagging, the developers need more to quench their ravenous appetites, and the Administration is more than happy to abide. Perhaps it is just an added bonus that City Attorney Aaron’s client will walk away with an additional twenty-five million dollars. Will Pier Village Phase III be the end of over-crowding on the oceanfront? Will it represent the last time City Hall shuns the public good to safeguard a private developer? No way! Additional high-rise projects are already in the works, with towering structures soon to be added to the city’s skyline. South Beach at Long Branch will feature two “eight-story tiered towers”[vi] and forty-seven units. Pier Village Phase III features two hundred and sixty nine condo units and a seventy nine-unit hotel.[iv] Another nearby project, The Bluffs, will also be eight stories tall—that’s eighty feet high, by the way—and will house thirty-three units.[v] For the record, eighty feet is only a bit shorter than the famed Tower of London. The Mayor called one of these projects, “a spectacular addition to the oceanfront.”[vi]

Do you agree with him?

It doesn’t matter.

One way or another, you’ll probably pay for them.

 


[i] Radel, Dan. “EXCLUSIVE: Monmouth Mall’s New Look.” Asbury Park Press. February 10, 2016. Accessed February 10, 2016. http://www.app.com/story/news/local/eatontown-asbury-park/2016/02/10/exclusive-monmouth-mall-new-look/80053536/.

[ii] Diamond, Michael L. “Pier Village Owner Kushner Buys out Monmouth Mall.” Asbury Park Press. August 10, 2015. Accessed February 10, 2016. http://www.app.com/story/money/business/2015/08/10/monmouth-mall-sold/31422379/.

[iii] Meyers, Donald W. “Lawyer, Mayor Trade Barbs Over Long Branch Project.” Red Bank Register, October 4, 1988

[iv] Sheldon, Chris. “Revised Plans For Pier Village Phase 3 Presented.” WORDontheShore. February 10, 2016. Accessed February 10, 2016. http://wordontheshore.com/revised-plans-for-pier-village-phase-3-presented-cms-4768.

[v] Walter, Kenny. “More Condos Proposed on Beachfront.” More Condos Proposed on Beachfront. August 6, 2015. Accessed February 10, 2016. http://atl.gmnews.com/news/2015-08-06/Bulletin_Board/More_condos_proposed_on_beachfront.html.

[vi] Spoto, MaryAnn. “Long Branch Luxury Condo Project Approved for Beachfront South.” NJ.COM. December 11, 2014. Accessed December 4, 2015. http://www.nj.com/monmouth/index.ssf/2014/12/long_branch_luxury_condo_project_approved_for_beachfront_south.html.

Let the People Speak

mikolay headshot 2011 120Long Branch politics is known for many things. Unfortunately, civility has never been one of them. From the altercations between the City Council and the public during the eminent domain abuse scandal to the mudslinging mayoral campaigns, the seaside community has earned its reputation as an emotional rollercoaster. It has on occasion been said that when it comes to municipal politics, which involves one’s neighbors and community, the gloves quickly come off…but in Long Branch, there’s no evidence they were ever on in the first place.

And yet, in this city, already known for confrontation, the clash between the local government and citizenry reached embarrassing new lows in recent weeks, with Council meetings ending in shouting matches between the public and the Administration, and even an arrest. Videos of excerpts from last two Council meetings can be watched here and here.

Yes, passions certainly run high in City Hall, as does tension, largely the result of two factors: attitude and time constraints.

First, there’s the confrontational attitude.

In theory, the City Council isn’t supposed to have an adversarial relationship with the public. They are, for all intents and purposes, the municipal equivalent of a state legislature, elected as representatives to govern on the public’s behalf, the prime difference being that Long Branch holds non-partisan elections, where the Mayor and Council run independent of the Democratic and Republic Parties. In an ideal world, that lack of direct partisan control would allow for a closer relationship between the Administration and their constituency.

Well, at least that’s the theory. Reality is often a different matter.

The current Council-members were elected as a unanimous slate, the Schneider Team, and as a result, there is rarely any dissent amongst their ranks. To those who disagree with the Administration’s policies, they are often dismissive, and a confrontational nature has existed in City Hall for at least a decade. True, sometimes emotions run high, and members of the public can throw the first blow, and in all fairness, this volatile environment predates the current slate of Councilmembers (see this video from almost a decade ago). Even when the Schneider Team didn’t hold every seat, there was an uneasy relationship with the public. Still, tradition is no excuse for rudeness or being short tempered, and the Council’s lack of professionalism needs to be addressed; they are the elected officials, and as such, need to be held to a higher standard of conduct during public meetings than the public as a whole.

Of course, that’s only half the problem. There’s the ever-unpopular time limit, which restricts members of the public to five minutes of speaking time. It really isn’t the time limit that’s objectionable, per se, but that the Mayor and Council consistently interrupt those at the podium. Once time is up, there is no recourse. Nobody gets an extension, as the five minutes is essentially set in stone. Thus, if “person A” starts speaking and the Council interrupts and speaks for four minutes, they are left with only one minute to make their case.

The solutions to this controversy are as easy as they are obvious: the Council should allow five minutes of uninterrupted speech if requested by the constituent. The Administration can respond for however long and in whatever manner they see fit after the constituent speaking reaches the five-minute mark. The time constraint already doesn’t apply to the Mayor or Council, so there is no legitimate reason to interrupt anyway. If a constituent wants to deliver a monologue rather than engage in active dialogue during their five minutes, so be it. The Administration can respond (or choose not to) once their presentation is complete. Additionally, if the Council really can’t hold their comments, and there are circumstances where back and forth banter would be justified (for example, when a constituent has several questions they want answered immediately), the clock needs to stop until the constituent begins speaking again. Then, if after having five full minutes of uncensored speech, the constituent still won’t relinquish the podium, they can be escorted outside the Council chambers. Such would likely be rare, but most observers would recognize it as a reasonable measure.

Long Branch is a great city full of unique and wonderful people. It is time they were allowed to make their voices heard in a public forum without fear of belittlement or censorship. Should a constituent really behave out of line, the public’s sympathy would certainly be with the Council if the situation was handled in a calm, rational, and pre-determined manner. After all, a public portion is supposed to be just that. True, some comments will likely lack substance, but sometimes there will be valid and constructive issues addressed, and in such cases, five minutes will be well worth the wait.

By the way, the next City Council meeting is on Tuesday.

 

Et Tu, Dominick the Donkey?

mikolay headshot 2011 120Every year around this time, I take a much-needed break from documenting the tumultuous political happenings of the Jersey Shore and attempt to spread some Christmas cheer. Last year, that meant a column about various cultural Christmas traditions. This time around, while desperately trying to think of some way to spin Yuletide sentiment into something worth reading, I got to thinking about our shared experiences here in the Garden State, and how innately different a good ol’ fashioned Jersey Christmas is than those anywhere else in the world.

Sometimes, things we don’t even equate with “New Jersey,” per se, prove alien to those who don’t live in the tri-state area, a reminder that there’s no place like home (New Jersey, that is) for the holidays. A good example of our nuclear holiday tidings: Lou Monte’s classic holiday tune “Dominick the Donkey.” It has become a perennial favorite on yuletide playlists since its release in 1960.

To those living in Jersey, Dominick, the helpful Christmas donkey who aids Santa in delivering presents in Italy (where the hills are far too steep for even the most magical of reindeer to climb) is as much a part of the holiday season as Bruce Springsteen’s rockin’ rendition of “Santa Clause is Coming to Town.”

Everyone knows the song, right? It’s a real classic.

Of course, if you want to be dismissed as a crazy person, ask someone from elsewhere in the world, or even Italy for that matter, about the familiar tale of the magical Christmas donkey. They will likely dismiss you as a lunatic. And with good reason: the song is well suited to the Northeastern United States in general (and New York and New Jersey in particular) where there are large Italian-Americans communities. It isn’t considered an essential component of Christmas elsewhere. That isn’t to say there aren’t exceptions to this rule: there isn’t some kind of law strictly forbidding people from playing “Dominick the Donkey” anywhere, but does an Italian Christmas donkey have the same allure a state like New Hampshire, where there are only a little over one hundred thousand residents of Italian lineage, as New Jersey, where there are over a million? Probably not.

I admit, as a child whose name ended in a consonant and not a vowel, the magic of Dominick escaped me. Though a soulful rendition was part of my elementary school’s annual Christmas pageant, I dismissed the timeless tune as, well, “really stupid.” I cringed at every “hee-haw,” and scoffed at the very notion of a donkey wearing a derby. My classmates, however, reacted to the track with the kind of excitement typically reserved for a Rolling Stones concert.

This wasn’t just a passing few seconds of enthusiasm, either. One year, Dominick got a full on performance in his honor, like some kind of unseen yuletide dignitary, with dancing and tambourines. It was right up there with the entrance of Santa Claus and the reenactment of the Nativity in terms of memorability. Judging my classmates’ reaction, Dominick was a genuine rock-star, alongside Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman as the season’s favorite. But why? This made absolutely no sense to my eight-year-old-self, especially after my cousin Laura informed me that it wasn’t really based on European folklore. That’s right, despite what the lyrics suggest, Dominick is about as authentically Italian as Kraft “Parmesan” Cheese or Olive Garden.

But alas, nobody can resist Dominick’s allure for long. It took over a decade, but that magical Christmas donkey eventually won my heart. It was during college, while trying to explain the sheer absurdity of the song to a visitor from Texas, it finally dawned on me: Lou Monte was a bone fide genius. That silly tune, which plagued my elementary school holidays, had become part of my unique childhood Christmas experience. It perfectly encapsulated the Jersey holiday season. It’s one of the things, other than getting spiked in the face with a dodge-ball, that will immediately transport me back to the auditorium at elementary school. It’s a time machine to the mid-1990s. It’s funny, because I dismissed it all as useless kitsch at the time, but now take pride in including Dominick in my holiday repertoire. It reminds me of childhood, sitting in a cold gymnasium waiting for Christmas vacation to start. Perhaps that is how nostalgia works?

Really, who cares if Dominick was manufactured from whole cloth? He has become part of our Christmas lexicon in New Jersey. He was part of our childhood, and December isn’t complete without hearing that infectious “hee-haw, hee-haw” chorus or those upbeat bells ringing!

Interestingly, and perhaps invalidating the entire thesis argument just presented, the song has proven popular in the United Kingdom. It even re-charted in 2011 and climbed all the way to number three on the U.K. charts. That’s right: Dominick the Donkey beat Rihanna, Coldplay, and Calvin Harris for the last week in December of 2011. Now if that’s not a Christmas miracle, what is?

“Hee-haw. Hee-haw.”

Thoughts or memories?

Tweet me @MikolayNJ and let me know!

 

Remembering Sinatra’s Long Branch Connection on his 100th Birthday

mikolay headshot 2011 120It is common knowledge Frank Sinatra was a Jersey guy. What other state could have given the world an artist as multi-talented and timeless as Ol’ Blue Eyes? Unfortunately, when asked what the legendary crooner’s connection to the Garden State actually was, most will point to Hoboken, where Sinatra spent his youth. True, he called that city home, but by most accounts, Sinatra harbored something of a grudge towards the community for much of his adult life. That obviously doesn’t minimize the impact Hoboken had on Sinatra’s development as a person or an artist, but there was another town in New Jersey that played a pivotal role in the Sinatra story, even if its impact on the singer’s life narrative has sadly gone largely unnoticed.

That city was Long Branch.

Yes, the resort often praised as the seaside commune of the presidents was also the summer abode of music royalty, for it was there along the oceanfront bluffs that Frank Sinatra first met Nancy Barbato, the woman who would become his first wife. According to Sharon Hazard’s book, Long Branch, Sinatra was a local lifeguard when the two crossed paths. [1] If local legends are to be believed (and it is certainly a lot of fun to think they hold at least a grain of truth), Frankie first cast his blue eyes upon Nancy during the summer of 1934, when he saw the then-seventeen year old on her aunt’s front porch. Sinatra, ever the charmer, serenaded her with a ukulele (a simple “hello” wouldn’t suffice, as everyone knows he had to do things his way). A romance—and music history—was born!

For those who desire concrete evidence of this summer of Sinatra, there are a few photos on the internet of a youthful Frankie frolicking in the surf (for example, see here). Unfortunately, they lack distinguishing landmarks one could recognize as being distinctly connected to Long Branch. Additionally, it looks as though they are mixed with pictures from Atlantic City, making it nearly impossible to determine where each was actually taken and which are truly Long Branch. Is that the amusement pier Sinatra is sitting under in one picture, or a different boardwalk altogether? There have been debates on Facebook between Long Branch loyalists and residents of neighboring communities regarding where that famed “pier” picture was captured. The truth may never be known, but despite these uncertainties, they are still amazing pictures.

We need not rely only on photographic evidence to support Sinatra’s local connection, however. There is also testimony from Nancy Barbato herself backing up the fact that their first summer together was in Long Branch. As quoted by his daughter in Frank Sinatra, My Father, the first Mrs. Sinatra recalled, “It was a beautiful summer holiday. We walked along the boardwalk and went on the rides.” [2] Those “rides” were probably along the famed amusement pier, located a stone’s throw from Nancy’s aunt’s house.

Is it really any surprise that Frank Sinatra visited this area? Remember, this is the long of American music! Pop culture tourism is a big deal at the Jersey Shore, and Bruce Springsteen wrote “Born to Run” in Long Branch. Nearby Asbury Park is known the world over as the birthplace of “The Boss’s” rock career; its club scene helped give rise to Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, Bon Jovi, and legions of local acts. Its boardwalk has attracted throngs of tourists for decades, anxious to see where the earlier chapters of their favorite music icons’ stories played out. Sadly, any music pilgrims hoping to catch a relic of Sinatra’s time in Long Branch will be disappointed; the houses where he and Nancy spent their summers were seized by eminent domain and razed in the early 2000s, part of the ever controversial Pier Village redevelopment project. That isn’t to say the property met the wrecking ball without resistance. The owners approached local historian Beth Anne Woolley of the Long Branch Historical Society in an attempt to save the house.

“The family that owned it called me when they had first started talking about using eminent domain,” Woolley said. “They were looking for help to save their house and she told me they had bought it from Nancy’s family. She said Frank used Nancy’s property to cut through to the next street and that was how they met.”

“They were hoping it would be considered historic and it would help them keep the house,” Woolley said, but noted that, because Long Branch doesn’t have an active Historic Preservation Ordinance, “there was nothing we could do.”

It was a missed opportunity if ever there was one, made especially unfortunate given the resurgence of popularity Sinatra has undergone as of late. Propelled largely by the adoration of new generations of fans and the 1940s nostalgia boom, Frank has found himself a staple on iPods across the world. Amazingly, the singer would have turned one-hundred years old last Saturday, December 12th. So from all of us in Long Branch: Happy (belated) Birthday! While his physical connections to our city may be long gone, perhaps he remains by the sea in spirit. After all, it was where he met his first love and enjoyed one of those famous Jersey Shore summer romances!

Note: While you’re thinking of it, why not click here to watch a great video of Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby singing Christmas classics? Actually, you should probably just purchase the album “A Jolly Christmas from Frank Sinatra,” as it is absolutely perfect in every way.


[1] Hazard, Sharon. Long Branch. Charleston, SC: Arcadia Publishing, 2007.

[2] Sinatra, Nancy. “Begin the Beguine.” In Frank Sinatra, My Father. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1985.

 

Don’t Forget Thanksgiving, Jersey!

mikolay headshot 2011 120Doesn’t it feel like Thanksgiving is getting the bum’s rush? Not just this year, per se, but every year for the past decade or so. With the masses thirsty for Christmas, poor old Thanksgiving finds itself overlooked, an impediment that prevents the world from getting to candy canes and Ol’ Saint Nick. Generally, I don’t have a problem with people celebrating the holidays as early as possible; break out the Christmas tree the day after Thanksgiving! Stretch Chanukah from eight nights to thirty! The Holidays really are the best time of year, so it is no wonder Americans are eager to get to them! But this year, try and remember: the Advent calendar begins on “December 1st,” not “October 31st.” There is another very worthy holiday between the Jack-O-Lanterns and Christmas trees. Sure, maybe Turkey Day doesn’t seem that cool now, but remember how much fun it was back in the old days?

Being a kid on Thanksgiving was fantastic! It was a Thursday and school was closed. And you even got the Friday off, making for an unbeatable four-day weekend! If we shared anything in common, you probably woke up early in the morning to watch the Macy’s representatives cut the ribbon at the Thanksgiving Day Parade. I certainly did! For me, Robin Hall, Senior Vice President of Macy’s Parade & Entertainment Group from 2001 until 2013, will always be the living embodiment of the Thanksgiving holiday. With his oversized top hat and snazzy glasses, he certainly looked sharp, like something right out of the 1940s. He jumped from the golden era of Macy’s into the modern era for one purpose: to cut that ribbon and lead the parade.

Kids waited all year for Hall to cut that ribbon, because as soon as he did, every kid’s dreams were paraded into Herald Square: Sonic the Hedgehog, Bart Simpson, the Power Rangers, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Spiderman—there’s too many to name. As kids, we depended on Robin Hall: he was akin to the gatekeeper of the holiday season, and without his scissors, it seemed like the entire month would be in limbo.

Remember how there was also that weird other Thanksgiving parade that nobody ever watched? It was broadcast on some channel that wasn’t NBC and was definitely not hosted by Al Roker, which means it already had two strikes against it at the start of the game. It didn’t involve any New York media personalities, so there wouldn’t be familiar faces (from shows that aired on the mornings you were home sick from school). No Al Roker? No thank you! Did that other parade even have giant balloons? We never found that out, because every year we tuned in for a few minutes just to see what Thanksgiving was like over in Bizarro World before turning back to the real Thanksgiving Day parade.

Remember how, as a child, you would also switch between the classic flick “Babes in Toyland” on WPIX and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on NBC? And I don’t mean the weird remake with Keanu Reeves and Drew Barrymore, but the original with the legendary Oliver and Hardy. Come on! Admit it! Everyone did! It was a generations-old tradition, passed down from parent to child. There were major conflicting interests at hand: you had to watch the Pikachu balloon float through Herald Square, had to see the Rockettes and the Ninja Turtles, but couldn’t miss seeing the scenes where Mr. Barnaby chases Laurel and Hardy through bogeyland. As a result of the constant channel surfing, nobody ever saw either program in its entirety—surely, the advertisers must have been thrilled—but it didn’t matter. This was Thanksgiving, so the usual protocols of television viewership were suspended.

And what about Santa Claus’s big arrival at the end of the Macy’s parade? That was the moment when one could justifiably claim that the Christmas season was underway. Did Santa also show up and the end of that other Thanksgiving parade? Probably not, because Santa was a loyal Macy’s customer! He certainly didn’t shop at Gimbels, the sponsor of that other Thanksgiving Day Parade. We know that because Miracle on 34th Street was also on Thanksgiving, affirming the Santa in the Macy’s parade was the real deal.

“It’s a Wonderful Life” sometimes aired on Thanksgiving, too, but that flick was too much of a downer for young children like ourselves. Besides, we could catch the “Married…with Children” version later in the season. FX was going to air it roughly four thousand times before December 25th. You could also watch an old VHS tape of the “Peanuts” Thanksgiving, where Snoopy serves everyone toast and Woodstock engages in cannibalism by eating a turkey. Oddly, those scenes were later cut out when people realized it was macabre having one bird celebrate Thanksgiving by eating another. Hypersensitive? Maybe, but still pretty funny.

There was also another Thanksgiving tradition, one long since forgotten by most. WWOR, Channel 9 in New York City, would broadcast an annual Thanksgiving Day Superman festival. What is that, you ask? Well, for several hours, a bow-tied Jack Larson, who had the honor of being TV’s original Jimmy Olsen, would introduce episodes of the “Adventures of Superman,” complete with commentary. It was from an old VHS tape of this marathon that my adoration of the DC Comics protagonist largely grew. Ever see the episode “The Man in the Lead Mask?” It’s a classic where the villain(s) wear lead masks so Superman can’t see their true identities! What about “Flight of the North,” where a poor crook named Louie is willing to do just about anything for a slice of lemon meringue pie? You can keep “Man of Steel,” George Reeves was, is, and always will be the real Superman! Sadly, Jack Larson passed away earlier this year at age eighty-seven. I suggest watching some of WWOR’s Superman festival, archived here on YouTube, in his honor.

Ah, yes. Thanksgiving was (and still is) a cool holiday in it’s own right. It deserves more respect than it gets. A novel suggestion for a new tradition: put down the iPhone or tablet, make some hot chocolate, and watch the Macy’s parade with your children. Tell them about what made Thanksgiving so special to us as children: the goofy pageants at school, the smell of turkey cooking at ten in the morning, and the fact that we got to spend time with our families. Let them know to appreciate the things in their life today, because there is no guarantee they will even be there tomorrow. Tell them about how your parents and grandparents enjoyed the holiday, how they also watched “Babes in Toyland,” and how exciting it was to see Santa Claus at the end of the parade. Do your children realize that back in the olden days Santa would actually exit the sled and walk into Macy’s, officially ringing in the Yuletide season? Probably not. You’ll be amazed at what your children find interesting—so why not spend Thanksgiving morning with them? And with Al Roker, of course.

Thoughts or memories about Thanksgiving in Jersey?

Tweet me @MikolayNJ and let me know!