Expansion of Spring Lake Tap House Subject of Zoning Board Hearing

At their Thursday, May 26 meeting, the SLH Zoning Board of Adjustment will hear the Spring Lake Tap House’s application for the installation of an outdoor dining area. Under the current Municipal Land Use Law, outdoor dining is not an allowable use in the B-2 commercial zone and would require a variance.

Additional proposed uses that would require variances are:

An off-street parking area for 58 cars, where currently only 22 spaces exist. The bar currently should have 37 spaces but is allowed a waiver from the 22-space requirement, possibly due to an old variance to previous owners. As there is no room for additional on-site parking, granting this portion of the variance would see an increase in on-street parking in the neighborhood around the bar.

A bulk variance is requested for lot coverage. The law provides for a commercial building to cover no more than 75% of its lot. Currently, the bar has 78.6% coverage. The planned expansion would create 84.29% coverage.

A variance is requested for the construction of a brick wall and iron fence over 3 feet in height and located less than 35 feet of the street line. Currently, the bar has a 32 foot setback from Route 71 (30 feet is required by law). The proposed dining area would take up approximately 16 feet of this setback area, putting it within 16 feet of Route 71. The wall would shield diners from the highway traffic.

The bar currently operates with several existing non-conformities. In addition to the lack of on-site parking and the lot coverage, non-conformities include a lot size of 16,940 square feet where 18,000 is required, a front yard setback of 4.15 feet on Mercer Avenue where 30 feet is required, and a side yard setback of 0 feet where 5 feet is required. This last item is along the property’s southern boundary where the bar’s freezer units are placed on the property line.

Other issues to be addressed are the many site improvement waivers included in the plan. Site improvements are items not necessarily required by law, but requested of a business in order to be a good neighbor. The site improvement waivers include those pertaining to shade trees and parking lot landscaping, curbs and sidewalks, 3 foot side and rear setbacks of pavement, stormwater management, trash enclosures, parking lot lighting, access drives to parking lot, the buffer from adjoining streets, parking space size, and off street loading.

Applicants are also requested to fill out a Sustainability Checklist which allows the Borough to evaluate if “green” methods will be used in the project, such as using water efficient landscaping or a sustainable stormwater system. All checklist items are marked either “TBD” or “N/A” by the applicant.

Additionally, if the use were to be approved, the bar would then need to apply to the Alcohol and Beverage Control (ABC) and the municipality for a place-to-place transfer of their liquor license to be allowed to serve in the expanded space.

Historically, Spring Lake Heights has not allowed outdoor dining at bars and restaurants. It has been viewed as a quality of life issue, due to the close proximity of the bar facilities to residential neighborhoods. Residents in the Mercer Avenue area have, over the years, complained increasingly of nuisance issues such as litter, noise, and public urination due to bar patrons.

In stating why the variance should be granted, the applicant wrote: “Applicant seeks to provide the Spring Lake Heights community and surrounding area with ability to dine outdoors during seasonal/temperate weather conditions. A use variance is required for applicant to install patio-deck to accomplish the outdoor dining experience which many diners desire during the warm months at the Jersey Shore.” The applicant must show that the benefits of the proposed expansion outweigh any detriment to the neighborhood.

Neighbors within 200 feet of the planned expansion should have been notified of the hearing. Any resident wishing to speak for or against the plan may attend the meeting on May 26 at 7:30 PM in the Borough Hall. Anyone wishing to review the submitted plans may do so at the Borough Hall between the hours of 9 AM and 5 PM, Monday through Friday.

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Council Presentation by Monmouth County Tax Board Members James Stuart and Cliff Moore

On February 8, 2016, James Stuart and Cliff Moore of the Monmouth County Tax Board made an approximately two hour presentation to the SLH Borough Council on the County’s Assessment Demonstration Program. During this meeting, they explained what they felt were the benefits of the program and asked that the Council not opt out.The Borough has until May 31 to make this decision.

Mr. Stuart emphatically noted the program was “not about reform” and wondered aloud where people had gotten this idea. Perhaps he should review his Board’s public relations talking points more closely: Tax Board director Matt Clark has given several interviews during which he explained that the program “represents true tax reform.”

Readers can view the presentation at the Heightsonline YouTube channel:

Monmouth County Tax Board Member Resigns When Questioned About Real Estate Deal

 
The Asbury Park Press reports that Monmouth County Tax Board member, James Stuart, resigned Friday under allegations that he may not have lived in the county during much of his appointed time on the Board.
Stuart, the former mayor of Colts Neck, was appointed to the $22,846 a year position by NJ Governor Chris Christie in June 2013. At that time, Stuart lived in Colts Neck. He sold that home three months after his appointment and changed his voter registration address to that of his daughter’s Ocean Township residence.
 
However, the Asbury Park Press investigated a property sale of a home in Barnegat and found that Stuart indicated that home was his primary residence. For the 2015 sale, Stuart received a $1,137 senior citizen exemption from the New Jersey realty transfer fee. When questioned, Stuart told the Press that his wife had mistakenly filled out the paperwork for the home sale even though his signature was the only one on the forms.
 
The Press broke the story in their May 5 edition and Stuart resigned Friday, May 6, claiming that he did not want to “drag the Board through the political muck.”
 
Stuart, along with Board president Cliff Moore, gave a lengthy presentation to the Spring Lake Heights Borough Council on February 8. For approximately two hours, the two Board members extolled what they saw as the virtues of the County’s new Assessment Demonstration Program. Mr. Stuart was adamant that the program was “not about reform,” even though Monmouth County Tax Board executive director Matt Clark has repeatedly said in interviews that the program “represents true tax reform.”
 
The program, which revalues property on a regular basis, has caused a spike in land values and in property taxes for residents. Residents have attended council meetings to speak out against the program; the Borough has until May 31 to opt out.
 
 

Monmouth Montessori School Denied Appeal of Zoning Decision: Board of Adjustment Suggests Applicant File a Use Variance

In an approximately 3 hour hearing, the Monmouth Montessori School of Wall Township was not able to overturn a denial by SLH Zoning Official Joe May. The applicant is seeking to convert the old Junior Junction Pre-school on Railroad Avenue into the new location for the Montesorri school.

In 1995, Junior Junction received a use variance allowing the building to be used for a learning center for ages infant through kindergarten. The new applicant is seeking to broaden the student use to K through 8 with students up to age 13.

The Board of Adjustment’s primary concern was that, although the hearing was held to a full audience, there were very few residents of Spring Lake Heights in attendance. Because the issue was presented as an appeal of the zoning officer’s decision, no notification was required for residents living within 200 feet of the site.

Additionally, the Board had questions on traffic. In 1995, when Junior Junction was approved, Railroad Avenue was a 2-way street. The traffic flow was changed to one way to accommodate the school but no one had information about that change, or why it was repealed in favor of two-way after the preschool closed.

Other issues that were discussed were traffic volumes, parking, and upgrades to the building, none of which required documentation due to the nature of the hearing being an appeal. The Board agreed that while it was a worthwhile project, they would like more information. Board members voted 5 to 2 to uphold the Zoning Officer’s decision and suggested that the applicant request a use variance hearing.

Council Votes for Herner to Fill Vacancy

At the Monday, January 25, SLH Borough Council meeting, the Council voted unanimously for Arthur Herner to fill the remainder of Tom O’Brien’s council term. O’Brien was elected Mayor in November, creating a vacancy on the Council as of January 1. Herner, who previously served on Council from 1984 through 1993, also served as the Borough’s Superintendent of Public Works for over 20 years. Herner was not in attendance, but will be sworn in prior to the next regularly scheduled Council meeting.

Council, Residents Discuss County’s Tax Assessment Program

At the January 11, 2016, SLH Borough Council meeting, a lively discussion took place about the County’s pilot tax assessment program. Residents spoke out against the program during the Voice of the Public, and Council members for the most part agreed with their concerns. Councilman Thomas Vorbach said, “I don’t think anyone really likes this program.” Due to issues with the program, it is now under Grand Jury investigation. The Monmouth County Tax Board has given municipalities an April deadline to opt out of the program. At the end of the Jan. 11 discussion, Councilman Chris Campion asked, “Can we make this an agenda item for our next meeting on the 25th?”  Mayor Thomas O’Brien agreed, saying, “I think that’s a good request. Let’s get this taken care of.”

You can watch the discussion on our YouTube channel by clicking below:

 

O’Brien’s Move to Mayor Creates Council Vacancy

The installation of Spring Lake Heights’ new mayor, Thomas O’Brien, creates a vacant seat on the Borough’s 6-member Council. O’Brien, who had one year left to serve of a three-year term, was required to resign his council seat prior to being sworn in as mayor. The law provides that when this happens, the local political party committee representing the vacated seat is required to submit 3 names of candidates willing to fill the vacancy; the Borough Council members then vote to select one to fill the remainder of the unexpired term.

The Spring Lake Heights Democrats submitted three names: two, the candidates narrowly defeated in the November 2015 primary, Art Herner and Nate Novak. These two are joined by Sandy Moore Denison.

Sandy Moore Denison, of Homestead Avenue, is a long-time resident of Spring Lake Heights. She served for many years on the SLH PTA, including 3 years as president, and currently is involved with the Manasquan High School PTO. She unsuccessfully ran for SLH School Board in 2010. She is very active in fundraising and spent considerable time on the local Hurricane Sandy relief efforts.

Art Herner, 61, of Central Avenue, has been a resident of Spring Lake Heights for 60 years. He is retired from his position as the Borough’s Superintendent of Public Works. Herner’s service to the community includes 10 years on the Borough Council, as well as positions on the Borough’s Planning Board and Environmental Commission. In his recent run for Council, Herner expressed his interest in returning to the post saying that the Council’s role is to “provide the highest level of service to the people of Spring Lake Heights for the least possible cost.”

Nathanial “Nate” Novak, 30, of Keith Avenue, is a lifelong resident of Spring Lake Heights. He holds a B.A. in Political Science from Drew University, Madison, NJ and works as a sales manager for a Wall Township-based company. Novak serves as an usher for St. Catherine’s Church and is a member of the SLH Little League Board.

The Council has 30 days to fill the vacancy.

Tax Board Will Allow Towns to Opt Out of Assessment Program

The Monmouth County Tax Board voted at their November 30 meeting to allow municipalities to opt out of the County’s new Assessment Demonstration Program. The program, which has sent property taxes soaring across the county, has been the subject of an ongoing series of articles in the Asbury Park Press. Due at least in part to the Press’s investigation, the program is now subject to a grand jury probe.

Municipalities may request an opt-out up until 11:59 PM April 29. Those that opt-out of the pilot program will return to the former program of town-wide reassessments occurring every few years as determined by the tax board. Under the new program, 20% of a town is examined every year but the valuations for the entire town can change based on that 20%.

The opt-out would apply to the 2017 tax year, meaning residents will endure another round of revaluations in 2016. Assessment postcards recently were mailed and residents are reporting increases of property values upwards of $40-$50,000. This increased value will translate into additional taxes.

The deadline to file a tax appeal for the 2015 assessment is January 15. Property owners wishing to appeal may obtain the forms they need from the Borough’s tax office or may file online via the NJ Tax Court’s website.

Residents supporting the Borough’s opting-out of the Assessment Demonstration Program should contact their Borough Council members or attend the December 14 Council meeting and speak out.

Property tax records are public documents and are available online via the Monmouth County Tax Board’s website at: http://oprs.co.monmouth.nj.us/oprs/External.aspx?iId=12 . Enter the requested Search criteria and click “Submit Search.”

BREAKING NEWS: Merriken Declared Winner in Vote Recount

Republican candidate Robert Merriken was today declared the winner in a recount of the 2015 election for Borough Council. Democratic newcomer Nathaniel “Nate” Novak filed for a recount when the tally of voting machines, mail-in ballots, and provisional ballots showed him with 638 votes against Merriken’s 639.

In the recount, Merriken picked up another vote to finish the voting tally at 640. Incumbent Sara King also picked up 2 additional votes.

The final voting tally was:

Sara King ( R ) – 680
Robert Merriken ( R ) – 640

Nathaniel “Nate” Novak ( D ) – 638
Arthur Herner ( D ) – 628

The count in the Mayor’s race did not change and remains Thomas O’Brien ( D ) – 674 vs. Chris Campion ( R ) – 642.

Borough Receives FEMA Grant to Renovate Sewer Stations

At the November 9, 2015 SLH Borough Council meeting, Councilman Chris Campion, the Utilities chairman, reported that the Borough received a $585,000 FEMA grant for the renovation of the two sewage pumping stations. The grant will provide that new generators be installed in both facilities.

Due to the close proximity to the waterways, renovation is critical to both stations. The stations, located at Shore Road and the Railroad near Wreck Pond and on Sixth Avenue and North Lake Drive near Black Creek, are archaic and in need of updating and repair. The Sixth Avenue station failed during Hurricane Sandy and required emergency power to keep working. The stations lift sewerage from the Borough’s system and pumps it for processing to the South Monmouth Regional Sewage Authority in Wall Township. Should either station fail, the raw sewage could back up and spill into the waterways and then into the ocean.

Total cost for renovations is approximately $650,000 but the grant will offset the majority of costs.

Campion also reported that the fire company was the recipient of 70 air pack face masks from a government surplus program; the masks represent a tax savings of $17,000.